Three Questions: Kit Downes

April 28, 2014

Coming to Sounds New as part of Robert Stillman’s Leap of Death project, I put Three Questions to composer and pianist, Kit Downes.

Tell us about yourself.

Kit Downes

Kit Downes

My name is Kit Downes and I’m a composer, pianist and organist living in London. I work with lots of musicians, composers and artists, and also occasionally design instruments. One of the musicians I am lucky enough to play with is Robert Stillmann – a fantastic composer and saxophonist, with whom I will be playing at Sounds New festival this year.

What excites you about contemporary music ?

Any music that moves me I find exciting – not necessarily contemporary music, which I guess I find a slightly nebulous term, just because some of the most constantly challenging and fresh engaging music I hear isn’t necessarily the newest in terms of time-line (contemporary is a slightly subjective term in music I think – hence the name of the band, the ‘Archaic Future Players,’ I guess!) I think that’s something Robert and I both agree on.. But I guess I do love hearing new things that I haven’t heard before – whether that is in terms of approach, aesthetics or intention – anything that sounds fresh to me I tend to get excited about!

What can we expect from your visit to Sounds New in May ?

I’m playing with Robert’s fantastic project – which is a live acoustic score to an old film that was made in 1928, but is now lost. The film is The Four Devils by F. W. Murnau – and the score Robert has written for it is brilliant – engaging and challenging!

Find out more about the Leap of Death project at Sounds New on Tuesday 6 May online here.

Three Questions: Icebreaker

April 27, 2014

Ahead of their appearance at Sounds New, I put Three Questions to Icebreaker’s James Poke.

Tell us about your ensemble.

Icebreaker is a twelve-piece amplified ensemble that has been going since 1989 (indeed we’re celebrating our 25th birthday this weekend!). We mostly play minimalist and post-minimalist repertoire, such as Philip Glass, Michael Nyman, Michael Gordon, Louis Andriessen and so on, plus some forays into non-classical territory – including Brian Eno, whose music we are playing in this concert.

What excites you about contemporary music ?

James Poke

James Poke

I’ve always been excited by the new. I think the most important thing about new art is the way it reflects and comments on the times we live in, telling us things that we otherwise couldn’t consciously know. Music of course does this in a very abstract way, and therefore it tells you the things you can’t find a way to put into words – such as, in this concert, Julia Wolfe’s extraordinary reflection on what life felt like in New York after 9/11 or Brian Eno’s evocative impression of what it feels like to go into space.

What can we expect from your performance at Sounds New

Our performance is a bit of a game of two halves really. In the second half we play our version of Brian Eno’s classic ambient album Apollo, in an arrangement by Woojun Lee, which is accompanied by emotive footage of the Apollo moon landings from Al Reinert’s film For All Mankind. For this project we have the privilege to be working with famed pedal-steel guitarist B J Cole as a featured soloist.

However the first half of the concert is all new music for us, and is the start of our new “Recycled Project” (which is being supported by Sound & Music) – which will eventually include 5 new works written specifically for it (including one by Sounds New Artistic Director Matt Wright), as well as a new arrangement. We’re premiering 3 of those 6 pieces in this concert – Ed Bennett’s Suspect Device, a piece which “recycles” material from the Stiff Little Fingers song of the same name, an intriguing new piece by Roy Carroll, which uses manipulated material Roy recorded of the band playing, which is then played back to us to re-interpret, and a new arrangement of Julia Wolfe’s Big Beautiful Dark & Scary.

This new project is a great opportunity to work with some younger composers, find new repertoire for the band, and push the band into new areas that we haven’t tried before – taking us out of our comfort zone. I think the results will be very exciting.

Find out more about the Icebreaker concert at Sounds New on Saturday 3 May here.

Thanks to James for his time!

Three Questions: Led Bib

April 7, 2014

Coming to Sounds New next month, I put Three Questions to Led Bib‘s Mark Holub.

Tell us about the group

Led Bib is a band which I started as part of my Masters degree in 2003, and it played its first gig in 2004(celebrating 10 years this year!). It plays music which sits somewhere in between rock, jazz, improv and some other genres…..and I am pleased to say that as the band developed it was just as much about the other guys in its ideas as mine, a truly musical collaboration.

Image: Matt Crossick

Image: Matt Crossick

What excites you about contemporary music ?
In all genres it is great seeing people trying to push themselves and their music to new places. I’ve never really understood the desire to recreate work that has already existed, so I have tried to push myself too.

What can we expect from your performance at Sounds New next month ?
The performance at Sounds New is going to feature music from our new album, which is coming out April 21st. The Sounds New show is the last of our 13 dates UK tour, so we will have really gotten to grips with the new material; we always love playing in Canterbury, so I look forward to a really special show.

To whet your appetites, here’ the video to the band’s latest single, which has been released this very morning…

Three Questions: Brodsky Quartet

April 2, 2014

Ahead of their appearance at Sounds New next month, I put Three Questions to cellist with the Brodsky Quartet, Jacqueline Thomas.

Tell us about your ensemble

JT: The Brodsky Quartet has been in existence for over 40 years – we started when we were children – and we’ve travelled the world performing and recording some of the most beautiful music ever written: the incredibly rich string quartet repertoire. However, we grew up in the 70s, 80s, 90s, and grew to appreciate all genres of music through the decades since we began. We’ve always had an open mind to all types of music and we started at a young age making arrangements of pop and jazz songs so we could play those too. This stood us in good stead much later when we worked with the likes of Elvis Costello, Björk, Sting and Paul McCartney. We did ground-breaking work with these fantastic musicians and others, paving the way for what is now a universally accepted merging of styles and genres between classical musicians and artists from all disciplines.

Image: Eric Richmond

Image: Eric Richmond

What excites you about contemporary music ?

JT: In our world, the term Contemporary Music tends to frighten audiences who may be more comfortable with classical and romantic works. But let’s remember that Contemporary simply means current, now… so Mozart wrote contemporary music too! For me, the exciting thing about music of the 21st century is that literally anything goes. There are no rules or creative movements that simply must be adhered to in order to avoid commercial suicide – these days writers and performers mix it up shamelessly and joyfully and audiences seem open to everything. Especially young people, which is something to be celebrated – in my experience they will listen to anything with an open mind, thanks to the influence of people like John Tavener, Florence Welch, Rufus Wainwright, Plan B, Errollyn Wallen, and many others.

What can we expect from your performance at Sounds New in May ?

JT: It’s a work in progress at time of writing, so I’m still discovering it for myself. It’s a really fascinating re-working of some of the music of Robert Wyatt, merging styles across string quartet and electro-acoustic ambient textures. It should be a very beautiful, exciting and moving experience for us all. I’m very much looking forward to it myself!

Find out more about the Brodsky Quartet’s concert at Sounds New here.

Three Questions: Lauren Redhead

March 27, 2014

Ahead of her appearance at Sounds New in May, I put Three Questions to composer and performer, Lauren Redhead.

Tell us about yourself.

I’m a composer and an organist. As a composer I work within experimental music and as an organist that’s largely what I’m interested in as well. I perform music that extends what the organ can do, and that considers the organ in the space as a single instrument. Since 2010 this has also included extending the organ with the use of fixed media or live electronics and (sometimes) with live voice. Both as a composer and a performer I really enjoy collaborating with other musicians and artists from different disciplines. As a result I’ve specially commissioned most of the pieces that I play.

What excites you about contemporary music ?

Everything! Contemporary music offers its listeners and practitioners a real opportunity to think about the role that music plays in our lives and society and, if we want to, to shape the spaces and society that we live in through art. That’s a grand claim, but I think that it is a valid one. In terms of the music I play, I really enjoy finding out about the way that composers think about art and life through their music. And probably most of all I am excited by the sounds of contemporary music: it isn’t only about hearing something that is new or that hadn’t been heard before, it’s also about really beautiful music that, to me, can’t be rivalled by music which is from the past.

Image: Richard Lee-Hair

Image: Richard Lee-Hair

What can we expect from your performance at Sounds New in May?

At Sounds New I’ll be playing a programme of music with and without electronics that represents the breadth of pieces the music that I perform. There are some things you might expect from an organ recital: loud sounds and low notes, but also some things that you probably wouldn’t: psychoacoustic effects, spectral extension of the instrument, convolution, and a piece that creates a feedback loop between the building itself and the music. Most of all it’s an opportunity to hear the organ in a way that you probably haven’t heard it before.

Find out more about Lauren’s performance at Sounds New here.


Three Questions: Twisted Lounge’s Elaine Mitchener

March 24, 2014

Ahead of her appearance at Sounds New 2014, I put Three Questions to Twisted Lounge’s Elaine Mitchener.

Tell us about yourself.

I am a classically trained vocalist noted for mixing vocal styles drawing from sources as varied as contemporary new music, gospel, soul, jazz, and experimental/free improvisation. I am honoured to have had the chance to perform with and learn from some of the leading figures in the field of free jazz, contemporary new music, free-improv… I won’t name names here but for those interested please visit my website here.

Elaine Mitchener

Elaine Mitchener

What excites you about contemporary music ?

I am excited by great performances of contemporary music by artists committed to what they’re doing, communicating it and taking us on that journey with them. By contemporary I do not necessarily or only mean contemporary classical new music, but a much wider musical context.

What can we expect from your visit to Sounds New in May ?

Expect the unexpected! Okay, do not come with any expectations, be open to the experience.

Elaine performs with the Brodsky Quartet and Matt Wright as part of the Robert Wyatt Project at Sounds New on May 5th. Find out more about the event online here.

Image credit: Wallpaper.

Three Questions: EXAUDI

March 10, 2014

Ahead of their visit to Sounds New in May, I put Three Questions to James Weeks, conductor and founder of EXAUDI:

Tell us about your ensemble.

I started EXAUDI in 2002 with Juliet Fraser. We wanted to do the most extreme, interesting and challenging new vocal ensemble music around, something we didn’t see anyone else really doing at the time in the UK, and we’ve basically been doing exactly this ever since. For a new music ensemble we are actually quite catholic in our tastes, in that we are just as interested in tackling conventionally-notated music (Xenakis, Ferneyhough, Sciarrino et al.) as working with more so-called ‘experimental’ paradigms from Cage and Cardew onwards. We enjoy microtonality as much as white-note modality – essentially if the music is questing in spirit, imaginative and thoughtful and outside boring conventional style then we’re in. Our singers are all steeped in early music practice and we do a lot of medieval, Renaissance and early baroque repertoire as well; recently we’ve focused in depth on Gesualdo madrigals in combination with contemporary Italian madrigal repertoire (one of several active commissioning schemes). But our main focus is on the music being composed today, especially of our own generation around the world. We hope to make a real impact on the development of vocal ensemble music in our time.

EXAUDI 8 dramatic CMatthewAndrews_web

What excites you about contemporary music ?

The fact that it’s contemporary music, it’s being made by us and the people around us and is concerned with what it’s like to be alive now, today. Much as it can be comfortingly escapist to live surrounded by the past in a historicist culture like ours, I can’t think of anything more urgent or more deeply rewarding than to produce new art and make new discoveries that speak to and define our own time.

What can we expect from your performance at Sounds New ?

We’re bringing a new programme called ‘Austerity Measures’, a phrase we hear a lot these days although our programme isn’t explicitly political. It’s more of a pun, measures meaning musical bars, and the austerity is in the music. Matt Wright asked us for a programme that involved Tallis and also music of the Low Countries, and I thought it would be interesting to start from the famous Tunes for Archbishop Parker’s Psalter and explore the idea of a pared-down, rather austere music – which is something a lot of composers today are concerned with in a variety of ways. So we have Reformation-era Tallis, Josquin at his most laconic, and pieces by Claudia Molitor, Aldo Clementi and me which are similarly restrained in their materials. We are also doing a lovely piece by Dutch composer Arnold Marinissen involving percussion. I hope it’ll be a really beautiful show.

Find out more about EXAUDI at Sounds New 2014 online here.

With thanks to James Weeks.

Three Questions: the Orbi Playa Big Band

April 23, 2013

Ahead of the band’s appearance playing at Whitefriars on Saturday 11 May, I put Three Questions to director of the band, Mike Hamnett.

Tell us about your ensemble

MH: The band was formed in September last year from former members of the Canterbury Christ Church University Big Band. A core group were graduating together and wanted to carry on playing big band music. I had recently left the university to become the percussion supervisor on the UK Touring production of Disney’s The Lion King, and agreed to help the band in any way that I could which has turned out to be in a playing/directing role along with saxophonist Danny Glavin. Whilst at the university. I attempted to broaden the students’ big band experience – too many people think “big band” and hear “Glenn Miller”. I introduced music from the 1920s through to contemporary charts written by Maria Schneider, Andy Shepperd and Andy Scott. We regularly appeared at the National Concert Band Festival where we achieved three Gold Awards and appeared at the NCBF National Event in 2012 at the Royal Academy of Music where our programme was described by the adjudicators as “adventurous and committed”.

As the newly-formed Orbi Playa Big Band (so named after the apartments that housed us on our 2012 tour to Spain) we achieved an unprecedented double, being awarded the covetted Platinum award not only at the regional event in Southampton but also at the National event held this year in the Adrian Boult Hall in Birmingham. Continue reading

Three Questions: CoMA London Ensemble

April 17, 2013

Ahead of its visit to Sounds New on May 4th, I caught up with Liz Herbert, co-ordinator for the CoMA London ensemble, to find out what’s in store.

Tell us about your ensemble.

LH:  CoMA London Ensemble is one of CoMA‘s (Contemporary Music for All)  many ensembles around the country. There are no auditions, and our ensemble has players of mixed ability, some very good indeed. The ensemble is run by an elected committee of playing members. We meet every Tuesday evening and give about four concerts each year. We play only new music, most of which has been written specifically for CoMA ensembles using flexible scoring, by established or emerging composers.

What excites you about contemporary music ?

LH: Contemporary music is always unexpected; we enjoy exploring pieces which haven’t been played before and also working with composers, trying out pieces in different ways and hearing what they had in mind. The music we play is very varied and usually quite challenging.

What can we expect from your visit to Sounds New next month ?

LH: Our plan is to spend the day workshopping and performing some pieces written for the CoMA London Ensemble by composition students at Canterbury Christchurch University. Our music director, Gregory Rose, visited the University and gave a talk about writing flexibly-scored work for amateur players, and some of the students are now writing pieces for the event on May 4th. We will also be playing some of our past CoMA repertoire to demonstrate some pieces which have used the flexible scoring in different ways.

CoMA London cond. Gregory Rose, at Sounds New in 2012

CoMA London cond. Gregory Rose, at Sounds New in 2012

Many leading  composers have written for CoMA including Philip Cashian, Jonathan Harvey, Stephen Montague, Michael Nyman, Alwynne Pritchard and Sir John Tavener, and works for CoMA have been honoured at the British Composer Awards. Sounds New is delighted to welcome CoMA London ensemble back, after their visit last year with conductor Gregory Rose (pictured).

Three Questions: Ensemble MidtVest

April 28, 2012

Ahead of their appearance at Sounds New on Sunday 6 May, I put three questions to Marlene Dröge Nielsen and Matthew Jones of the Danish chamber ensemble, Ensemble MidtVest. The ensemble is renowned for its creative programming, pushing the boundaries of the traditional classical concert form through creativity and excellence. I asked them about the group and what lies ahead next week.

Tell us about yourself / your ensemble

ensemblemidvest_bigWe’re a chamber music group, founded in 2002, consisting of eleven outstanding musicians from all over the world, including former participants in the BBC Radio 3 Young Generation Artists and major prize-winners in international chamber music competitions such as the ARD Competition and the Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition. We’re especially renowned for our performances of chamber music repertoire, mainly from the classical and romantic period. Earlier this year, back in February, we made our debut at Carnegie Hall, New York.

We perform more than eighty concerts every year in Denmark and abroad, with more than 15 different programmes and productions, regularly incorporating other musical styles and art forms. In addition to classical chamber music, we also frequently work with improvisation, creating a sound and musical language, breaking down barriers between musical styles and genres. The world-renowned Danish jazz pianist Carsten Dahl was appointed our first Artistic Advisor in 2007.

In 2006, our recording of piano quartets by Mozart and Brahms was a prize-winning disc, the ‘Best chamber music CD of the year’ as voted for by the listeners of Danish Broadcasting Company!

What excites you about contemporary music?

The extraordinary variety within contemporary music and the limitless possibilities of the genre. The chance to introduce listeners to a work which is not known to them, and to present it in the most favourable light, is a wonderful challenge! To improvise to an audience takes it a step further…

What can we look forward to in your concert for Sounds New next month?

A mixture of the above! Three contrasting and seldom performed contemporary chamber works, along with a free improv performance. All performed with passion, exuberance and commitment.

Ensemble MidtVest’s concert on 6 May at 8pm includes Per Nørgård’s Virvelverden for wind quintet, as well as an improvisation session with the full complement of eleven players: details online here.

With thanks to Marlene and Matthew.