This is a solo piano album of austere wonder. Composer and performer Mark Deeks hails from Northumberland, and in tribute to his home patch, the eight original pieces here are named in the county’s old dialect (the album also includes a cover version of John Ireland’s ‘Sea Fever’). A water theme runs through the record like a river, with tracks named for waves, floods, showers, ice… so we have, in some ways, a tone poem: a suite of works that, over its running time, builds a picture of the North Sea coastline in audio.
To do this successfully, there would have to be a starkness to underpin the picturesque, and MD achieves that balance perfectly – the music is beautiful throughout, but favours sparse reflection over ‘prettiness’. I think listeners of Glass, say, or Satie would find much to enjoy in these pieces: that’s not to simplify and say that MD is ‘like’ those composers – more that he also prizes the effects of a rhythmic pattern, the power of a silence, and the value of unhurried contemplation.
While the album sustains a coherent mood, close and repeated listening reveals the individual personalities of each track, the way they embody their liquid titles. For example, opening track ‘Wǽg’ (‘Wave’) features an undulating rhythm in the bass, perhaps unsurprisingly – but above that, the melody not only turns about itself in an ebb and flow movement, the chords cut across the bassline as if ‘breaking’ onto the shore. While later in the sequence, ‘Scúr’ (‘Shower’) moves the initial, insistent rhythm into the right hand, as if the rain is starting to pitter-patter onto the ground.
The superb ‘Flódas’ (‘Floods’) moves along with a more hyperactive, unpredictable gait, and ramps up the intensity until the melody almost breaks – bursts its banks. While the serene ‘Gyrwe’ (‘Wetlands’) – for me, one of the album’s absolute highlights – allows its left-hand to glide calmly while the restrained, delicately-judged interventions of the right-hand conjure up the momentary drips and breeze-driven disturbances from the reeds and grasses.
I was completely won over by this record’s confident restraint: give it time and drift through its space.
It’s also worth mentioning that, perhaps due to its steady pace and focus on melodic ambience, much of the suite sounds accessible to fellow pianists – and sure enough, Mark Deeks has produced a very limited run of sheet music for the album, available to buy alongside the CD. To buy either – or, let’s not be coy, both, you can visit the artist’s Bandcamp page for the album here.
Adrian Ainsworth writes for a living, but mostly about things like finance, tax and benefits. For light relief, then, he covers his obsessions – overwhelmingly music, but with sprinklings of photography and art – on the ‘Specs’ blog, which you can find at http://www.adrianspecs.blogspot.co.uk
I would say to a young composer – be a rebel! Write something in D major, annoy your professor, but make it so damned interesting and beautiful that he/she has nothing to say; that is the real challenge for us now.
– David Braid, composer
Welsh-born composer David Braid is something of a rebel himself. In his music, he eschews the atonality, dissonance, and complexity which are so often hallmarks (and clichés) of contemporary classical music in favour of a personal compositional voice which draws inspiration from Sweelinck and Dowland to Britten and Messiaen, but which is in itself hard to categorise. It’s melodic and tonal with a spare lyricism and simple harmonic language which recalls early music and the distinctly “English” soundworlds of Vaughan Williams and Britten, as well as folk music with occasional jazz-infused harmonies, but this is most definitely not “crossover” repertoire.
Beautifully crafted and performed with elegance and expression by an ensemble of fine musicians, including mezzo-soprano Emily Gray, flautist Claire Overbury, and clarinettist Peter Cigleris, with David Braid himself on archtop guitar, the music on this album is accessible yet sophisticated. Braid’s archtop guitar, a hollow steel-stringed acoustic or semi-acoustic instrument with a full body and an arched top (hence its name), brings a clean, lute-like sound to the music, redolent of Dowland’s songs and Lachrimae, and the perfect foil for Emily Gray’s translucent mezzo voice. The combinations of instruments are original and intriguing – piano and archtop guitar work together surprisingly well, the piano sympathetic to the smaller voice of the guitar. The refined simplicity of Braid’s music is really captivating and it is a real pleasure to hear music which is immediately engaging to the ear.
With comprehensive liner notes written by David Braid and an excellent sound quality which is both direct and intimate, this album comes highly recommended.
Catalogue No: MSV 28575 EAN/UPC: 809730857522 Artists: Claire Overbury, David Braid, Elena Zucchini, Emily Gray, Peter Cigleris, Rossitza Stoycheva, Sergei Podobedov Composers: David Braid Release Date: October 2017 Total Playing Time: 76:35
As Borough New Music‘s new season begins on 3 October 2017, Artistic Director Clare Simmonds surveys the exciting new piano music on offer from October 2017 to June 2018.
Borough New Music sets out to share music by living composers and the music of today. In each of the eight Series of concerts this season, we feature a different instrument. For Series 2 – which is five free concerts every Tuesday in October 2017 at 1pm at St George the Martyr SE1 1JA – it’s the piano.
In fact, the piano became the featured instrument for this second Series simply because of the preponderance of piano premieres that month. These include a fascinating new piano sonata by Ben Gaunt, based around the architectural principles of light, written for the wonderful pianist Christopher Guild (24 October 2017); eight miniature ‘cryptograms’ by Patrick Nunn, each inspired by composers who have in some way influenced his output; and two works written specially for the virtuoso José Menor: a mighty five-movement cycle by Sam Hayden and a sparkling Toccata by fellow Catalan Tomas Peire Serrate (all on 3 October 2017). Plus there is a selection of new works written specifically for the pianists who will perform them, by composers Michael Worboys , Harry Palmer, Rotem Sherman and Toby Ingram – all outcomes of the 2017 Trinity Laban John Halford Piano and Composition Competition, a little-known public event held every April, which deserves high praise for its innovation.
But that’s just Series 2 – the tip of the iceberg. One of the most fascinating things about the piano is that every player makes it sound different. Over the 2017-18 season, we have the opportunity to hear the voices of 14 very different pianists. That includes established contemporary pianists such as Philip Mead (1 May 2018), who gave the UK premiere of George Crumb’s ‘Makrokosmos’ at the Southbank in 1977, and the first London performance of Henry Cowell’s piano concerto in 2013.
Plus, there is the master improviser Douglas Finch (17 April 2018), toy piano specialist Kate Ryder (20 March 2018), as well as Matthew Schellhorn (30 January 2018), Aleksander Szram (26 June 2018), Christopher Guild (24 October 2017) and José Menor (3 October 2017); and young artists such as Joe Howson, Ieva Dubova, Mahsa Salali, Rotem Sherman and Neus Peris Ferrer (31 October 2017). The pianist Ben Smith deserves special mention not only for his repertoire for piano and electronics (14 November 2017), but also for appearances in six different concerts (November 2017 and February 2018)! Here he is performing Helmut Lachenmann’s ‘Serynade’:
It is always interesting to hear what a composer chooses to give a pianist to play – and what pianists write or improvise for themselves to play. With compelling musical material in hand, what else is important to them: the listener’s impression, the player’s strengths, or the instrument’s potential? When pianists compose, do they opt for an easy life, and write what they find straightforward, or do they demand the (almost) impossible, to show their superhuman virtuosity? (Sometimes I think that’s the equivalent of those gourmets who go for the hottest vindaloo on offer!) It is not hard to be mesmerised by the multifaceted capabilities of the piano, and the programme this season certainly explores that. From a world premiere by Joseph Horovitz (even though he is over 90!) on 30 January 2018, to Edward Henderson’s refreshingly alternative look at piano performance (10 April 2018), the bluesy, frantic etudes of Nancarrow (21 November 2017) to the works of Janet Graham, Haris Kittos, Daryl Runswick and Simon Katan, there is a compelling range of piano works to discover.
Borough New Music concerts take place every Tuesday at 1pm from 3 October 2017 to 26 June 2018 at St George the Martyr Church, Borough High Street, London SE1 1JA (just a short walk from London Bridge and Borough tube stations). Admission is free to all events, and light refreshments are served afterwards.
· Joel Järventausta (b. 1995) – New work (WORLD PREMIERE)
· Janet Oates – A Lover (WORLD PREMIERE)
· Frederick Viner (b. 1994) – New work (WORLD PREMIERE)
· Dai Fujikura (b. 1977) – Away we play
Tuesday 26 June 2018, 1pm
Aleksander Szram (piano)
· Hollie Harding – Suite P
· Janet Graham (b. 1948) – Sonata for Piano (2016) (WORLD PREMIERE)
· Daryl Runswick (b. 1946) – Scafra Preludes Book 2
· Haris Kittos – Athrós (2001)
Clare Simmonds performs regularly as a soloist and ensemble pianist, and enjoys presenting unconventional programmes. From 2016-17 she was a staff accompanist at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama for Jane Manning’s contemporary song classes, as well as performing in several chamber groups. She also provides online marketing services to promote contemporary music and is a publicity consultant for Prima Facie Records.
Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?
I came to composing by a rather unusual route. I was studying cello at Birmingham Conservatoire and during a musicianship course was asked to compose a piece in the style of Bartok. I quickly realised how much I had enjoyed doing this and within a few weeks had an interview to change onto the composition course. In the following couple of years I became familiar with Mark-Anthony Turnage’s music and this inspired me to keep going and find my own voice. Two years later, after accepting to teach me for my Masters Degree at the Royal College of Music, Mark continued to inspire me, this time in person.
Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?
My family have been the most significant influence. Without their continual support and understanding I am sure I would not have a career as a composer.
What have been the greatest challenges/frustrations of your career so far?
I find the greatest challenge to be balancing my time between composing and all the other things a composer must do to maintain one’s career. Being able to do this successfully whilst still finding the concentration and imaginative space one needs should not be underestimated.
What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?
Imagining the sound of the musicians and the process of working together with them on a new piece is something that I find incredibly motivating since this is a highlight of the whole process. When the ideas are flowing, I find the working process of composing very pleasurable.
What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?
Building a long relationship with a particular ensembles make the experiences of working together all the more pleasurable. Birmingham Contemporary Music Group stands out for me in this regard. I got to know the ensemble and organisation as a student, received opportunities to develop my compositional voice through working with them, and continue to have a strong relationship now in my career as a professional composer. Their virtuosity and brilliance makes every encounter special.
Of which works are you most proud?
When I achieve something in a piece that is ‘new’, adventurous or challenging for me, that is when I am most proud.
How do you work?
I start composing first thing and work through until I feel my concentration diminishing. I work with pencil on paper for much of the process, moving to Sibelius when I feel I have enough of an idea about the piece. I use a keyboard and sometimes my cello too, especially to try things out later on.
Who are your favourite musicians/composers?
My friends. I find nothing more enjoyable that hearing and watching a friend perform or a friends’ music being performed; feeling their sound, expression and interpretation, each time knowing them a little deeper.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
My Proms debut in 2012 with ‘At the Speed of Stillness’. I’ll never forget the feeling of standing on that stage for the first time to take a bow.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring composers?
Write the music that you want to hear.
Play music that is being written now, before it is too late.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
The composer Charlotte Bray has emerged as a distinctive and outstanding talent of her generation. Exhibiting uninhibited ambition and desire to communicate, her music is exhilarating, inherently vivid, and richly expressive with lyrical intensity. Charlotte studied under Mark Anthony Turnage at the Royal College of Music and previously under Joe Cutler at the Birmingham Conservatoire. She participated in the Britten-Pears Contemporary Composition Course with Oliver Knussen, Colin Matthews and Magnus Lindberg, and at the Tanglewood Music Centre with John Harbison, Michael Gandolfi, Shulamit Ran and Augusta Read-Thomas.
Who or what inspired you to take up viola and pursue a career in music?
Growing up, I was often the slightly withdrawn aesthete picking up beautifully coloured leaves on the football pitch rather than playing the game, so in a way I think I was just waiting to find the right creative outlet. The moment came when, aged 10, I decided to play the viola in my school orchestra. It became clear immediately that I had found the medium and instrument that sparked my imagination. Unusually, I never played the violin or indeed any other instrument before the viola – my first read notes of music were in the dreaded alto clef! It seemed that EVERYONE else wanted to play the violin, and my lanky limbs and desire to be different made the sultry viola a natural choice. My parents are not musicians but are great appreciators of music of all styles and so I always loved listening to (and dancing around to) music from an early age so was thrilled to finally be able to make it myself.
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
Throughout my musical development I have had a number of inspiring teachers and mentors. I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, home of Marilyn Seelman, violist and pedagogue extraordinaire, and she completely changed the course of my musical life (and the flexibility of my bow hold), seeing a future brighter and bigger than I had ever envisioned for myself. I then went on to the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston where Carol Rodland taught me all about co-ordination, tension-free playing and musical abandon, Martha Katz guided me in the great art of chamber music playing and how to search for the perfect and most creative sound at any given moment, and Katarina Miljkovic opened my ears to and sparked my passion for the vast array of music written since 1950. I then finished my studies in London with the great David Takeno whose irrepressible enthusiasm about music and unbelievable work ethic continue to be a daily inspiration.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
Confidently forging my own musical path, trusting my instincts and not being afraid to take musical and career-related risks.
You’ve recently joined the board of The Riot Ensemble, tell us about your work with them?
The Riot Ensemble is a wonderful group of virtuoso musicians from across Europe who I was excited to discover upon my arrival to London. Their focus on the newest and most exciting music from across the globe was an immediate draw and after playing a few projects with them over the years, I was thrilled to be invited to join as an artistic board member and regular player. We produce and commission new work across the UK and abroad from a diverse selection of composers and aim to present a wide array of musical styles in contexts both traditional an unusual. We’ve just selected 7 composers from our 279 Call for Scores applications and are always on the lookout for new and interesting compositional voices – it’s always so inspiring to see the wonderfully wide range of work that’s being created!
Which particular works do you think you play best?
I particularly relate to anything which showcases the extreme, beautiful and huge emotional/ sonic range of the viola.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
Often these choices are made based on a number of logistical factors such as commission schedules, artist availability, etc., but one strategy I love to employ is to construct a programme around a single work that is particularly special to me. For example, the recital I have coming up in June, centred around Debussy’s Sonata for flute, viola and harp (with the wonderful Gabriella Dall’Olio and Anna Noakes). The Debussy has long been one of my favourite pieces of music and I’m particularly interested in placing canonical works of the past in dialogue with music of our time, in this case Saariaho’s stunning ‘Vent Nocturne’ for solo viola and electronics, Garth Knox’s duos with viola powerhouse and fellow Atlantan Jennifer Stumm and a new work for solo viola and sampled sounds by a student composer from Trinity Laban.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
I’ve played in a wide variety of venues in recent years, from celebrated concert halls to clubs, basements and living rooms, and it would be hard to pick a favourite. Generally, I love playing anywhere with an excited and attentive audience. In terms of enthusiasm and energy, I remember being blown away by the audiences in Japan and Korea and for full houses of seasoned concert goers up for the most challenging of new music night after night, Vienna’s Konzerthaus.
Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?
To perform: I love the quicksilver energy, vitality and youthful fearlessness of Mendelssohn’s chamber music, the beauty and power of Jonathan Harvey’s ensemble works and the primal pyrotechnics of Luciano Berio’s viola music (I’m looking at you, Sequenza!).
To listen to: Beethoven symphonies and violin concerto, Brahms chamber music (early Cleveland Quartet recordings particularly), Mozart Requiem
Who are your favourite musicians?
Gidon Kremer, Kim Kashkashian, Joseph Szigeti, Helmut Lachenmann, Whitney Houston, Little Dragon, Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Try to understand why you are making music, what you want to say in your interpretations and to whom you want to say it. Without getting too fluffy, I really do think it’s also important to always remember what a privilege it is to make art professionally and to never take it for granted – the world needs more gratitude and we can start with being grateful for the enlightening task we as musicians have been set!
Stephen Upshaw performs a recital with Trinity Laban students and staff at St Alfege Church in Greenwich on 8 June – more information here.
Since making his concerto debut at 17, violist Stephen Upshaw has played in prestigious halls (Carnegie Hall, Barbican, Wigmore Hall, Vienna’s Konzerthaus, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw…) and festivals (Lucerne, Salzburg, Huddersfield, City of London, Aix-en-Provence…) around the world. A recognized interpreter of contemporary music, he has worked regularly with ensembles such as Klangforum Wien and Ensemble Modern, collaborating with composers such as Heinz Holliger, Julian Anderson, John Adams, Helmut Lachenmann and Michael Finnissy, who recently wrote a new solo piece for Stephen.
Stephen has a strong interest in synthesizing music with other fields and has helped realize collaborative projects with the Boston Architectural College, Transport Theatre Company, Hofesh Shechter Company, Rambert Dance Company and Parasol Unit Art Space. He is also the founder and Artistic Director of Sounding Motion, a company combining contemporary music and dance.
He holds a BMus(Hon) from the New England Conservatory of Music (Boston) and completed his Postgraduate studies in the class of David Takeno at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. In 2016 he was awarded the Richard Carne Fellowship for solo artists at Trinity Laban.
Love, in its infinite variety, was in the air at Hoxton Hall on Wednesday evening for a concert of newly-written love songs for solo piano, performed by British pianist William Howard. The event was the first of three marking the culmination of William’s Love Song Project, which began with the release of William’s album of romantic songs without words, Sixteen Love Songs, in June 2016. Having commissioned and performed music by living composers throughout his career, William wanted to explore the possibility of creating a contemporary version of his Sixteen Love Songs, modern songs without words on the theme of love which would connect to the composers featured on the Sixteen Love Songs disc. From an idea discussed while hill-walking with composer Piers Hellawell, the Love Song Project came to be and was met with great enthusiasm by the composers whom William initially approached. Alongside the commissioned pieces by leading British composers including Robert Saxton, Judith Weir, Bernard Hughes, Cheryl Frances-Hoad and Howard Skempton, William launched a composing competition which yielded 526 entries, of which we heard the first, second and third prize winners in the under 25 and over 25 categories.
The subject of love is, of course, the major preoccupation of pop songs and composers of the Romantic period, but has rather fallen out of favour amongst modern and contemporary composers whose focus seems to be more abstract or concerned with the big issues of the day such as climate change or political upheaval. In his introductory talk, William explained that this “very indulgent” project had revealed a great variety of compositional languages, imagination, moods and character. Many of the works are very meaningful, or highly personal, are easy to relate to and travel far beyond the confines of the strictly defined genre of “classical music”. What the works share is their brevity, and “an overwhelming tenderness for the piano” (Piers Hellawell), and reveal the infinite lyricism and resonance of the piano.
Aside from the championing of contemporary composers, the project has produced a wonderful body of new repertoire for solo piano to suit all tastes.
The audience was invited to give feedback and select favourites from the programme of 12 pieces, but it would be hard to choose one stand-out piece from such a broad range of very fine music. The winning competition entries had clearly been selected with thought, the judges careful to avoid imposing their own stylistic agenda on the pieces, and these were interleaved with commissioned works to create a programme of great charm and variety. The works reflected the myriad facets of love – from tender pieces written for babies or children (‘Camille’ by Joby Talbot, ‘Daniel Josiah is Sleeping’ by Simon Mawhinney) or a partner (‘For Teresa’ by Robert Saxton, which quotes Beethoven’s ‘Fur Elise’, another love song for piano, and is redolent of Schumann’s heartfelt outpourings to Clara in its melodic lines and rich textures). Other works focussed on more abstract aspects of love, or love other than the human kind (‘Arbophillia’ (love of trees) by Samuel Cho Lik Heng, third prize winner in the under 25 category). The programme ended with Cheryl Frances-Hoad’s ‘Love Song for Dusty’, which pays homage to both Dusty Springfield (“a temporary obsession of mine when I discovered that other types of music existed other than ‘Classical’“) in its song structures (verses, choruses, bridges) and pop-infused harmonies, and also to the nineteenth century composers of sweepingly romantic piano solos and songs without words such as Mendelssohn and Liszt. It had a wonderful warmth suffused with wit and humour. William’s sensitive, graceful playing brought to the fore the individual characters of each piece, not an easy task when one is moving between very short pieces of contrasting mood and style.
This was a really delightful evening, made more so by the number of friends and supporters in the audience who together created a very friendly and convivial atmosphere: it felt like a concert for friends and amongst friends – the best kind of music making – and pianists can look forward to the opportunity to explore some wonderful new repertoire.
The Love Song Project concerts continues at Leighton House Museum and Cheltenham International Music Festival in May and June, and include music by Judith Weir, Howard Skempton and Nico Muhly. Details here
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