From the archive: Workers Union Ensemble

(Part of the Sounds New Festival, Theme GB last year, the Workers Union ensemble with Benjamin Oliver in concert.)

Under the baton of composer and conductor, Benjamin Oliver, the Workers Union ensemble performed an eclectic lunchtime concert programme which included Two Elegies Framing A Shout for soprano sax and piano, delivered with astonishing accomplishment by saxophonist Ellie Steemson and pianist Edward Pick. A lyrical first elegy for unaccompanied sax, requiring sustained control of lengthy phrases, is followed by the Shout, in which spiky gestures are punctuated by periods of tense silence, before opening out into a real tour de force for the saxophonist over restless piano riffs. The second Elegy is familiar from Turnage’s epic Blood on the Floor, a beautiful, jazz-hued movement with weaving melodic lines over rich jazz-inflected harmonies. Saxophonist Ellie Steemson demonstrated superb control of her performance, delivered with conviction and commitment and consummate lyrical skill. The piece as a whole is a fine riposte to all those who claim that ‘modern music has no melodies;’ next time you hear it, point them gently in its direction…


In rehearsal

The programme also included Benjamin Oliver’s Ripped Up, for the complete six-piece ensemble. Delicate opening piano chords lead into a driving groove pitching four-against-three rhythms; an elegiac episode interrupts with a cluster-chord, and showed some careful textural writing in the creation of some effective woodwind and percussion sonorities. A ticking shaker sees time fragmenting in its erratic utterances, whilst the piano picks out some gossamer-thread shapes above hushed, low saxophone trills; but the rhythmic impetus is not to be denied, and returns with driving momentum. The faltering ticker interrupts once more, accompanied by haunting mobiles from the xylophone that fall across the barline, before a hesitant conclusion sees the piece finishing with wide-eyed expectancy.

A fascinating programme, delivered with real accomplishment by youthful former members of the Guildhall School. Expect to hear more from them, and from Benjamin Oliver in the future.

(And for anyone who couldn’t make the concert, here they are performing the piece in concert in 2011.)

Originally posted 14 May, 2012 by Daniel Harding

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