News

Review of Bristol Choral Society concert

On 16 November I attended a concert by Bristol Choral Society, who asked me to write a review of their performance. This is what I wrote about the evening:

Bristol Choral Society’s latest performance at Bristol Cathedral was the third of their concerts that I have attended. Having previously heard them tackle perennially popular large-scale works by Handel and Mozart, I was pleased to see them stepping outside of the classical canon in this programme and performing material by living composers. Having said that, the programme did feature several names who have managed to establish themselves as staple features in the choral repertoire.

The concert began with British Composer Award winner Cecilia MacDowell’s cantata A Time for All Seasons, which set a well-known text from the book of Ecclesiastes (‘to everything there is a season…’) alongside a contemporary reflection by Kevin Crossley-Holland. The piece created effective contrasts between the biblical text, which inhabited a brighter sound world, and the modern insertions, which explored darker themes and occasional dissonant harmonies. These were paired with knotty, often jazz-influenced writing for the piano accompaniment, ably performed here by Ian Tindale, and occasional percussion flourishes. The younger voices of Bristol Youth Choir provided commentary on the text and allowed the exploration of spatial effects within the resonant acoustic of the cathedral, while soprano Nina Bennet handled the more intimate moments for solo voice. These varied forces were well coordinated by conductor Hilary Campbell, and some of the most engaging sections of the piece were those that explored the interaction between the different groups of voices and instruments.

The programme then moved on to a composer who has become a minor celebrity in the choral music world. Eric Whitacre has become well-known both for his use of closely spaced ‘cluster’ harmonies and for his flowing mane of blonde hair. We first heard two short percussion pieces of his (performed by Oliver Butterworth and Oliver Pooley), before two of his best-known choral works, Water Night and Cloudburst, which both set texts by Mexican poet Octavio Paz. These two pieces provided the best opportunities of the evening to hear Bristol Choral Society’s sound largely unadorned by instrumental accompaniment or other supplementary voices (although the use of piano and percussion, including handbells and body percussion played by the members of the choir, in the finale of the latter work was rather evocative). They exhibited a warm, well-balanced choral sound, well-suited to Whitacre’s dense, sustained sonorities and the cathedral’s acoustic. They made effective use of a wide range of dynamics, which helped to give the works a sense of direction and shape.

The second half of the concert opened with a short performance (by Ian Tindale and Annabel Thwaite) of a work for four hands piano by nineteenth-century American composer Edward MacDowell, before the evening concluded with Bob Chilcott’s The Songs and Cries of London Town. This work featured traditional tunes from various historical eras arranged for the choir, accompanied by chiming piano ostinatos and driving percussion. Bristol Youth Choir also returned to the stage to sing the familiar London Bells (‘oranges and lemons ring the bells of St Clemens…’) for the third movement. I found the most effective sections of this piece to be in the more reflective second and fourth movements, as the driving percussion of the first and final movements occasionally became a bit blurred in the reverberation of the cathedral. The pairing of folksy tunes with bell-like piano writing created an almost Christmassy atmosphere that may have had some audience members looking forward to upcoming carol concerts!

Bristol Choral Society’s effective handling of this contemporary repertoire bodes well for their upcoming performance of Stravinsky’s magnificent Symphony of Psalms and Fauré’s much-loved Requiem in March, to which I am very much looking forward. However, if you would like to hear them before then, they will also be performing excerpts from Handel’s Messiah at Redmaids School on 21 December – details can of course be found on their website (www.bristolchoral.co.uk).

Post-Paradise

On the 29th March, Harry Matthews and I were delighted to be invited to perform in Birmingham’s Post-Paradise concert series, which is held at the Centrala gallery in Digbeth every month. Although we have performed together many times before as part of OUT-TAKE Ensemble, this was our first performance as part of a new duo project that we have been talking about for a while.

We started our set with the premiere of Harry’s new noise-pollution inspired work electric guitar, in Southmead (1m55sec), which the two of us have been working on together for several months. This was followed with the first performance of my latest work, Quiet Pint at The King Bill, for electric guitar and synthesiser, which explores microtonal tuning systems and polyrhythmic delays, to expand on ideas that I began investigating in 2017’s Quiet Pint at The Butcher’s Hook.

You can listen to a newly released recording of my piece here:

Recent OUT-TAKE performances

I have been very lazy about updating my website recently, so in this post I am retrospectively writing about several OUT-TAKE Ensemble concerts that I was involved in over the past few months.

Firstly, we completed our first mini tour of southern England, including dates in Southampton (Arch 4, 14/11/18), London (The Harrison, Kings Cross, 20/11/18) and Bristol (Cafe Kino, 7/12/18). These concerts included performances of a newly commissioned work by Australian composer Alexandra Spence, which was titled to fade, humming, and was performed by myself and Harry Matthews. The Bristol concert also included a performance of my Silent Doom Disco.

Next, we headed to York, to perform Silent Doom Disco again in the inaugural concert of the newly founded Amok performance series, at St Martin-cum-Gregory Church on 6/2/19. We had a great time performing in the north for the first time, and are very grateful to our hosts for putting on such a great concert.

Finally, we returned to Southampton’s Art House Cafe on 19/2/19, where I played guitar in Joe Manghan’s unusual piece It Wasn’t All Yellow. This piece asked the audience to participate in the compositional process by voting on decisions about how to manipulate the source material, taken from Coldplay’s Yellow. This created some challenging sight reading for myself and guest trumpeter Adam Stockbridge, but resulted in a fun and unique performance.

Performance of ‘Tapping Piece’ in Freiburg

On the 8th December I was delighted to travel to Germany, to visit the Freiburg Hochschule für Musik, and hear the school’s percussion ensemble perform my Tapping Piece (2016), for four electric guitars played with percussion sticks. The piece was performed as part of an excellent concert, which paired concert works with traditional music from Italy and Mongolia, including a spectacular throat singing performance that paired excellently with my piece’s exploration of the harmonic series. It was incredibly exciting to hear my work performed in Germany for the first time, although my travel schedule was extremely hectic – I had to leave straight after OUT-TAKE Ensemble’s concert in Bristol the night before, and take an early morning flight to Basel (before travelling onwards to Freiburg by bus) in order to arrive on time!

I’m very grateful to the musicians for the work they put into my piece, and to faculty members Håkon Stene and Bernhard Wulff for programming my work in such an excellent concert.

Performance of Linda Catlin Smith with OUT-TAKE

On the 23rd April, OUT-TAKE Ensemble performed our latest concert in our series at The Talking Heads in Southampton. My contribution to the programme was a performance of Linda Catlin Smith’s magnificent Drifter, for electric guitar and piano, with Harry Matthews on piano. We’ve spent a lot of time rehearsing this piece over the last couple of months, and felt the performance went really well. However, there is always room to improve, and we hope to play the piece many more times and get even better at it! Harry and I are hoping to look for more opportunities to play together as a duo, as we’re both now living in or near Bristol, so watch this space for any upcoming gigs.

Plus-Minus perform ‘Silent Doom Disco’

On the 27th March Plus-Minus Ensemble performed my piece Silent Doom Disco as part of their ‘Community of Objects’ programme in City University’s Tuesday concert series. The concert also included some interesting pieces by Oliver Thurley, Alice Jeffreys, Monika Dalach, Caitlin Rowley and Lawrence Dunn. It was great to see my work performed by such outstanding musicians, and as part of such an exciting programme of new works. I’m particularly grateful to Alice Purton, Mark Knoop and Serge Vuille for the effort they put in to performing my piece, which is rather physically strenuous!