Reach for the stars: recent events at the festival

May 13, 2012

It’s been an epic few days across the Festival recently, ranging from intimate recitals to transcendental meditative states in Canterbury Cathedral.

Rhona McKail

Rhona McKail

Day seven on Thursday saw a lunchtime recital In Praise of Dreams with soprano Rhona McKail and pianist Yshani Perinpanayagam in their lunchtime recital, before the focus shifted out to the Turner Contemporary gallery at Margate for the world premiere of Les Malèdictions d’une Furie, a monodrama by John Croft performed by Loré Lixenberg. Prior to the performance, both Croft and Lixenberg appeared in conversation with Festival Director, Paul Edlin.

New Perspectives ensemble

New Perspectives ensemble

Friday’s lunchtime concert was a sonic exploration in the youthful company of the New Perspectives ensemble, in the chamber-ensemble-meets-electronics world of Jonathan Harvey’s Bhakti; young performers from the Royal College of Music, conducted by Timothy Lines, bathed the audience in the rich colours of Harvey’s unique and visionary soundworld. St Gregory’s was full to bursting for the concert, to the extent that festival assistants were having to put out extra chairs as audience members continued to arrive right up until the concert began.

The visionary nature of the day continued into the evening, as Canterbury Cathedral echoed to the sounds of John Tavener’s The Veil of the Temple, an large-scale meditative work for which the composer himself, in frail health, made the pilgrimage to Canterbury. Nigel Short led Tenebrae and members of the English Chamber Orchestra in Tavener’s epic, all-embracing pan-religious odyssey, which after its two-and-three-quarter-hour performance was greeted with rapturous applause. (The composer himself can be seen seated in the front row on the left in the photo below).

Veil of the Temple

Veil of the Temple

Yesterday’s events continued the journey into the stars, with Darrah Morgan Exploding Stars in works for violin and electronics, including the premiere of Jonty Harrisons’ Some of its Parts. Earlier in the morning, composer Frank Lyons ranged freely over an eclectic range of musical styles in a composition workshop. Top-brass came to the Festival in the evening, as the Grimethorpe Colliery Band (wryly observing on Twittter earlier in the day that they were en route to a ‘local gig’) came to the Cathedral with a programme including John McCabe’s Cloudcatcher Fells and an arrangements for brass of Holst’s The Planets, which, in its original incarnation as Paul Edlin observed, remains one of the previous century’s most influential works.

Against the backdrop of all this, the New Music in Britain conference unfolded in a series of papers and talks exploring aspects of the British contemporary musical landscape and papers focusing on key composers including Birtwistle and Maxwell Davies.

And it doesn’t stop there. There are still three days yet to come, with today’s celebration of Worldwide Mother’s Day in a feast of family events at the Gulbenkian, and a visit from legendary British jazz pianist Julian Joseph tonight.

Phew…

Images: Peter Cook

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Three Questions: the Kings’ Singers

April 25, 2012

Ahead of their concert in the new Marlowe Theatre which will bring this year’s Sounds New Festival to a close, I put three questions to Jonathan Howard, bass with the group, who describes himself as ‘’twenty-five, six-foot five, brown hair, likes travelling and sushi, dislikes peanut butter,’’ about why the group is so excited about coming to Canterbury…

Tell us about your ensemble

kingssingersThe King’s Singers have been around for over 44 years. There are just six of us – two counter-tenors, a tenor, a baritone and a bass – and we perform almost exclusively a cappella: that’s right, no accompaniment, just the six of us on stage, and almost always with no amplification. Over the course of the 130 concerts in our 2011/2012 season, we’ve been all over the world, in venues including the Sydney Opera House, Carnegie Hall, the Berlin Philharmonie and the Beijing National Concert Hall. Our repertoire is incredibly diverse – the group performs Renaissance polyphony and pop songs in equal measure – and contemporary music takes a prominent place in lots of our programmes. It’s an honour to perform at the Sounds New Contemporary Music Festival in Canterbury next month, and to be able to share what we believe are some of the most exciting contemporary pieces in our repertoire.

What excites you about contemporary music?

Contemporary music is so exciting to us for a number of reasons. For a start, it often makes us question our established beliefs about music: as is so often the case in contemporary music, the harmonies and rhythms used are so out of sync with Western musical conventions, that we really have to think about what the piece is trying to say, and how it is trying to respond to its musical antecedents. Then there’s the fact that many of the contemporary pieces that we sing were commissioned by the group for the group. It means that the voice parts in each piece tend to fit the voice parts within The King’s Singers brilliantly, and the pieces themselves have really been designed to suit our ensemble. Finally, there’s the fact that contemporary music is often pretty tricky – it’s great for us to have music that we really have to sink our teeth into.

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

Well, it’s a programme composed almost entirely of pieces that were commissioned for The King’s Singers, by some of the great composers of the 20th century: Peter Maxwell Davies, John McCabe, Paul Patterson and former tenor in The King’s Singers, Bob Chilcott. (We admit that Britten’s ‘Choral Dances’ from Gloriana were not written for us….) And, following a first half of pieces that have been in our repertoire for a number of years, we’d like to present a piece that’s new to us this year, to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of HRH Queen Elizabeth II. A Rough Guide to the Royal Succession by Paul Drayton is a witty enumeration of the kings and queens of England, warts and all, right through from the seventh century to the present day, and it’s an absolute delight to perform. We hope you enjoy it, as well as the rest of the concert, as much as we do, and we look forward to seeing you all in Canterbury on May 15th. We might even throw in a few contemporary pop songs, to make sure we’re really sticking to the theme….”

To whet your appetite, here’s the group in John McCabe’s evocative and purple-hued Scenes in America Deserta, which is part of the all-British programme for their Sounds New concert.