The current unforeseen weather conditions have forced me to postpone a recital of piano music by living Scottish composers: hopefully it will be rescheduled in the coming months. The programme is:
Recitative & Aria on DSCH Ronald Stevenson
Sonatina Serenissima ” ” ” ”
Nine Decades. Eddie McGuire
Michael’s Strathspey. Judith Weir
Lumen Christi James MacMillan
Sonores II Morris Pert
Green Odyssey. Michael Bonaventure
North East Hauntings Janet Graham
3 Interludes John McLeod
Apteryx. Lyell Cresswell
Drosten. Iain Matheson
3 Pieces from “Variations for Judith” Thea Musgrave/Judith Weir/Peter Maxwell Davies
Capriccio Bk 1 no2 “Stillness”. Janet Beat
Mountains Suite. Morris Pert
2018’s concertizing began on 2nd February with a lunchtime concert at Dundee University with a recital of piano music by Arbroath born Morris Pert, part of my project marking his 70th anniversary. Pert has not been heard before in the Ustinov Room, previous performances having taken place in the Chaplaincy, so it was pleasing to play Moon Dances (1973) and the Mountains Suite (2008) to a respectablly sized and at least partly appreciative audience. A week later I returned to Edinburgh Society of Musicians for the first time in almost two years. Frank Bridge’s Three Improvisations for Left Hand were written 100 years ago for Douglas Fox who was one of a number of Musicians who lost their right hand in WWI. Bridges’ only composition pupil Britten gave up writing piano solos in his 20s, so from the remaining 40 odd years there is only one complete solo piece, Notturno or ‘Night Piece”, a commission by the Leeds Piano Competition. Ronald Stevenson’s Sonatina Serenissima is written in memory of Britten and is very much an example of Stevenson’s Busonian tendency, evoking late Liszt aswell as Britten’s last opera “Death in Venice”. Next, two set of pieces by composers who studied under James Iliff at the RAM in the 60s. In fact Eddie McGuire’s “Nine Decades” was commissioned by Mary Iliff to mark her husband’s 90th birthday in 2013: each of the short movements is an invention/study based on a different interval, from semitones, seconds etc up to octaves and ninths. There is a real cumulative quality to the work, reminiscent of Hindemith’s much larger Ludus Tonalis. The 4 movements of Janet Graham’s “North East Hauntings” (Snow Sky, Sea Mist, Lullaby for Lost Skylines and Red Dust) are directly inspired by memories of County Durham, but have a resonance relevant to much of Northern Britain. Both these sets will remain in my repertoire. Morris Pert was Studying with Alan Bush and James Blades at the RAM at the same time as these last two composers, so his Mountains Suite , characterizing 6 hills in the remote and unpeopled North West of Scotland made a suitable conclusion to the evening. All this music was very warmly received by the attentive ESM audience and the helpful new office bearers of the Society. I’m keen to return next year.
St Mary’s and St Peter’s Episcopal Church in Montrose was the fortunate and inspired choice of venue for the world premiere on the eponymous saint’s day of “Drostan’s Kalendar” composed by Haworth Hodgkinson. The ensemble Intuitive Music Aberdeen (derived from my ensemble Mars in Aquarius) were the fluent and performers
of this hour long work by a composer who has recently released numerous albums of similar size and length of gestation. The work is divided into twelve sections representing the months of the year: each section comprises a 5ish minute recording of the sea at Drostan’s Shore made in 2004: over this the four keyboardists improvise within given parameters – using one pitch (A#) in January up to the total chromatic in December. The overall impression to this listener was of a fascinating progress from individual notes and intervals to melodic fragments of pentatonic character, seamlessly developing through tonal polyphony through apparent polytonality (and polystylism!) into complex chromaticism against a varied background of marine sounds, including birdsong. All very fitting in a seaside town such as Montrose. No doubt better acquaintance with the acoustics of the venue, not to mention more expensive technology could have made things a bit better, but this was nevertheless a performance of conviction of a work that deserves at least several more performances.
This evening, St Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral in Dundee was the venue for an all Bach recital by Joseph Fleetwood, who had played these Bach Partitas here over three lunchtime programmes along with pieces by Brahms and Schumann almost a decade ago. This however was a different occasion, the playing being on a different level altogether: an atmosphere of near reverential concentration was attained in this spacious auditorium which adequately reflected the cathedral like nature of the composer’s mind.Also, the dimmed lighting was very helpful in creating a listening environment.
This was convincing Bach playing, allowing the music to speak for itself. Busoni claimed Bach as the foundation of piano, Liszt as the summit, the combination of them making Beethoven possible: Mr Fleetwood is well acquainted with these other composers as was evident in the rich but discreetly classical tones he was able to bring from a piano which I’ve sometimes felt a bit lacking in the bass/tenor area and a bit bright in the treble.
After a strong 1st Partita, the compelling C minor of the second suggested this would be a good evening. Indeed, if there was any shortcoming the interval was perhaps a little too long, allowing the atmosphere attained during the first three Partitas to begin to dissipate: the Overture starting the 4th in D major could have been more reminiscent of the festive BWV532 in the same key, or the second half of the Goldbergs. By no 5 everything was well back on track and the final E minor had some of the most powerful playing of the evening: the concluding Gigue has a finality akin to the B minor fugue at the end of Book One of the 48.
At uncertain times like these, foundational figures such as Bach and Shakespeare are a necessity: it’s a shame Dundee couldn’t muster a larger audience to appreciate this offering. Something needs to be done about publicizing events across the various venues in town. Fortunately, this event was a byproduct of a recording project which deserves to reach the ears of many more.
I look forward to hearing the pianist return to these pieces in the 2020s and even beyond.
I was not familiar with Jonathan Harvey’s Mortuos Plango until I heard it online a couple of days ago. From the opening moments its debt to Stockhausen’s seminal Gesang der Junglinge was clear: however Harvey’s conception is strong enough to give his work (created 25 years after the Stockhausen) an identity of it’s own. Whereas the German piece uses “pure” electronic sounds and the voice of the youthful Simon Stockhausen, Harvey used the voice of his son Dominic and sounds derived from the 8 lower partials of the great tenor bell of Winchester Cathedral- a sound I must have heard often in my own youth…there is something familiar despite the processed nature of the sound- played through 8 speakers. The venue, the St Andrews Preservation Trust Museum was not ideal, despite being a very fine museum staffed by helpful volunteers. It is cramped to the extent that some speakers are only a couple of feet apart- surely far too close: it was not really possible to hear 8 distinct sources of sound- and too low – the audience is expected to sit hunched over a table. Stockhausen would have been livid. Also desirable would have been dimmed light, darkened windows and a curtain over the entrance to the room to diminish the numerous distractions, though even that would not have stopped the significant sound leakage from downstairs. Added to this the (most charming) ticking of grandfather clocks and the synpathetic vibrations of wooden furniture at crucial moments in the music, not to mention the puzzled and awkward attitudes of tourists in the museum, it was not easy to concentrate on the music: a world away from the excellent performance of “Hymnen” in Edinburgh University 18 months ago. I am puzzled by this eccentric choice of venue in a town with numerous church buildings; indeed the capacious Holy Trinity Church even shares the dedication of Winchester Cathedral (itself the largest, or at least longest cathedral in Europe). The piece was also repeated every few minutes: I a formal programme opening with Gesang, followed by Mortuos and finishing with Stockhausen’s Oktophonie- all in a large venue- might have been the most fitting presentation, if perhaps rather too imaginative for Scotland.
That said, I have got to know this piece better; the two other IRCAM pieces by Harvey known to me were Le Tombeau de Messiaen and Wagner Dream. Mortuos Plango is certainly of comparable interest.
Afterwards, the upright piano at the bus station afforded me the opportunity to play Stockhausen’s LEO melody from “Tierkreis” before I hopped on the bus back to Dundee.
After the demise of Mars in Aquarius earlier in the year, I felt the need to find a new direction for ensemble playing and group improvisation, so when I saw the CoMA Summer School advertised I was immediately interested; the additional involvement of Michael Finnissy in his 70th anniversary year and the reconvening of Ixion whose performances I used to attend in the Purcell Room in the late 80s/early 90s made it look like the right path to follow. It was a busy week: in addition to the ensemble classes where I mostly played melodica, I took a couple of piano classes with Mary Dullea; a lot to take on and at times I had a degree of mental indigestion, perhaps exacerbated by the warm southern climate of Yorkshire- at least an afternoon off might have helped-but the experience has given me much to think about and certainly the change in perspective needed after the MiA episode. I’d be open to the idea of attending another CoMA event.
The evenings consisted of concerts by the tutors (I even made a brief appearance in a piano duet in the Ixion event!) and the final day comprised performances by the various classes of their week’s work, culminating in a Cagean “Music World” where various folk inspired musics celebrated Finnissy’s anniversary.
I’ve not maintained this blog this year, something I hope to correct soon: there are gaps to fill in. However, I’m starting with recent events: last Friday I played a short lunchtime recital at Dundee University on the Bosendorfer Piano which has moved to the new lunchtime venue, the Ustinov Room in the Bonar Hall which has a very different acoustic to the accustomed chaplaincy centre. My programme consisted of pieces by Kurtag, Judith Weir, Michael Finnissy, Cardew, Dutilleux, Satie and Peter Maxwell Davies. Cardew’s “Red Flag Prelude” from his Piano Album 1973 seemed to go down particularly well.