New chamber opera double-bill comes to Canterbury this Sunday

October 23, 2014

Canterbury’s contemporary music fans are in for a treat this Sunday, as Nova Music Ensemble brings a double-bill of new chamber opera to this year’s Canterbury Festival.

Cecilia McDowall’s Airborne marks this year’s World War One centenary theme in a tribute to the forgotten pilots of the Royal Flying Corps; here she is talking about the work

Fournier: The Funeral of Shelley

Fournier: The Funeral of Shelley

Partnering this is Prometheus Drowned by Stephen McNeff, examining the strange death of Shelley; here’s Stephen talking about the piece and the influence of Fournier’s famous painting.

Both works were premiered earlier this year at the Presteigne Festival; this will be a great opportunity to catch them in Canterbury this weekend. More details here.

Miscriant reviews: Led Bib at Sounds New 2014

May 13, 2014

The omni-present cultural blogger, Miscriant, has been wielding a sharpened pencil again, and reviews Led Bib’s recent gig as part of this year’s Sounds New festival.

Read it online here.

Review: Cuckooland Revisited at Sounds New 2014

May 13, 2014

Spotted on Like A Hammer in the Sink, a review of last week’s Cuckooland: Revisited performance at the Colyer-Fergusson Hall as part of this year’s Sounds New Festival. Some dynamic sketches of the performers too…

Image: Like A Hammer in the Sink

Read it here.

Music under clear skies: Songs, Chimes and Dances: chamber music of Rob Keeley

May 12, 2014

The sun-drenched opening clarion call of ‘Music for Art and Tom’ sets the scene for the whole of Songs, Chimes and Dances, a survey of chamber music written between 1994 and 2007 by British composer Rob Keeley.

The opening piece displays Keeley’s trademark lyrical melodic writing in the saxophone’s woven lines, punctuated by prismatic chordal textures in the piano. Moving in step, the two instruments chime together in the second, more sedate section, with some beautifully struck sonorities in the accompaniment. There’s a charm to the music – but this isn’t to damn it; instead it’s a robust charm, one that is assured, supported by a good bone-structure – less simplistic than it is solid in its evolving form and musical language, a characteristic that runs throughout Keeley’s music.

Song_Chimes_DancesThere’s a questing sense to the opening widely-spaced sonority of the second piece on this disc, ‘Bells of Halkis,’ a question posed that the rest of the piece endeavours to answer in the ensuing, gradually unfurling lines. In contrast, the following ‘Little Trio’ moves with a bustling character in its combination of clarinet, cello and piano.

The two-movement ‘Two Ways of Looking At A Spider’ is reminiscent of that other, great work for classical guitar, Tippett’s Blue Guitar. Filigree textures contrast with vibrant struck chords and plucked harmonics in the opening ‘A Spider Dances,’ followed by the contrasting, evocative nocturne, ‘The Spider Laments at Night’. The piece is here exquisitely performed by guitarist Jonathan Learwood.

The opening of the Andante of the ‘Trio for Horn, Violin and Piano’ employs a falling gesture enriched with the timbre of the French horn, a languorous figure which slowly draws out its colours as it repeats. A dancing scherzo pitches the piano against deftly-stepping violin and horn duo; the final movement (subtitled ‘Piccola Scena Amorosa’) explores a darker hue, drawing on the rich ochre colour of the French horn at the heart of the ensemble.

The suite which gives the disc its name is a series of six studies; lithe, agile, lyrical, Puckish, including the warm hues of no.V, or the minimalist-style exploration of a fixed set of pitches gradually evolving in no. VI. This is music under a clear sky, open, lyrical and inventive, effortlessly played by oboist Melinda Maxwell

Rob_KeeleyThe last suite, ‘Oregon Moods,’ for clarinet, alto saxophone and piano opens with a beautiful series of chords, a gestures which, in typical fashion, repeats and evolves as it explores its own potential. There’s an hommage to the quixotic Erik Satie in the lyrical yet sad third movement, ‘Gallic.’

I first heard Keeley’s music in the lithe On The Tiles (2003) for violin and piano, the brisk, energetic Concerto for Piano and Twelve Instruments (2007) and the lissom Six Inventions for Flute and Clarinet written in 2011. What struck me immediately was the vigour, the energy combined with an assured ear for textural detail and a radiant harmonic language, which this music imparted. The music on the current disc is from an earlier period, and whilst the later chamber works display a tonal language that becomes less openly Mediterranean, perhaps, in its tonal palette, Keeley’s harmonic language remains clear, full of colour; at once immediately accessible yet rich in its tonal colours. There’s a Ravelian quality to the piano writing, with occasional reminiscences of George Benjamin; there’s mischief too, alongside the sonorous landscape evoked by pieces such as Bells of Halkis. Keeley’s formal organisation seems to rely less on traditional methods than on evolving patterns, hinted ostinati that evolve, or question-and-answer exchanges between instruments, musical lines engaged in dialogue, and through-composed, singing melodies possessed of a resourceful inventiveness. Keeley writes great endings to his pieces, too; either darting, scurrying lines that conclude abruptly, inconclusively, or sonorities that are left deliberately poised, waiting to pursue harmonic avenues left unexplored; as a listener, you are left wanting more.

This disc is released on the NMC label, which in 2013 celebrated its twenty-fifth year, an age belied by the youthful vigour of its catalogue; the survey on this album shines a light through the stained-glass hues of some of Keeley’s chamber music.

Image Gallery: Sounds New 2014 Day Seven

May 9, 2014

Live poetry and music as part of Free Range at Mrs Jones’ Kitchen in the heart of Canterbury: images from day seven of the festival.

Images (c) Sounds New / Peter Cook

Review: Leap of Death with Robert Stillman

May 9, 2014

Over on Inquire, editor Matthew Gilley pens an insightful review of Robert Stillman’s Leap of Death project, part of Sounds New 2014 that took place earlier this week.

Read it online here.

Out of this world: review of Icebreaker at Sounds New 2014 by Miscriant

May 9, 2014

The ubiquitous culture-blogger, Miscriant, has been at it again; here’s a terrific review of the Icebreaker concert at the festival last week, featuring Brian Eno’s beautiful response to the NASA moon-landings footage, Apollo: for All Mankind, a premiere by Ed Bennett, and pieces by Julia Wolfe and Roy Carrol. Plus some lovely photographs. as usual.

Image: Miscriant

Image: Miscriant

Read the review online here.

Clouds from Cuckooland: film by Janek Schaefer of the festival installation

May 8, 2014

Artist Janek Schaefer’s film of his Clouds from Cuckooland installation at the Sidney Cooper Gallery, Canterbury, for this year’s Sounds New Festival.

Clouds from Cuckooland from Janek Schaefer on Vimeo.

Image Gallery: Day Six

May 8, 2014

The Brodsky Quartet and singer Elaine Mitchener in rehearsal for the Robert Wyatt Project at the University of Kent’s Colyer-Fergusson Hall, and saxophonist John Harle with pianist Steve Lodder in performance at St Gregory’s Centre, on Day Six of the festival.


Images © Sounds New / Peter Cook

Launch night review: Miscriant blogs

May 7, 2014

Terrific review of the launch night of Sounds New 2014 from culture-vulture and Kent-based blogger, Miscriant, which includes some very fine photographs of the Piano in the a Woods exhibition and Janek Schaefer’s sound-installation at the Sidney Cooper Gallery.

sidney_cooperRead for yourself online here.