Tag Archives: new music

The piano at Borough New Music

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.

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Douglas Finch

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.

For a full programme, visit www.boroughnewmusic.co.uk.

Here is a selection of concerts in the 2017-18 season involving the piano (note the impressive number of premieres):

Series 2

Tuesday 3 October 2017, 1pm ‘Resonate’

José Menor (piano)

· Patrick Nunn (b. 1969) – Cryptograms I-VIII (2011-15) (PERFORMANCE PREMIERE)

· Sam Hayden (b. 1968) – Becomings (Complete) (2017) (WORLD PREMIERE)

· György Ligeti (1923-2006) – Piano Etude Book 2 No 9 Vertige (1994)

· Tomas Peire Serrate (b. 1979) – Toccata (2017) (WORLD PREMIERE)

Tuesday 24 October 2017, 1pm ‘Reverberate’

Christopher Guild (piano)

· Ben Gaunt (b. 1984) – Piano Sonata No. 1 (WORLD PREMIERE)

· Poul Ruders (b. 1949) – Piano Sonata No. 2 (1982)

Tuesday 31 October 2017, 1pm ‘Reward’

Trinity Laban John Halford Piano and Composition Competition Prizewinning Recital

Pianists: Joe Howson (winner), Ieva Dubova, Mahsa Salali (commended), Marisa Munoz Lopez (commended), Neus Peris Ferrer. Composers: Harry Palmer, Michael Worboys (winner), Rotem Sherman (commended), Toby Ingram

· Harry Palmer (b. 1994) – Birthday Song for Erwin (2017)

· Kaikhosru Sorabji (1892-1988) – Transcendental Etude 20 ‘con fantasia’ (1944)

· Thomas Ades (b. 1971) – Concert Paraphrase on Powder Her Face (2009) (Movts I & IV)

· Michael Worboys – Bone Memories (2017)

· Toby Ingram (b. 1998)- Into the Unknown (2017)

· Rotem Sherman – Home (2017)

· Hans Werner Henze (1926-2012) – Präludien zu Tristan (2003)

· Frederic Rzewski (b. 1938) – Piano Piece IV (1977)

Series 3

Tuesday 7 November 2017, 1pm ‘Last Words’

Patricia Auchterlonie (soprano), Antonia Berg (flute), Ben Smith (piano), Yoanna Prodanova (cello)

Salvatore Sciarrino (b. 1947) – Due melodie per soprano e pianoforte (1978)

· Ben Smith (b. 1991) – New Work (WORLD PREMIERE)

· Kate Soper (b. 1981) – Only the words themselves mean what they say (2010-11) (UK PREMIERE)

· Salvatore Sciarrino – Ultime rose (from Vanitas) (1981)

Tuesday 14 November 2017, 1pm ‘Babbitt-Haas-Emmerson’

Ben Smith (piano), Patricia Auchterlonie (soprano)

· Milton Babbitt (1916-2011) – Philomel (1964)

· Georg Friedrich Haas (b. 1953) – Ein Schattenspiel (2004)

· Simon Emmerson (b. 1950) – Time Past IV (1985)

Tuesday 21 November 2017, 1pm ‘Sensations’

PERFORMER: Ben Smith (piano)

· Robert Reid Allan (b. 1991) – The Palace of Light (2016) (LONDON PREMIERE)

· Colon Nancarrow (1912-1997) – Three Canons for Ursula (1988)

· Julian Anderson (b. 1967) – Sensation (2015-16)

Tuesday 28 November 2017, 1pm ‘Haikus’

FEATURED COMPOSER: Eva-Maria Houben

Antonia Berg (flute), Patricia Auchterlonie (soprano), Ben Smith (piano), Yoanna Prodanova (cello)

· Eva-Maria Houben (b. 1955) – Haikus for four (I, V, VIII, IX) (2003-04) (UK PREMIERE)

Series 4

Tuesday 16 January 2018, 1pm ‘Islands’

Carla Rees (flutes), Ian Mitchell (clarinets), Clare Simmonds (piano)

· Robert Percy (b. 1961) – Touching the Void (WORLD PREMIERE)

· Dan Kessner (b. 1946) – Genera

· Robert Percy (b. 1961) – New work (WORLD PREMIERE)

· Tom Ingoldsby (b. 1957) – The Cathedral (WORLD PREMIERE)

· Robert Percy (b. 1961) – Beacons (version for piano, flute and clarinet)

Tuesday 30 January 2018, 1pm ‘Muscle Memory’

Matthew Schellhorn (piano)

· Roger Briggs (b. 1952) – Jitterbug

· Robert Percy (b. 1961) – Chopsticks

· Edwin Roxburgh (b. 1937) – Prelude and Toccata

· Colin Riley (b. 1963) – Joplin Jigsaws

· Joseph Horovitz (b. 1926) – Pierrot’s Hornpipe (WORLD PREMIERE)

Series 5

Tuesday 6 February 2018, 1pm

Ben Smith (piano), Kirsty Clark (viola), Patricia Auchterlonie (soprano)

· Helmut Lachenmann (b. 1935) – Got Lost (2008)

· Peter Maxwell Davies (1934-2016) – The Door of the Sun (1975)

· Martin Lodge (b. 1954) – Pacific Rock (1999)

Tuesday 20 February 2018, 1pm ‘Songwriters of 2018’

Robert Reid Allan (glockenspiel/melodica), Ben Smith (piano, glockenspiel/melodica), Siân Dicker (soprano), Mimi Doulton (soprano), Delphine Mégret (soprano), Krystal Tunnicliffe (piano)

· Jake Dorfman (b. 1993) – Short Songs on Liberty (2016)

· Clare Elton (b. 1993) – Escape (2017)

· James Garner (b. 1992) – Emily Dickinson Settings (2015)

· Jules Pegram (b. 1991) – Valentines (2015)

· Mo Zhao (b. 1993) – Just Watching (2017)

· Rasmus Zwicki (b. 1979) – Fly Little Birdy (2017)

Tuesday 27 February 2018, 1pm ‘Two Sopranos, a Cello & a Piano’

Patricia Auchterlonie (soprano), Mimi Doulton (soprano), Urška Horvat (cello), Clare Simmonds (piano)

· Harrison Birtwistle (b 1934) – Nine Settings of Lorine Niedecker (1998-2000)

· André Previn (b 1929) – Four Songs for Soprano, Cello and Piano (1994)

· John Tavener (1944-2013) – Akhmatova Songs (selection) (1993)

Series 6

Tuesday 13 March 2018, 1pm

The Durufle Trio: Henrietta Hill (viola), Rosie Bowker (flute), Clare Simmonds (piano), Janet Oates (soprano)

· Rob Keeley (b. 1960) – Trio in One Movement (2017)

· Tom Armstrong – From Consort Music (2016): Monody & Concertino (WORLD PREMIERE)

· Janet Oates – Singings and Sayings (2017) (WORLD PREMIERE)

· Colin Riley (b. 1963) – New Work (2018) (WORLD PREMIERE)

· Rhiannon Randle (b. 1993) – New Work (2018)

Tuesday 20 March 2018, 1pm ‘Ear ring’

In collaboration with World Toy Piano Week

Kate Ryder, piano/toy piano

· John Cage – Suite for Toy Piano (1948)

· Stace Constantinou (b. 1971) – Cactus Prelude 6 for Toy Piano and Fixed Media(2014)

· Christian Banasik (b. 1963) – TRIMER for Toy Piano and Fixed Media (2001)

· Julia Wolfe (b. 1958) – Earring (2000); East Broadway for Toy Piano and Boombox (1996)

· Brian Inglis – New work for Toy Piano (WORLD PREMIERE)

· Yumi Hara – Farouche (2008)

· Katharine Norman (b. 1960) – Fuga Interna (begin) (2011)

· Meredith Monk (b. 1942) – Rail Road (travel song) for Solo Piano (1981); St Petersburg Waltz(1994)

· Stephen Montague (b.1943) – Mirabella – A Tarantella for Toy Piano (1995)

Tuesday 27 March 2018, 1pm

Loré Lixenberg (voice), Chris Brannick (marimba), Clare Simmonds (piano)

· Gregory Rose – Birdsongs for Loré, Volume 1 (WORLD PREMIERE)

· Gregory Rose – Quelques gouttes d’eau sur une surface (WORLD PREMIERE)

· Gregory Rose – Aphrodite and Adonis (UK PREMIERE)

· Gregory Rose – Music for a Kytherian Amphitheatre (WORLD PREMIERE)

Series 7

Tuesday 3 April 2018, 1pm

Elisabeth Swedlund (soprano), Jean-Max Lattemann (counter-tenor), Clare Simmonds (piano)

George Crumb (b. 1929) – Apparition: Elegiac Songs for Soprano and Amplified Piano

· HK Gruber (b. 1943) – Three Single Songs

· Ross Edwards (b. 1943) – The Hermit of Green Light

· Julian Grant (b. 1960) – The Owl and the Pussycat

Tuesday 10 April 2018, 1pm

Clare Simmonds, piano

· Edward Henderson – Black Box Flight Recorder (2012)

· Edward Henderson – Hold (2017)

· Edward Henderson – Tape Piece (2014)

Tuesday 17 April 2018, 1pm ‘Sound Clouds’

Douglas Finch (piano), Martin Speake (saxophone)

· Improvisations

Series 8

Tuesday 1 May 2018, 1pm

Philip Mead, Piano

· Tim Raymond (b. 1953) – Orbit of Venus (2014)

· Richard Blackford (b. 1954) – Sonata (2016) (LONDON PREMIERE)

· Jonathan Harvey (1939-2012) – Purgatory from 4 Images After Yeats (1969)

· Edward Cowie (b. 1943) – Preludes 1 and 2 from 24 Preludes (2004-2005)

· Lisa Reim – Pebbles (2004)

Tuesday 22 May 2018, 1pm ‘Cello, Electric Guitar & Piano’

Audrey Riley (cello), James Woodrow (electric guitar), Clare Simmonds (piano)

· Tom Armstrong – Diversions 3

· Stuart Beatch (b. 1991) – Three movements

· Joel Järventausta (b. 1995) – Elegy for Solo Piano (WORLD PREMIERE)

· David Ryan – New work (WORLD PREMIERE)

Tuesday 29 May 2018, 1pm

Joseph Spooner (cello) and Rebeca Omordia (piano)

· Matthew Taylor (b. 1964) – Sonata No. 1 (op. 29)

· Sally Beamish (b. 1956) – Gala Water (1994)

· Sally Beamish – The Wise Maid (1998)

· Matthew Taylor – Fantasy Pieces (op. 30)

Series 9

Tuesday 19 June 2018, 1pm

Janet Oates (soprano, flute), Clare Simmonds (piano), Jill House (mezzo soprano),

Nancy Johnston (cor anglais) Olivia Moss (soprano)

· Janet Oates – Atomic songs and fancies

· Jonathan Harvey (1939-2012)- Ah Sunflower (2008)

· Janet Oates – Blind Fool Love

· Tansy Davies (b. 1973) – Destroying Beauty (2008)

· Janet Oates – Arse-elbow (WORLD PREMIERE)

· 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.

Meet the Artist……Charlotte Bray, composer

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.

And performers?

Play music that is being written now, before it is too late.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Somewhere unexpected.

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.

Read Charlotte’s full biography

(picture © Michael Wickham)

Meet the Artist……Stephen Upshaw

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.

www.stephenupshaw.com


Let there be Love (Songs)

william-howard-plays-sixteen-love-songs-for-piano-lst198567

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

Young talent blooms at St John’s Smith Square

PLG Young Artists Spring Series 2017, St John’s Smith Square, 24 April 2017

Joy Lisney, cello

Laefer Saxophone Quartet

Programme:

Gyorgy Ligeti – Solo Cello Sonata
Jan Vriend – Symphonic Dances for solo cello (world premiere)
Richard Rodney Bennett – Saxophone Quartet
Charlotte Harding – Sub to Street, to Scraping the Sky (world premiere)
Joy Lisney – ScordaturA for solo cello (world premiere)
George Crumb – Sonata for solo cello
Giles Swayne – Leapfrog for saxophone quartet (world premiere)
Mendelssohn – Capriccio Op. 81 No. 3 (for saxophone quartet)

The PLG Young Artists Series 2017 at SJSS has a special focus on young artists who are also composers, and the concerts include a number of world premieres by leading composers, as well as young artists performing their own works. A shame, then, that with so much young talent on display, this concert was so sparsely attended. We should be supporting young artists such as these – and composers too, young and old – for by doing so we future proof classical music for the next generation and beyond. Sadly, I suspect the modern and uber-contemporary repertoire, which featured in this engaging programme, was the deal-breaker for most potential audience members – it’s that recurrent “problem” with new music, the anxiety that it will be too esoteric, inaccessible, atonal, discordant, impenetrable….. In fact, this programme contained nothing to offend nor assail the ears, and much to delight and intrigue. There were melodies and lyricism aplenty in all the works performed, and the combination of performers – a solo cellist and a saxophone quartet – made for a varied and interesting evening of music which complemented and contrasted, and all of it was highly accessible, even to the novice listener.

I first heard Joy Lisney at SJSS in 2011. Back then, in her first year at Cambridge, she impressed with her musical maturity and poised stage presence in music by Lutolawski and Chopin. Six years on, she’s now working on her doctorate while sustaining a busy career, as a soloist, chamber musician, conductor of the newly-formed Seraphin Chamber Orchestra, and a composer. This multi-dimensional approach to music making is refreshingly enterprising, but also harks back to nineteenth-century composer-musicians like Franz Liszt and Clara Schumann. And there’s something really special about hearing a composer perform their own music – the sense of ownership is very potent and this was certainly the case with Joy’s work. In fact, as Joy explained in her introduction to her piece ‘ScordaturA’, named after the technique of tuning the strings of the cello out of their usual sequence of perfect fifths, and receiving its world premiere at this concert, she found writing for her own instrument particularly difficult, and that spending time writing at the instrument (rather than at her desk) enabled her to find a distinct voice in the music rather than be too heavily influenced by the other repertoire she plays. Having said that, the work pays homage to the Sonatas for Solo Violoncello by Ligeti and Crumb which she also played – it opens with pizzicato figures and strummed strings, motifs which are found in the sonatas. The Scordatura tuning produced striking colours and timbres, while the bariolage string-crossing technique created some very haunting and ethereal sound effects. After a climactic con moto middle section the work subsided back into the harmonic figures of the opening, its ending enigmatic and uncertain. An intriguing and thoughtful work which sat very well with the other music she performed.

The other work for solo cello receiving its premiere at this concert was ‘Symphonic Dances’ by Jan Vriend, a composer with whom Joy has a long-standing creative relationship. This work is dedicated to her and is redolent of Bach’s suites for solo cello (indeed it references the Suite No. 1 in G) in both its motifs and organisation – a sequence of dances of different meters and distinct characters. The work was delightfully varied, virtuosic but never overblown, engaging, witty, and melodically colourful, with much harmonic, textural and rhythmic interest which the composer employs to drive the impression of “symphonic” writing for a single line instrument. The work gave full rein to Joy’s formidable technique while also demonstrating how such technique should always serve the music. This is clearly the type of music she relishes – she’s very alert to rapidly shifting moods, contrasting motifs, expansive writing and technical challenges – and her enjoyment was evident: this was playing suffused with style and energy.

Similarly, her approach to the sonatas by Ligeti and Crumb demonstrated an ease with this type of repertoire. The Ligeti was wonderfully voiced, with a clear sense of dialogue between melancholy phrases and questioning pizzicato chords, and it proved an impressive opener to the concert. Both the Ligeti and Crumb draw inspiration from folk melodies of their native countries, the innate lyricism and expression highlighted by the warm resonant tone of Joy’s instrument and her sensitive shaping of motifs and phrases.

In constrast to the rather more darkly-hued, melancholy works (with the exception of the Vriend) performed by Joy Lisney, Laefer Saxophone Quartet (their name comes from the Anglo-Saxon for “reed” and “sheet metal”) presented works more upbeat in character, performed with style and panache. The saxophone is more usually associated with jazz or big band music, but in these works by Richard Rodney Bennett, Charlotte Harding, Giles Swayne and Felix Mendelssohn (arr. Martin Trillaud), Laefer proved the instrument’s importance, and success, in classical repertoire with fine ensemble playing, crisp articulation, contrasting vibrant and warm tones, close interplay between performers, and a sense of wit and playfulness – most evident in Giles Swayne’s ‘Leapfrog’ (2017). In Charlotte Harding’s ‘Sub to Street, to Scraping the Sky’ the buzzing, bustling, honking of New York City is atmospherically evoked: from the baritone sax’s low rumblings to suggest the rattle and grind of the subway trains, to the soaring skyline, lyrically portrayed by the soprano sax.

This was an impressive opener for a week of concerts at SJSS by PLG Young Artists, with all performers revealing deep commitment to their music making in a wide-ranging and very imaginative programme. In fact, these young people are not the musicians of the future, poised on the threshold of their professional careers: they are the musicians of here and now, fully fledged and ready to make their mark on the world. Please go and hear them and support them.

PLG concerts continue at SJSS until 28th April

Joy Lisney performs her own new work and Vriend’s ‘Symphonic Dances’ in London and Tetbury – further details here

Meet the Artist……Richard Barnard, composer

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Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?

Probably many things. I remember sitting at home at the piano, playing (I use the term loosely) Bach’s Preludes and Fugues, trying to work out how the hell he did it. Also my parents, teachers at sixth form and university: Martin Read, Michael Zev Gordon, Vic Hoyland and then Diana Burrell at GSMD.

What have been the greatest challenges/frustrations of your career so far?

Unfavourably comparing myself to other composers and artists. It’s so easy to descend into a Facebook-style Scroll of Shame where every successful and sparkly new thing makes you panic and think ‘I should be doing that!’ It is challenging to learn how to be influenced by other people’s ideas and techniques without feeling you have to follow their path.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?

First of all, commissions are fantastic. Everyone should commission composers AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE! Pieces often take ages to write and there won’t be much decent new music that defines and enriches our time and culture if people don’t commission it.

It is also incredibly motivating to have that deadline and the vision of a future audience at the first performance anticipating your new work.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?

I write for a variety of people and situations, from professional singers and ensembles to school or community groups who have to learn things quickly and have fun doing so. Learning what works in what context is a tough skill. It takes a long time to master. I love writing for voice and I’ve been working a lot with solo singers recently. It’s great to have their voice in your head as you write and to think about the shape of the text, the breathing, the pacing and the drama of it.

Of which works are you most proud? My two recently commissioned song cycles, ‘Woolf Letters’ and ‘Early Stroll Songs’, which set Virginia Woolf’s letters to her sister and Ian McMillan’s Early Stroll tweets. I’m also very proud to have produced three performances of my opera ‘The Hidden Valley’ at St George’s Bristol this year, working with an incredible team of artists – I did, however, need a very long lie down in a darkened room afterwards.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

I like to think it’s an English sound, rooted in nature, often starting from melody and the voice.

How do you work?

I work best early. I have a lot of ideas doing other activities (gardening, showering etc.) as it gives space and time for the brain to process ideas. When I was writing ‘Early Stroll Songs’ I got into a routine of starting composing first thing (6.30-ish) for a few hours: At the keyboard, with pencil, Manuscript paper, black tea. I could usually complete 1 short song each day or two. My wife often acts as an editor, offering a second pair of ears to help me hear the music from an audience’s perspective. Later in the day, if not teaching, I would do computer / admin-type work: Typesetting, emails, checking twitter too much, grappling with a labyrinthine funding application etc.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

Starting out, my heroes were Bach, Stravinsky, Messiaen, Britten and Steve Reich, but I’ve recently been more drawn to the vocal music of Purcell and Handel, Mozart’s Symphonies, Schubert’s song cycles and the music of David Lang and Laurence Crane. I’m always interested in opera composers and I enjoyed Tansy Davies’ Between Worlds at ENO and Fairy Queen at Iford recently.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

When I was 16 or 17, I went to a performance of Britten’s War Requiem in Southampton. We sat right at the back. After the concert, walking out into the car park, I couldn’t speak. It was such a visceral experience.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Listen to and interrogate lots of good music. Like what you write. Befriend performers. Don’t follow advice too much.

Richard Barnard is a composer based in Bristol. He studied at Guildhall School of Music and Drama and University of Birmingham. He has written operas, song cycles and choral works for Welsh National Opera, Opera North, BBC Singers, Bristol Ensemble, Juice Vocal Ensemble, Siân Cameron and others. He has composed music for dance and theatre, and his chamber pieces have been performed internationally by groups including Delta Saxophone Ensemble, Juice Vocal Ensemble and Kungsbacka Trio.

Richard curated the acclaimed new music series Elektrostatic at Bristol’s Colston Hall and Arnolfini for five years. He has taught orchestration and composition at University of Bristol and is one of the UK’s foremost composition workshop leaders, working with WNO, CBSO, London Sinfonietta, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Philharmonia Orchestra and Eighth Blackbird.

Richard Barnard on YouTube

Twitter@richardmbarnard

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