The Rambler :: blog

Friday, January 30, 2004

February new music 

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Quick run-down of highlights in the London new music scene for February

Tuesday 3rd Feb

Sir Peter Maxwell Davies turns 70 this year (not until the 8th September, though), and to celebrate there are two all-Max concerts at the Barbican:

6pm BBC Singers, cond. Nicholas Kok: Westerlings, Angelus (world première), Corpus Christi with Cat and Mouse

7.30pm BBC SO, cond. Rumon Gamba: St Thomas Wake, 8 Songs for a Mad King, Worldes Blis.

8 Songs is figurative and literal musical lunacy - well worth seeing if you can get there.

Thursday 12th Feb

Music of Today: French Spectral Music, 6pm, Royal Festival Hall, South Bank

Tristan Murail: C'est un jardin secret ...
Hugues Dufourt: Hommage à Charles Nègre
Gérard Grisey: Talea

If The Wire's primer a few months ago got you interested, then this is your chance to see music by three of the leading spectral composers, for free. Can't say fairer than that. And the Dufourt is a UK première. You mght even catch me at this one. I love the spectralists - the whole 'school' just seems to find the right balance for me between modernist ultra-theory, experimental just-because noise, and sheer joy in sound. Grisey especially takes that oh so French glittering post-serial modernist sound that Boulez patented, and welds it (sometimes incongruously) to a sense of theatre and obstinate Dadaist drama that Boulez never thought about. I think he's wonderful, and this is music that has to be seen live: so much of Grisey's music (that I've seen anyway, but I can't include Talea among this number) incorporates theatre: the sequence of huge suspended sheets of paper, say, that the percussionist has to rustle, one after another (a sort of 'damn you, I'm going to see this spectral thing through to its logical conclusion' - bit like Macbeth, really); or the 'keyboard' of gongs stretching across the back of the stage in Quatre chants ... . You almost have to be a ballet dancer to play what Grisey asks here, as the sheer number of gongs means some of them are about 15 feet apart, and he wants them played pianissimo.

Saturday 14th Feb

In what has to be a tongue-in-cheek gesture, the South Bank Centre, the Society for the Promotion of New Music and the London Sinfonietta have devoted the whole of St Valentine's day to that most un-Romantic of composers, Brian Ferneyhough. Ferneyhough is another of my favourite end-of-the-road composers, one of those heroic modernists still scraping away at the coalface. And again, despite all the theory, and the famously complex notation (this is where the 'new complexity' label comes from), this is brittle, often attractive music.

There's a lot going on all day, so probably best just to click here for more details.

Saturday 28th Feb

7.54pm, Purcell Room, South Bank

Final tip for this month is this appearance by the Mondriaan Quartet, playing quartets by John Zorn (Dead Man and Cat O Nine Tails), and new works by Toek Numan, John de Simone and Richard Ayres. Also on show is the UK's first sight of Robert Pravda's octachord, which, I gather, is a giant electronic harp with 8 resonating strings to create dense washes of sound. Intriguing.

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