Only Connect: the Festival launch and dancing with Death

There was an expectant audience and an eager buzz at last night’s gathering to launch this year’s Sounds New Festival. The majestic atrium of Augustine House was abuzz with visitors and distinguished guests leafing through this year’s new brochure, hunting for favourite composers, major works or big-name performers coming to Canterbury this May.

The welcome address from Ian Odgers, Chairman of the Board of Directors, reflected on the importance of Sounds New as a means of enhancing the status of Canterbury and east Kent as a cultural mecca, and its contribution to boosting the region’s economic performance. Together with the Deal and Canterbury Festivals, the three events form a complementary alliance that makes this part of the country a vibrant cultural attraction.

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Paul Edlin addresses the guests

Artistic Director, Paul Max Edlin (pictured) followed in his own inimitable fashion by highlighting the fact that, as well as presenting cutting-edge music and high-profile performers, the Festival is also about having fun, with its enhanced educational projects and outreach events; as he wryly observed, it’s that rare thing, ‘contemporary music with a sense of humour.’ He also reminded the guests that Sounds New is also about nurturing the music of the future, about helping up-and-coming composers and performers to establish themselves; ‘after all,’ he observed dryly, ‘musicians also need to eat.’

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After the Sheriff of Canterbury had also welcomed the launch, and having duly refreshed their glasses, the assembled crowd was then ushered into Augustine Hall, which had been transformed into the dimly-lit atmosphere of a night-club, with a hushed audience seated around tables by flickering candlelight, for the festival’s first major performance: Death’s Cabaret, with cellist Matthew Sharp and the Sacconi Quartet.

A cultural mélange of drama, music, monologue, song and movement, the piece represents a tour de force for the solo cellist, who is obliged to be raconteur, instrumentalist, actor, singer and all-round dramatic performer. Ranging from a concerto grosso-style dialogue with the string quartet to folk-singer and actor, Matthew Sharp proved himself an extraordinary performer, rising to the challenge of delivering across the range of disciplines required.

As the story of a successful performer who loses his confidence after being criticised for his ‘lack of connection’ with the music, and who subsequently descends into a personal nightmare cycle of sex and death, the piece comes across as a cross between an instrumental concerto and Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. But the aspect of connecting with audiences, with the music, is itself a reflection of exactly what Sounds New is all about: connecting listeners with music of today, of now, and widening the audiences who are connecting with contemporary music through performances, education projects, even through the BBC (through its partnership with the BBC, who record and broadcast events from the Festival, Sounds New reaches over a million listeners). As a dramatic realisation of Sounds New’s mission, Death’s Cabaret was the ideal vehicle with which to launch this year’s programme.

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Photos © Peter Cook / Sounds New

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