Concert Review

the cutting edge (bmic at the warehouse, waterloo) thursdays 30th september to 16th december 1999

The warehouse in theed street is to be welcomed as an important venue for london, a much needed 'new platform for the music of our time'. The gleaming white interior is inviting, and the launch event certainly drew the crowds.

Until now the British Music Information Centre had been severely restricted for mounting concerts. Its West End headquarters in Stratford Place (opposite the EMI record shop near Bond Street) has a small recital room with awkward acoustics, and it doubles with the library. No way could the large audience for the opening of the cutting edge have been squeezed in there.

Now the BMIC has at its disposal an attractive and far more suitable venue, close to the South Bank and Waterloo. It too has awkward acoustics, dry and bright at the first concert, but no doubt capable of some modification. The auditorium is unraked, inevitable no doubt because of multiple usage and a shortage of money, so it was hard to see the players. They should experiment with alternative seating arrangements, and get away from giving concerts in the dark, so trendy at present. If you talk beforehand, you can't sort out the programme later - a pocket torch has become a necessary concert accessory!

the cutting edge is an ambitious project, with 12 concerts, 12 of the UK's leading ensembles and solo performers, and educational workshops (free entry) involving students from five colleges in southern England, on most of the Thursday afternoons.

The series was launched decisively by Andrew Toovey's Ixion on 30 September. Their suitably anarchic programme certainly cut deep, with very short pieces by some dozen composers, Michael Finnissy (conducting) and Andrew Toovey (declaiming) having the highest profile. Finnissy's piece Independence Quadrilles was pleasantly reminiscent of Ives, with each player going his own way without reference to the others; Andrew Toovey's Purdy settings of love songs by a favourite writer were surprisingly and relentlessly ear-splitting. There were many names new to me, with the titles of their new compositions sometimes more engaging than the music; piece-with-running-from-left-to-right-and-back-again; and can' give the flavour of the evening. We had been warned the BMIC was intending to 'dive headfirst into the millennium'!

The next two concerts, in what promises to be a wide ranging and stimulating series, were attended by Richard Whitehouse and Colin Clarke for Seen&Heard. Other bulletins from the cutting edge will follow.

Peter Grahame Woolf

BMIC at The Warehouse Thursday 7th October 1999

Alan Thomas, guitar Andrew Sparling, clarinet Corrado Canonici, double bass

In what should prove one of the smartest moves on London's contemporary music scene in recent times, the British Music Information Centre has set up a series of concerts at The Warehouse, a new studio complex which houses a range of functions, including rehearsal facillities for the London Sinfonietta.

The present recital featured the unlikely combination of guitar, clarinet and double bass, heard both singly and in combination. Brian Ferneyhough's Trittico per G. S. is as enthralling to watch as it is to hear [recorded

by Stefano Scodanibbio on Auvidis Montaigne MO782029], Corrado Canonici conveying its visceral impact in full measure. Yet the shorter, more understated Ruins true Refuge by Roger Redgate, and a quick-fire new commission from Jerome Speak were by no means overshadowed, and demonstrated the range of sonority of which the double-bass is capable in the hands of an imaginative performer.

Andrew Sparling has long been a champion of new music for clarinet, and clearly relished the opportunities given to the instrument in Paul Rhys's Four Pieces; the aura of birdsong enriching the symmetrically-arranged rhythmic and harmonic components. Ross Lorraine's New Work was even more gripping in its Feldman-like aura of quietly focused intensity.

Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the concert was the emergence of the electric guitar in music which owed little or nothing to blues or rock sources. Laurence Crane's Bobby J. evoked Robert Fripp's early experiments in guitar ambience in spirit, if not in substance [examples of Crane's refreshingly individual music can be heard on British Music Label BML012 and New Tone NT6750-2] while the prevailing toccata motion of Ian Moore's Chantefables had an almost Baroque agility under Alan Thomas's fingers.

The three performers combined for Another Heavenly Day, Richard Barrett's frenetic and engaging study in negative dialectics [heard as part of an absorbing recital by the Elision Ensemble on Etcetera KTC1167]: an appropriate conclusion to a varied and thought-provoking recital.

Richard Whitehouse

New Music Players conducted by Paul Bailey gave a rewardingly varied programme in their concert on October 14 at The Warehouse, the composers featured varying from the firmly established Berio and Ferneyhough to others lesser known. The combination of Graham Fitkin and Luciano Berio, the two composers represented in the first half, is not one which leaps naturally to mind, but the contrast was certainly stimulating. Fitkin's Ardent (1993) falls into five contrasting sections (unusual for this composer, who tends to set up an idea and follow it through throughout one piece), so that a minimalist, violent first part vied with lyrical violin lines and jazzy, sprung rhythms. Unfortunately the final slow section ran out of compositional steam, the ending coming as something of a relief.

Berio's O King (1967), which followed, was more assured in its remit. Here the soloist was the soprano Amanda Pitt, who skilfully melded her tone with the chamber group (violin, clarinet, flute, cello and piano). The piece is actually a virtuoso study in timbral modulation, the voice fully articulating the phrase, 'O Martin Luther King' after a progressive addition of phonemes (the second movement of Berio's Sinfonia of 1968/9 acts as a commentary on this piece).

Brian Ferneyhough's On Stellar Magnitudes (1994) opened the second half of the concert and seemed to take us to a different (and higher) level. The text by the composer takes the letters of first and second magnitude stars as starting points for aphoristic statements, each heavily laden with associations. There is an almost Stockhausen-like delight in the magical sound of words. Both singer and ensemble coped well with the extreme registral and dynamically explosive demands of the piece.

Morton Feldman's I met Heine on the Rue Fürstenberg (1971) derives from the composer's experience in Paris, when he found himself on a street in which Heine had visited Chopin, and imagined himself greeting them as a fellow Jew. Performed in dimmed lighting, the (wordless) voice was placed behind the instrumentalists to achieve integration with the group. The players rose admirably to the demands - particularly the clarinettist, Inigo Alonso, whose control within pianissimo was nothing short of mesmeric.

New Music Players concluded with the London première of Edward Dudley Hughes's Sextet for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano and marimba, an effective, if not especially challenging, minimalist-style work based on plainchant and a ground, but it was the Feldman and Ferneyhough that left lingering (and haunting) memories. Colin Clarke

Suggested recordings :-

Morton Feldman Chamber Works, including I met Heine on the Rue Fürstenberg on Auvidis Montaigne MO782018. Brian Ferneyhough String Quartet No. 4 (with soprano soloist) on Auvidis MO782029.

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