Concert Review

Composer Martin Butler 40th Birthday Concert RNCM New Music Ensemble 26th June 2000 at the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester.


The RNCM was delighted to welcome back one of its most distinguished graduates, the composer Martin Butler, for a celebratory concert to mark his 40th birthday. Clark Rundell, the Director of The RNCM's New Music Ensemble led a pre-concert discussion of Butler's music and influences. Also a graduate of Princeton University; Butler spoke of his interest in American folk music and jazz and how both had influenced much of his work including several of tonight's works.

Hootenanny (1995) for small ensemble celebrates American folk music of the pre-war years and its link to the political left. Hootenannies were political fundraising events involving music, dancing and oratory. Butler's rather Copland-esque style was in strong evidence here, both rhythmically and harmonically as the ensemble tossed fragments of melody to and fro.

American Rounds (1998) for piano quintet and double-bass is another piece which stems from the composer's interest in folk music. Each of these four movements presents elements or gestures from American folk idioms, carefully woven into a diatonic language. Butler refers to himself as a harmonic composer and his rhythm owes much to Stravinsky. These pieces are colourful and characteristic of an original compositional voice. The ensemble performed with sensitivity and style but was a little too reserved (unsure?) at times.

There was also room for two pieces by current RNCM students, Grace Lee and Stephen Beville. Beville's Epicycle (2000), for chamber orchestra, received a typically committed performance tonight. A postgraduate composer and pianist, Epicycle presented some wonderful timbres with strong piano and brass parts while the strings were mainly colouristic.

Duncan Glenday, a pianist of incredible charm, has taken part in many performances of contemporary music during his seven years as a student at the RNCM. He performed Nathaniel's Mobile, Butler's short solo piano piece, that aims to recreate the patterned motion of a child's mobile, with great profundity. A beautiful performance of a tender, mesmeric piece.

Ailis Ni Riain

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