Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival 18 – 27 November 2005, reviewed by John Warnaby
It would be difficult to envisage a dull Huddersfield
Festival, but the 2005 event proved more auspicious than
most. As guest Artistic Director, Tom Service devised
an essentially simple strategy: exploring a wide range
of styles during the first half of the Festival, before
concentrating on composers of a modernist persuasion,
especially Helmut Lachenmann,
whose latest work provided the climax of the Festival.
It was not possible to attend the opening concert by
the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra
on 18 November, but the idea of commissioning new works
for a period instrument band is intriguing. Other early
music ensembles should be encouraged to do likewise.
The first full day of the Festival began with a recital
by violinist David Alberman,
soprano Lore Lixenberg and pianist Rolf Hind. There were songs by Bent
Soerensen and Rolf Hind, plus solo pieces for violin and piano
by Simon Holt; but the main items were for violin and
piano: e(i)ther, which
showed how much Chris Dench
has mellowed since settling in Australia, and Xenakis’
Dikhtas, which ultimately
dwarfed everything else.
James Wood’s New London Chamber Choir with guitarist
Alan Thomas gave an afternoon recital in honour of Giacinto
Scelsi’s centenary. Indeed,
one of the themes of the 2005 Festival was choral music.
Another was composers who defy
easy categorisation. Scelsi
belonged to the latter, and if applause had been withheld
until the end of the programme, the ritual character of
his compositions would have been emphasized. The unorthodox,
but austere guitar pieces provided variety and maintained
the prevailing atmosphere.
was also unique in that his knowledge of contemporary
composition, particularly using electronics, was offset
by a strong attachment to Norwegian traditional music.
His five-movement suite for traditional singer and sinfonietta,
entitled Loep, Lokk og Linjer (Chases, Cattle
Calls and Charts), which occupied most of BIT 20’s
evening concert, conducted by HK Gruber, was definitely
a hybrid, but was sufficiently well-balanced to ensure
cohesion. Some sections called for unorthodox tunings,
and the score was infused with microtonal inflections.
The soloist was Berit Opheim for whom Thoresen has written for more than ten years. The concert had started with Ning, for ensemble,
in which programmatic elements were combined with the
use of fractals. This was the first of three works by
Rolf Wallin heard during the
first half of the Festival which revealed him in a more
favourable aspect than his contributions to the 2004 Huddersfield
A second ensemble piece, the even more successful The Age of Wire and String – also inspired
by modern fiction – was included in Cikada’s
concert, conducted by Christian Eggen,
the following evening. Whereas, in the BIT 20 programme
there was a clear contrast between the modernism of Wallin
and the post-modernism of Thoresen, Eivind Buene’s Calvino-influenced Possible Cities, for ensemble, included
by Cikada, was less easy to
define. However, it suggested that Norway has several
generations of gifted composers.
Yet the most striking item was Stefano Gervasoni’s Godspell, setting texts by the American poet, Philip Levine.
The choice of English texts has encouraged Gervasoni
to dispense with the rather austere style of his earlier
scores, and it was far superior to the two pieces with
theatrical elements by Carola
Bauckholt, which completed the
Earlier, the lunchtime concert was
given by the Cikada String Quartet.
Norwegian composers were absent, but they introduced the
Japanese theme with pieces by Jo Kondo and Toshio Hosokawa.
These were characterised by an absence of a regular pulse,
but in other respects they reflected distinctive personalities,
possibly influenced by different aspects of Western music.
Thus, Kondo’s Yarrow, for accordion and string quartet,
contained echoes of Feldman, and exhibited a tendency
to blend diverse instrumental combinations into an individual
sound world. In contrast, Hosokawa’s development was indebted
to the post war avant-garde. Yet Landscape 1 – his second string quartet
– established its unique individuality among his three
quartets, his ability to write for similar or identical
forces in a variety of ways.
The remaining items were no less striking. Hans Abrahamsen’s
Three Little Nocturnes,
for accordion and string quartet, were precisely that:
full of intriguing potential which could only by fulfilled
with the addition of further examples. Despite their brevity,
Abrahamsen explored differing levels of integration between
accordion and string quartet, not least in the central
nocturne, where conventional accordion figures were combined
with extraordinary quartet writing.
In comparison, James Dillon’s Third Quartet was conventionally modernist, in that it was unified by linking both the outer, and the inner movements.
It was also a transitional work, en route to the new quartet
– see below.
Ensemble Nomad is Japan’s leading new music group, It
was not possible to hear their first concert, devoted
to Jo Kondo, but their second programme of mainly Japanese
music the following day demonstrated their versatility
in dealing with a variety of compositional styles. Misato
Mochizuki’s All that is including me showed that she has
developed a personal voice out of a close knowledge of
recent European trends.
On the other hand, Takeo Hoshiya’s individuality, as expressed in his lively Instability Principle, revealed no allegiance to a particular development. Jo
was a characteristically fluent piece, but ultimately,
the most arresting item was Claude Vivier’s
Paramirabo, by virtue of its highly
idiosyncratic harmonic world.
The first performance of Michael Finnissy’s
extended song cycle, Whitman,
for soprano and piano, had to be postponed until the 2006
Festival, owing to the indisposition of Kirsten Blaise.
Instead, Nicolas Hodges gave an unscheduled recital, programming
Romantics and Mit Arnold Schoenberg. Between them, they
illustrated most aspects of Finnissy’s
piano music. The discourse of Nine
Romantics was generated through the transformation
of three musical characters into various styles, each
with 19th-century associations. Mit Arnold Schoenberg was generally more
contemplative, but showed Finnissy
identifying convincingly with Schoenberg’s atonal language.
The concert by Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgart was disappointing. The Town Hall was
hardly the most appropriate venue, the audience was woefully
sparse, and though the individual items were technically
challenging, their expressive content was limited.
The multi-media collaboration between Olga Neuwirth and Roberto Paci Daló produced one of the more unusual events of the Festival
– Italia anno
zero – drawing on texts by Leopardi,
Gramsci and Pasolini. This was an
elaborate version, using a small ensemble of bass clarinets,
electric and acoustic guitars, sampler and live electronics,
of projects dating back to Luigi Nono’s
of the 1960s. Thus, the tape part interspersed a spoken
commentary with electronically treated recordings of familiar
voices, crowd sounds, etc. Equally typical was a preoccupation
with Italy’s Fascist tendencies, but the final result
was more derivative than truly original.
23 November was a particularly busy day, but only one
event was outstandingly memorable. This was a relatively
brief programme of three works for small orchestra by
Toshio Hosokawa, introduced by the composer and performed
by members of the Philharmonia
Orchestra, conducted by Diego Masson. Although scored
for similar forces, the three pieces – Drawing,
Interim, and Singing Garden – written between 1994 and 2004, were remarkably varied,
illustrating strikingly different facets of Hosokawa’s
John Snyders’ lunchtime piano
recital included three pieces by Christopher Fox, as part
of a 50th-birthday survey of his output. Despite
its originality, Fox’s music is somewhat intractable,
and his interpretations of popular music in lliK and relliK were characteristically provocative.
The most notable item, however, was Richard Rijnvos’
Broadway, which is due to be incorporated
into his forthcoming Piano Concerto.
Pagan Nights was the title of the day’s
main event, presented by Contemporary Music Network and
featuring the Pokrovsky Ensemble and Choir. The first half included a tableau
from Stravinsky’s Les
Noces, with synthetic-sounding pianos on tape, and an
impressive ‘set’ by the vocalist and accordionist, Evelyna
Petrova. The single work in
the second half was Vladimir Martynov’s
Nights in Galicia, which unfolded very slowly, but achieved a remarkable
The late-night recital by Nordic Voices began with items
redolent of the King’s Singers, but finally reached a
measure of substance with Rolf Wallin’s
Phonotape, for vocal quartet and
computer. This was Wallin’s
third significant contribution to the Festival and confirmed
him as Norway’s leading composer.
On 24 November, the lunchtime programme
by Exaudi was devoted to choral
music by Christopher Fox, both with and without
organ. Fox’s choral output is essentially experimental,
ranging from syllabic settings of radical texts, as in
A Glimpse of Sion’s
Glory to increasingly experimental settings of Allen
Ginsburg in American Choruses. The latter was rather
static and over-long, but this was an intriguingly varied
programme which also included
The Missouri Harmony,
The first of the Ives Ensemble’s concerts failed to reach
their usual high standard, largely because many of the
pieces were disappointing. One should however mention
Carola Bauckholt’s piece In gewohnter
Umgebung, in which she successfully
combines the musical elements with the visual material.
Noriko Kawai’s late-night performance
of all five volumes of James Dillon’s The
Book of Elements
was one of the highlights of the Festival. Her highly
concentrated performance revealed The Book of Elements as a particularly valuable introduction to Dillon’s
recent output, and equally as one of the finest cycles
of piano music of recent years.
In between, Quatuor Diotima presented the first of their two programmes, which
had two distinct strands. On the one hand, there was the
UK premiere of Joel-François Durand’s recent quartet,
whose complex discourse was partly inspired by Beethoven’s
final quartet. A link could therefore be established with
Lachenmann, whose quartets are
all indebted to the tradition established by Beethoven.
On the other hand, Lachenmann’s
not only achieves a strong sense of organic growth out
of a remarkable range of instrumental sonorities, but
also explores the relationship between sound and silence,
thereby linking it with Webern’s
Bagatelles, and Hosokawa’s Third Quartet: Silent Flowers. Together with his First String Quartet: Urbilder, Silent Flowers again demonstrated the range
of his compositional style.
second programme on 25 November was rather different,
but equally good. It included Ives’ Second
String Quartet, and Xenakis’
Akea, for piano and string quartet, written at a time when
his style was entering a less abrasive phase. However,
the main focus of attention was James Dillon’s Fourth
Quartet. In a pre-concert talk, Dillon suggested that
he had become interested in the experimental approach
of Haydn, as opposed to the developmental manner of Beethoven,
and it might be possible to interpret the five volumes
of Dillon’s Book
of Elements as a progressive quest for new ways of
creating large scale structures.
In recent years, Dillon had tended to simplify his style,
but the new Quartet belied this trend. As with the Book of Elements, it began episodically, but gradually achieved overall
coherence. Lasting a little over 20 minutes, it can already
be regarded as a significant addition to the string quartet
Unfortunately, your reviewer missed Claire Edwardes’ percussion recital, with its wide range of composers.
On the other hand, the Ives Ensemble’s second concert
was also the second event devoted to the music of Christopher
Fox, this time concentrating mainly on his instrumental
output. As with his choral music, the range is considerable
and difficult to categorise.
employed the same forces as Webern’s
Concerto op. 24, and was dedicated to his memory on the centenary
of his birth. Yet its strident character was far removed
from Webern’s aesthetic standpoint.
A slice through
translucence was altogether more interesting, providing a tantalising glimpse of the
new work Fox is writing for the Ives Ensemble, of which
it will form the final part. Straight
lines in broken times 2 was written roughly halfway
between the two pieces already discussed. It contained
occasional echoes of bell-ringing,
combining some of the stridency of Etwas lebhaft with
the pattern-making of A
slice through translucence. However, it was not as
convincing as the latter.
The second half featured the UK premiere of Everything You Need To Know, for singer
and ensemble – an amalgam of vocal, solo instrumental
and ensemble pieces which amounted to probably the most curious event of
the Festival. The performance lasted about 45 minutes,
with the singer adopting an increasingly theatrical role.
It included a raucous procession of wind, brass and percussion
around the hall, so that the event quickly assumed the
character of a ‘happening’. Even more than American
You Need To Know – at least in this version – was
influenced by Charles Ives and the American experimental
The final two days were the culmination of the Festival,
with the emphasis on performing recent examples of modernist
composition alongside outstanding works from the 1950s
by the original generation of the post war avant-garde.
The one exception, on 26 November, was an amplified recital
by the Smith Quartet, which included Steve Reich’s Triple Quartet. When your reviewer suggested
that the work was sub-Bartok,
he received the reasonable retort that this was an insult
In comparison, The Second
String Quartet, ‘The
Cranning’, by David Flynn – winner of the 2004 Young Composers’
Award, and the String Quartet, Songs
for the MB, by Anna Meredith, were definitely more
rewarding. Christopher Fox’s Clarinet
Quintet, with Roger Heaton as soloist, illustrated
a subtler aspect of Fox’s personality, with microtones
playing a significant role.
Psappha had previously created a
more favourable impression with their lunchtime programme
of Stockhausen’s Kontakte, and a particularly convincing interpretation of Boulez’
sans Maitre, but inevitably, the day was dominated
by the first appearances of both Ensemble Modern and Ensemble
In the main evening concert, Ensemble Modern placed two
of Lachenmann’s earlier scores
in the context of pieces by his principal teachers. The
fluency of their performance of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Kontrapunkte was
in marked contrast to familiar interpretations from the
1950s and 1960s. Yet Luigi Nono’s
Canti del Tredici made a more powerful impression, its austerity
indicating the extent of the composer’s debt to late Stravinsky,
even while he was extending his use of serial principles.
Lachenmann has described Trio Fluido,
for clarinet, viola and percussion as ‘pre-historic’,
but besides its attractive sonorities and impressive coherence,
it was an attempt to extend the ideas of the avant-garde
while other radical composers were modifying their outlook.
By the time Salut for Caudwell,
for two guitars, was composed, Lachenmann
was fully preoccupied with questions of sound production
and had developed the concept of ‘musique
concrète instrumentale’. The spoken elements also pointed to a political
dimension, thereby stressing the continuing influence
of Nono. This was an intriguingly planned, thought-provoking
and outstandingly performed programme.
In contrast, Ensemble Recherche
explored Lachenmann’s output
in relation to more recent works by other composers. Thus,
Lachenmann’s early String
Trio, and temA, for voice
and small ensemble – key works in the development of his
compositional ideas – were heard alongside Jonathan Harvey’s
whose curious opening belied the subtlety of the subsequent
discourse, and ensemble pieces by Fabio Nieder
and Ivan Fedele. The latter’s sextet Immagini da Escher made particularly pleasing use
of a mixed ensemble, whereas Nieder’s
contribution Sogno 10 lunedi/in una casa/molto gente/musiche son tornado a casa was disappointing.
The main item in Ensemble Recherche’s
second programme on 27 November was Lachenmann’s
for clarinet, doubling bass-clarinet, cello and piano.
This can be regarded as a distant relative of Trio
Fluido, but by the time it was composed, Lachenmann’s exploration of new playing techniques, together
with fragmentary sonorities, had developed to the stage
where they could by employed in the creation of largescale
structures. The members of Ensemble Recherche
clearly knew how to achieve overall unity, but they were
equally at home in Wolfgang Rihm’s very different Ueber die Linie VI, for flute, violin and cello.
It has been suggested that Rihm
has reached the stage of writing pure music, with no extraneous
elements, yet while this may be true in the Ueber die Linie series, the main change exemplified in the new Trio
involved a greater emphasis on lyricism, as opposed to
Nicolas Hodges returned to give the Festival’s last piano
recital. Georges Aperghis is
not known for his piano music, so, A tombeau ouvert proved to be a notable discovery. A significant
part of Salvatore Sciarrino’s
reputation certainly stems from his piano output, but
predominantly the Sonatas, which are often experimental
and even violently expressionist. By contrast, Perduto in una città d’acque (Lost in
a city of waters) was contemplative and lyrical. As
it was associated with Venice, and particularly Luigi
Nono, it was difficult not to
conclude that it was indebted to Sofferte onde serene, but without electronics.
The main work was Lachenmann’s
one of an increasing number of large
scale compositions he has completed since Das Maedchen mit den Schwefelhoelzern. It
also marked a return to the piano after a long period
concentrating on other genres. Lachenmann
utilised the full gamut of playing techniques to generate
various overtone series, and resonances. Above all, the
discourse revolved around the interaction between sound
and silence, and even between sound and noise. In essence,
Hodges’ interpretation tended to favour the work’s expressive
The final concert, presented by Ensemble Modern, conducted
by Brad Lubman, fulfilled the
objective of bringing the Festival to a memorable climax.
It was an inspired idea to perform Nicolaus
A. Huber’s 6 Bagatelles, for small ensemble and tape, alongside Lachenmann’s Mouvement (- vor der Erstarrung)
since both are key works in careers
which share many parallels. Their modernist sensibilities
were influenced by Nono’s radical
political outlook, especially as regards their re-interpretation
of the Austro-German symphonic tradition.
Yet the performance of Huber’s Bagatelles immediately revealed a very different personality, with
a penchant for dramatic gestures, including extra-musical
effects. The starting point was the briefest of Beethoven’s
op. 119 Bagatelle, but Huber quickly incorporated militaristic
elements, as well as allusions to popular culture. In
short, the Bagatelles
exemplified an essentially Brechtian
approach to modernism.
In contrast to Huber’s method of integrating widely divergent
pieces into a unified structure, Lachenmann’s
unfolded as a single entity of symphonic proportions.
It was one of the earliest works in which his creative
personality was fully developed as he demonstrated conclusively
that standard compositional procedures could be applied
to the sound world he had devised.
The success of Mouvement enabled Lachenmann to embark
on a series of ambitious compositions, culminating with
his opera. Indeed, allowing for the fact that a spatial
dimension has been introduced, Concertini can be
considered the recent counterpart of Mouvement, in that it is scored for a slightly larger, but
essentially similar ensemble.
Concertini was the latest example of
a remarkably productive phase in Lachenmann’s
output since the completion of Das Maedchen mit den Schwefelhoelzern. It
included a retrospective element, alluding not only to
individual items, such as Mouvement
or Salut for Caudwell,
but also to the concept of musique
concrète instrumentale. In short,
it was a compendium of Lachenmann’s
entire sound world, spatially distributed throughout the
Instrumental solos featured more prominently than hitherto,
prompting the suggestion that the title might refer obliquely
to the concertino in a concerto grosso.
However, the main impression was of the work’s overall
vitality as the various sonorities were combined and re-combined,
transformed and re-transformed. It may no longer be necessary
to add to the musical language Lachenmann
has formulated, as its potential would appear to have
Concertini was the culmination of an outstanding Festival, but the main events should
not obscure the significance of other activities. There
were educational projects involving local schools, as
well as other members of the community. The Young Composers’
Workshop continued, as did the Hub Shorts, providing an
opportunity to hear pieces by young composers, performed
by young musicians. The Hub was also the venue for a number
of pre-concert talks, plus the debate concerning the difficulty
of categorising the many improvisatory and mixed-media
activities which are now considered
aspects of new music. All these events enhanced the Hub’s
significance as a focus for the Festival.
Graham McKenzie, the new Artistic Director, has promised
changes, to appeal to new and younger audiences, but he
should not interfere with the core of what the Festival
has always stood for. The value of Tom Service’s contribution
was that he demonstrated there is already an enthusiastic
audience for challenging new music, when it
is performed by the finest soloists and ensembles.
By engaging Ensemble Recherche and Ensemble Modern for two concerts each – in addition
to many other memorable programmes – he ensured that 2005
will be regarded as a vintage year in the history of the Huddersfield
Contemporary Music Festival. Five editions of Hear and
Now, to be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in the New Year, will
reflect the highlights. They will be absolutely required
listening for anyone who is genuinely interested in new