Brighton-based pianist Helen Burford presented a varied and creative programme of music in a Sunday afternoon concert as part of the Brighton Fringe Festival. Praised for her innovative and joyful approach to programming, the concert included three world premieres by contemporary British composers Georgina Bowden, Sadie Harrison and Barry Mills interpersed with works by Bill Evans, J S Bach, Claude Debussy and Chick Corea.

The concert opened with what I have come to regard as Helen’s “signature piece”, the haunting and hypnotic Incarnation II by Japanese composer Somei Satoh. Twelve extraordinary minutes of an absorbing soundscape, the work relies on primarily on the prolongation of vibrations (repeated notes) and is an exercise in control on the part of the performer who is given free will in the work as to how long it should last. Through these devices, the work conjures up the most extraordinary sonorities – horns, cellos, bells, drums. This was followed by the first premiere of the afternoon, ‘Hymn for Piano’ by Georgian Bowden, which also explored the sonorities of the piano in contemplative chords and gentle movements around the keyboard, and was played with a simple sensitivity by Helen.

Helen is noted for unusual programme juxtapositions and at first placing a prelude and fugue by J S Bach with Bill Evans’s jazz classic ‘Peace Piece’ may seem curious. But in the fact it proved fascinating, for the arabesques in Bach’s writing were neatly reflected in filigree improvisatory motifs in Peace Piece, all set over an ostinato bass line redolent of Satie’s Gymnopedies. This also set the scene for Sadie Harrison’s Four Jazz Portraits, written for Helen and inspired by jazz greats Bill Evans, Thelonius Monk, Fats Waller and Albert Ammons. The four miniatures all contained witty references to these jazz greats, and were delivered with deftness and humour by Helen.

The third part of the programme stepped away from jazz and into music inspired by the landscape. Debussy’s Bruyeres from the second book of Preludes evokes heather (or a town in northern France). This was paired with Barry Mill’s ‘Evocations’ whose titles – Falmer Pond with Ducks, Geese and Gulls, The Rowan Tree and Clouds forming, Clouds dissolving (Homage to Debussy) – suggest similar settings to Debussy’s work. The works by Mills recalled Debussy in their colourful harmonies and trimbres, and swirling movements.

The concert closed with a triptych by Chick Corea – ‘Where Have I Loved You Before’, ‘Where Have I Danced With You Before” and Where Have I Known You Before’ – all played with affection and an acute sense of their improvisatory nature.

Details of Helen’s forthcoming concerts here

Behind_The_Lines1-724x1024Music of Our Time (MOOT) is an innovative musical community founded by Norman Jacobs, which seeks to promote and appreciate contemporary music through communal listening, creative discussion, talks, films and other events, with a special focus on disability groups. MOOT enjoys a lively and busy season of concerts each year, always with a special theme: last year it was music and disability, and this year it is music of the First War in a series of concerts entitled ‘Sounds of War – Instruments of Peace 1914-2014′. The series launches on Wednesday 7 May with a concert of works for piano duet, performed by Helen Burford and Norman Jacobs.

The concerts, which form part of Brighton’s Fringe Festival, feature composers and music from the era of the First War (Bridge, Ravel, Elgar, Holst, Debussy, Butterworth, Finzi, Ireland), or focus on an aspect related to it, such as ‘Empty Sleeve – music for the left hand’, performed by left-handed pianist Nicholas McCarthy, which reminds us of the pianists who lost an arm during the conflict (most notably, Paul Wittgenstein) and who were able to continue a performing career, playing repertoire for the left hand. Alongside the concerts are film screenings (Oh! What a Lovely War!), a performance of Jessica Duchen’s play A Walk Through the End of Time, lectures and talks, a composing workshop and a trip to Frank Bridge’s house.

MOOT’s events will not only commemorate the centenary of the start of the First War and serve as a poignant remembrance for those whose lives were irretrievably altered by the conflict, but will also celebrate the music and poetry of that “lost generation”. Some, like George Butterworth, lost their lives in the war; others were profoundly and irrevocably affected by it (for example, Frank Bridge, a committed pacifist).

For more information about MOOTs events, please visit the Music of Out Time website

global_212048962As part of this year’s Brighton Fringe Festival, Music of Our Time (MOOT) presents a unique series of concerts focusing on Music and Disability with an imaginative and exciting range of artists and programmes.

One of the highlights of the series will be a concert by left-handed pianist Nicholas McCarthy, who more than amply demonstrates through his virtuosity and pianistic sensitivity that having only one hand need not be a hindrance to extraordinary piano playing. His programme features works by Bach, Scriabin, Schubert, Richard Strauss and Liszt.

Meanwhile, ‘The Bionic Ear Show’ is an award-winning fun, interactive show about hearing and how to protect your ears for the future. ‘Lost and Sound’ is a moving documentary film by partially deaf filmmaker Lindsey Dryden, with stories of sound and silence including a young pianist who lost her hearing as a baby, and a music critic facing sudden hearing loss.

An afternoon workshop on Saturday 18th May with Dr Paul Whittaker OBE and singers from the British Voice Association explores how deaf people can enjoy singing and vocalising.

Other concerts in the series include a performance of Stravinsky’s ground-breaking The Rite of Spring one hundred years to the day since its controversial 1913 premiere in Paris. The programme also includes Debussy’s Épigraphes antiques and a short film about The Rite and the infamous riot at its premiere.

The brilliant young Ligetti Quartet perform works by Adams, Górecki’s Arioso, Huang Hai-Huai, Webern, and Laura J. Bowler’s Hay Fever (includes a teapot and four copies of The Sunday Times). Plus György Ligeti’s Poème symphonique for 100 metronomes (don’t forget to bring yours!).

Paul Silverthorne (Principal Viola, London Symphony Orchestra) & pianist Aglaia Tarantino perform Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata, followed by a tribute in memoriam to Elliott Carter, Hans Werner Henze and Richard Rodney Bennett with imaginative works by each composer, ending with Paul’s own transcription of Stravinsky’s elegant Suite Italienne.

Full details of all the concerts in the series, and tickets, here

MOOT also present a special free Spectrum Music Day with Thalia Myers. Pianists are invited to play any piece from the eight Spectrum books published by ABRSM. There will be a workshop with Thalia Myers followed by a concert.

Further details here

My Meet the Artist interview with Nicholas McCarthy

MOOT is a non-profit group for the public benefit promoting contemporary music arts education. Artistic director: Norman Jacobs. To keep up to date with MOOT events, join the MOOT Meetup group.