Sunday, 22 April 2012

Review of the April Concert

‘The whole evening was so very lively, unlike some contemporary concerts I attend … where the audience sometimes seem a trifle disengaged. And the reception very warm, to all the pieces. And the performances superb.’
- Anthony Gilbert, composer
Review: Jeremy Huw Williams / Nigel Foster; Unitarian Chapel, St Saviourgate, York
By Martin Dreyer
It takes a fair act of faith to attend a song recital which includes six world premieres, on four of which the ink has still not dried, according to the advance brochure.
Or does it? The thrill of the new never fades. Moreover, the promoters of the York Late Music concert series know what they are doing.
Audiences trust them to deliver quality – and that is what we got in last Saturday’s programme by the experienced and eloquent duo of baritone Jeremy Huw Williams and pianist Nigel Foster.
A relentless thread of melancholy pervaded the evening, reflecting contemporary angst, perhaps, although in truth, since John Dowland’s early 17th century outpourings, melancholy has always been a strong element in British song.
Two song-cycles stood out. David Power kept the accompaniments to his Six Poetical Songs mainly chordal, with spare harmonies, which gave the poetic snatches room to speak, sometimes sardonically, eventually with barely ironic menace.
Steve Crowther’s touching Songs for Fred, inspired by his father’s death, offered glimpses of a Yorkshire life, mainly set to Don Walls’s evocative lyrics. The music was especially effective when reflecting a gentle imagination on the loose.
David Lancaster’s Propaganda, setting two exceptional love-songs by Daniela Nunnari, Ailís Ní Ríain’s Brontë-inspired recitative Mourning Bracelet, Peter Byrom-Smith’s light-hearted sketches of York, Julian Broughton’s haunting Shadow Play, and James Else’s elegiac One Hour all made distinctive contributions to an entertainingly multi-faceted look at the melancholic.

Overcoming the constraints of tradition

Igor Stravinsky whose Rite of Spring caused a riot on its première

There are certain rules about most music concerts, such as applauding solos by jazz artists or waving a lighter at stadium rock concerts. Classical music has its own customs and we work within these, while aiming to update some, without doing a ‘Stravinsky’.
Our main intention is to make classical music more open, with communication between composers, performers and audience. We have composers’ talks before each concert and encourage performers to talk about the works being performed. But, if you haven’t been to a concert like this before – what do you need to know?
We hope this helps:
Is there a dress code? 
No, not at all!
How long are the concerts? 
Concerts usually last about two hours.
Is there an interval? 
Yes, we have an interval, usually about 15/20 minutes long. That’s included in the two hour length of concert.
Will there be drinks/refreshments? 
We run a small bar offering wine and juice. As the Chapel is not licensed to sell alcohol, we ask for donations of £2 for a glass of wine and 50p for juice.
What do I need to know in advance? 
You don’t need to know anything but, if you are interested, there will be information about the featured composers and performers on the website plus some sound files to listen to. There will be a pre-concert talk by a featured composer who will invite questions. The concert programme has information on the composers and the pieces being performed. We also have a concert feedback form for your comments.
When should I applaud? 
If you enjoy what you hear, the usual ‘rule’ is to applaud at the end of a piece. Some pieces have more than a single section – these are indicated in the concert programme. If you’re not sure, wait until a couple of other people have started and join in.
Anything else? 
We look forward to hearing from you. What is your experience of attending a classical music concert? Leave us a comment below. You can also get in touch with us on Twitter, our user id is @LateMusicUK

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Late Music and diversity

The Song Recital featuring baritone Jeremy Huw Williams and pianist Nigel Foster (Saturday 7th April) was a real triumph of style and diversity: six new works written for the concert, settings of ten local or regional poets who were (mostly) present for this feast of song.

But what of a concert of String Quartets?

On Saturday 5th May the Ligeti String Quartet will play music by Philip Glass, John Adams, Nicola Le Fanu, myself and a new work by David Lancaster. Is this a diverse bag of compositions? Well yes.
For Mr Glass, repetition and process are the tools he uses to spin these minimalist webs of intricate beauty. But are there echoes of the past? How about the Baroque? Bach and Glass, surely not. Well, both styles tend to meet at one central idea, that the music creates a single state or mood, as opposed to the Classical idea of drama and duality, for example.
However, one could also make the point that …’ whereas Bach can create multiple meanings from a single line, Glass can only create minimal meanings however many lines!!’ [Nicola Le Fanu].

Ah, but Zen…

good win for Chelsea last night
John Adams’ Fellow Traveller also comes under the ‘minimalist’ umbrella, but this fast, syncopated driven short piece embraces a different aesthetic to the world of Glass.
Nicola likened the form of her String Quartet ‘…as like a concise poem, a musical equivalent to a sonnet’. And, as it was composed for the London international String Quartet competition in 1997, it had 12 premieres in one day!
Can one compose ‘political’ music? Frederic Rzewski is profoundly moved by matters of injustice, class and even revolution eg in the magnificent set of piano variations, The People United Will Never Be Defeated. My String Quartet No1 is subtitled ‘A Song for Salford’ and responds to my first visit to Salford many years ago. Much of the writing is raw and physical but there is, in the musical train journey, a search for hope, if not salvation. That was found in the people I met and reflected in a search for a tonal resolution.
The first movement of David Lancaster’s piece looks to the spiky sound world of Bernard Hermann for inspiration. The resulting Vertigo, a movement full of wit and invention, was part of a Partners in Suspense project, a fitting celebration of the Hitchcock and Hermann collaborations. The second movement, no doubt, will have many new twists and turns… I can’t wait!