Tag Archives: Michael Torke

Blistering appearance by Marici Saxes launches lunchtime concert series

This year’s lunchtime concert series burst into ecstatic life with a visit from the ebullient Marici Saxes, launching the year-long monthly series at the Colyer-Fergusson Hall.

In rehearsal: Marici Saxes
In rehearsal: Marici Saxes

The set opened with Michael Nymans’s Chasing Sheep Is Best Left To Shepherds, with the group in rhythmic, robust form. The tour of Britain continued with music by the late Richard Rodney Bennett, three sections from Travel Notes; the lyrical, arcing melody in ‘Helicopter’ effortlessly played by Sally McTaggart on soprano saxophone (a late stand-in for the indisposed Sarah Field, whom we wish well). There was a lively, jocular air to the final ‘Car Chase’ that showed to the full the wonderfully liquid grace of the group’s ensemble-playing, and demonstrated they have a real affinity for this repertoire.

Michael Torke’s July is a tour de force for a sax ensemble, and was here delivered with assurance and a firm grasp of its rhythmic drive, coupled with contrasting, elegaic melodies. There was a punchy, vibrant swagger to the piece which was bursting with vigour, as the group ducked and dived in terrific unison through Torke’s no-holds-barred minimalism.

A change of mood next in Piazzolla’s ‘Cafe 1930’ from his Histoire de Tango, originally written for flute and guitar but here rendered for ensemble that had gently weaving lines spiralling up through the group.

Baritone saxophonist Josie Simmons turned composer for First Moon which followed, and showed a keen ear for dissonance in the opening chords, turning into a rhapsodic melody before springing to life in some mischievious post-minimalist textural writing, including some fiercly-skirling arabesques for the soprano sax.

The group ended its recital with the show-stopping Hoe Down by Will Gregory, in a performance that was truly hair-raisingly exciting, with some blistering agility displayed by Josie on baritone, who demonstrated that the instrument can be just as mobile as its smaller counterparts.

The piece, and the concert itself, was greeted with a roof-raising ovation from an enthralled audience, including a group of schoolchildren who were clearly held spellbound throughout the gig. A top-notch performance, delivered by an ensemble in fighting form. Catch them when you can…

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Sponsors of the Lunchtime Concert series

Contemporary music: is it beyond our reach ?

Contemporary music festivals are often perceived as being notoriously expensive. They can need dedicated professionals working at the peak of their powers to realise extremely demanding repertoire, Rolls Royce ensembles, high-profile conductors. Scores and music are expensive to hire or purchase. The music can be fiendishly difficult both to execute and to comprehend: or of course, the music of composers like Howard Skempton and Michael Nyman, which is challenging in a different way. Brash, modern ensembles, amplified instruments, electronics, a battery of percussion: think of groups like Icebreaker, the Orkest de Volharding, or Bang On a Can.

Commensurately, ticket prices can be high, as festival organisers endeavour to recoup some of the cost.

This is, of course, not true. Or at least – not always.

The widespread nature of this misconception is a shame, because contemporary music is part of the lifeblood of contemporary culture. It reflects modern concerns, resonating with the sounds of urban life and society’s hang-ups: the forthcoming opera by Mark-Anthony Turnage is a meditation on the life and untimely death of Anna Nicole Smith. Contemporary music can be riotous and fun: think of the music of Graham Fitkin or John Adams, with its exciting rhythmic vibrancy. It is a way of engaging with current issues, and making audiences consider political or social issues: Nixon in China, for example.

The music of Xenakis might not be the most accessible of modern compositions – Psappha for percussion solo, for instance.

But it has great conviction, and great virtuosity: seeing the performer is as much a part of the performance as listening to the piece itself. Toru Takemitsu’s wonderful soundscapes are full of colour and luminosity.

American composers such as Michael Torke or Nico Mulhy write music brim-full of rhythmic energy and bouncing textures. Torke’s saxophone quartet, July, is full of funky lines, bouncing rhythm and punchy textures.

Or, on the other hand, the contemplative scores of Arvo Pärt, John Tavener, or another Adams, John Luther Adams’ evocative In a Treeless Place, Only Snow.

And modern music concerts can be heard at the Proms for a mere £5, like Prom 28 with pieces by Oliver Knussen and George Benjamin; or discounted on-line prices to hear Stockhausen and Rebecca Saunders at this year’s Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival. Or for £8, you could have had a ticket to hear David Matthews and John Casken at the recent Brighton Festival. 

It’s an exciting time for contemporary music, and it’s not always inaccessible, incomprehensible, or expensive. Don’t let it pass you by.