Sunday, November 30, 2003


Harrison Birtwistle's fascination with Greek myth and drama continues with a major new work, Theseus Game, the latest in the celebrated series of pieces written for the London Sinfonietta. The soloists spin an endless melodic line while groups of instruments, directed by separate conductors, weave a labyrinth of sound.

The London Premiere is at London's Queen Elizabeth Hall on Tuesday 2 December 2003. The concert starts at 19:45. Birtwistle talks to Nicholas Kenyon at 19:00. And earlier, at 17:30, there is the launch of the new internet site birtwistle-online, with performances of new music inspired by the composer and written by London school children. See Boosey & Hawkes news release on this.

The programme is:
Harrison Birtwistle, Tragoedia.
Peter Eötvös, Wind Sequences, London premiere.
Harrison Birtwistle, Theseus Game, London premiere.

Performed by:
The London Sinfonietta with
Martyn Brabbins, conductor.
Pierre-André Valade, conductor.

Theseus Game has been co-commissioned by the London Sinfonietta, Ruhr Triennale, Ensemble Modern and the South Bank Centre. The UK premiere was at the Huddersfield Festival on 30 November 2003.

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Saturday, November 29, 2003


Tonight at 23:45 (UK time) BBC Radio 3's Hear and Now, introduced by Sarah Walker, presents Big Noise, the collaboration between UK-based Icebreaker and Dutch ensemble Orkest de Volharding as they embark on their Contemporary Music Network tour. The programme includes four world premieres including two Radio 3 commissions by Joe Cutler ('Jack The Diamond's Jamming Station') and Yannis Kyriakides ('Lab Fly Dreams'), as well as new works by Dutch composers Cornelis de Bondt and Diderik Wagenaar. The concert took place at the South Bank in London last week, and I was lucky enough to be there. A review will follow.

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Remiss of me not to mention before the three-part series on BBC Radio 3 exploring the influence on, and presence of, jazz in the music of the late Frank Zappa. It started last week in the Jazz File slot and is hosted by journalist and cultural commentator Charles Saar Murray. The lastest instalment runs at 18:00 this evening (UK time) and will be available for a week over the intenet on the BBC playback service. No doubt the whole series will be archived and analysed for us by some zealous Zappaologist in the near future...

"The second programme focuses on the role Zappa's star sidemen played in creating his unique music. As a bandleader Zappa was like Ellington in the way he assembled groups of virtuoso musicians and then wrote compositions for them to play which would highlight their individual strengths. He always wrote pieces which allowed his sidemen to shine."

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Friday, November 28, 2003


De profundis from Utne. Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein's only known musical composition -- just a handful of notes -- was performed in London the other day. Say the Utne web-observers:

"Lasting less than thirty seconds, four bars of music Ludwig Wittgenstein scrawled on a notebook in 1931 was given life for the first time in what The Independent's Simon Tait calls, "little more than a powerful, fiery flourish." The two-line score, titled Leidenschaftlich (in English, "Passionate"), is no undiscovered masterpiece. Says composer Anthony Powers, "We haven't found a snatch of a lost great work. But it's like the continuation of an incomplete sentence, as if he had started to say something and hadn't the words to finish it, and turned to music. That's what is really interesting."

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Thursday, November 27, 2003


This season the London Sinfonietta has been celebrating the extraordinary achievements of the generation of composers which changed musical history after world war two, with major features on Ligeti, Xenakis, Cage and Berio. The ensemble is also in the midst of performing important premieres by Elliott Carter, Harrison Birtwistle and Jonathan Harvey combined with new works from young composers.

And, in their own words, "By mixing Berio with folk music from Kurdistan, electronica artists from the Warp Record label with classical 20th-century avant-garde works and collaborating with cutting-edge rock and jazz musicians, the Sinfonietta continues to put contemporary music into new contexts."

The season is profiled in more detail online.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2003


Ah yes... Geoff Brown in The Times reviewed the recent South Bank concert put on by the Britten Sinfonia, Joanna MacGregor et al. Bach, Moondog and Stravinsky, just to remind you. Thanks to Henry Potts for this tip off. My own musings on this and other recent new music concerts will follow when time allows. It's a bit tight at the moment.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2003


I suspect most readers of NFE would have better things to do with their time than to track the winding career of prog rock behemoths Yes. But, well, I'm still devoted to their '70s excursions, in particular. So if you have any desire to find out about what they've been up to lately (and in their 35th year), my Amazon review of the new Yesspeak DVD is there for you to ponder. To be honest you'd be better off simply buying 'Relayer', 'Close To The Edge' and 'Topographic Oceans', but whatever... One for the strange band of aficionados.

Now, where was I...?

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Friday, November 21, 2003


The very fine London Jazz Festival ("music from out there, in here") is in full swing -- so to speak -- and a few reviews will be forthcoming of NFE shortly. In the meantime, let me draw your attention to the Monk Liberation Front and their forthcoming endeavours. On Sunday 23 November 2003, on the ballroom floor of the Royal Festival Hall, this intriguing ensemble will perform the entire works of the mercurially fascinating Thelonious Monk (plus a new piece by Philip Clark) from 13:00 to 19:00. What's more, it's absolutely free.

Led by pianist Jonathan Gee, saxophonist Tony Kofi and composer Clark, the Liberation Front includes a host of UK and European musicians, including Ben Hazelton and Michael Olatuja on bass, drummers Winston Clifford and James Joseph, Italian pianist Antonio Ciacca, Finnish trumpeter Mika Myllari and British stars Evan Parker on soprano sax, Tim Garland on bass clarinet and Orphy Robinson playing marimba.

"This event honours in a unique fashion one of jazz's greatest composers," say the promoters. "Wow" is about all I can think to add on the subject. I will be on a train bound for south-west England at the time, but if you catch any of this and want to offer comment, please drop me a note.

Other LJF free events here.

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Thursday, November 20, 2003


It may be that the renaissance in British and European jazz over the past ten years or more has still barely seeped below the surface of US culture, but in a remote nearby island things are apparently different. Ibrahim Ferrer, one of the unlikely heros of Wim Wenders' marvellous film The Buena Vista Social Club is interviewed in the Metro this morning. He comments:

"Cubans are curious by nature... They are also very knowledgeable about jazz, so [when I return from a trip] they'll ask me about Courtney Pine or Andy Sheppard. They also have fond memories of the late Ronnie Scott, who helped to organise one of the first Havana Jazz Festivals - so he will get a mention too. But me? I usually get left alone."

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Tuesday, November 18, 2003


Avant piano polymath Joanna MacGregor teams up with the Britten Sinfonia, jazz saxophone legend Andy Sheppard and Shrikanth Sriram (Shri) on tabla for the current 'Art of Fugue' series which visits the CBSO Centre in Birmingham on Thursday 20 November 2003, and goes on to play in Norwich, London, Chelmsford, Cambridge, Luton, Manchester and Bristol over the next week.

The concert includes MacGregor's arrangements of Bach and Louis T Hardin (Moondog), as well as Stravinsky's 'Dumbarton Oaks.' The aim is to cast new light on intersecting cultural traditions concerned with contrapuntal exploration - Baroque, neo-classical and what could perhaps be termed neo-minimalism.

"The energy and chemistry between these three luminous soloists is so infectious it leaps off the stage and into the audience: this will be a night you won't forget in a hurry," we are promised. Full concert details here.

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Friday, November 07, 2003


It's curious. An otherwise glittering performance of Mahler's Second Symphony ('The Resurrection') by the Philharmonia -- under the baton of long-term enthusiast Gilbert Kaplan -- at London's Royal Festival Hall on 3 November did not use the new, definitive Deutsche Grammophon score of the work. This seems odd because many had assumed that this concert had been timed to coincide with the publication.

As is well known, Kaplan (an amateur conductor and musicologist solely devoted to this work) has paintakingly reconstructed the most authoritative version of 'The Resurrection' ever published, using the 14 different printed sources going back to the composer. He has been assisted in this herculean task by co-editor and world-renowned Mahler devotee Renata Stark-Voit.

Rumour has it that the Vienna Philharmonic may have lobbied hard to preserve the world premier for themselves. The official reason is that the orchestral parts were not available in time. Diana Damrau (soprano) and Nadja Michael (mezzo-soprano) were the soloists at the RFH, along with the London Philharmonic Choir and the Brighton Festival Chorus.

Also worth a look is Donald Mitchell's essay, "The Twentieth Century's Debt to Mahler: Our debt to him in the Twenty-first", from the 2000 MahlerFest.

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Thursday, November 06, 2003

[219.2] HOWE AT 2003 'MUSIC NOW'

In the midst of a mini-sabbatical from his commitments with Yes, eclectic guitarist Steve Howe will be performing a short live set and offering a masterclass at the forthcoming 2003 Music Now equipment exhibition at the NEC in Birmingham, England, later this month.

Howe's most recent solo projects include the 'Masterpiece Guitars' duo album with jazz guitar legend Martin Taylor (showcasing the Scott Chinnery collection) and 'Elements', the debut project from Howe's new blues, jazz and rock oriented band of the same name -- featuring the sax, clarinet and flute of Gilad Atzmon, who deservedly won a 2003 BBC Jazz Award for his Orient House Ensemble album 'Exile'.

Steve Howe is due to appear on the NEC's Live Stage from 11.00 to 11.40 on Saturday 22 November, and then in one of the two Seminar Rooms from 13.30 to 14.00. The emphasis will be on acoustic pieces, apprarently. The Music Now event as a whole runs from 21-23 November. Tickets cost £10 per day and are available online. Travel details are here. The organisers stress that places for seminars and performances "are available on a first come first served basis."

Sound samples from Steve Howe's Elements are available here.

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[219.1] A LA MOOG?

Synth guru Bob Moog's latest mass market product, PianoBar, which was launched at NAMM on 28 October and hits the stores this month, transforms virtually any 88 key acoustic piano into a MIDI controller. According to November's edition of The Wire, a film project involving a range of left-field electronica worthies is now underway (a kind of follow-up to 1994's 'Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey', perhaps). But the weblink they include seems dead at the moment, and nothing has turned up in my online searches so far...

Meanwhile, check out Rob Hochschild's interview at the Berklee College of Music site, and, er, an intriguingly terrifying project called Thelonius Moog - a sort of 'beep bop' tribute. If you hated Wendy Carlos in an admiring sort of way (and who didn't), this could really press your auto-destruct button... Is Moog a stylist for the new or an engine of kitsch? You decide... and send a postcard to the delightfully eccentric JahSonic, maybe.

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Wednesday, November 05, 2003


Continuing NFE's ongoing attention to composer sites, Tony K Leung, "an art music composer engaged in Western, Chinese and electroacoustic practices" has a serviceable cyber home which -- in addition to the usual biography and discography / CD list -- contains a good selection of links, downloads, a listening post, and articles about his compositional process, spiritual and other influences, news and instrumentation.

"Music expresses that which can not be said and on which it is impossible to remain silent." Victor Hugo.

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Tuesday, November 04, 2003


October saw a further batch of intriguing releases from low-price classical label Naxos, whose commitment to English and American music (and less well-known, but high quality performers) continues. Among the recordings that have grabbed my attention are a superb collection of 'Chamber Music' by Toru Takemitsu (New Music Concert Ensemble, N855859) focusing on pieces for flute and small ensemble. This is a scale to which Takemitsu is well suited. His music suspends time and carries its conviction through subtley shifting shape, texture and form. 'Toward The Sea', 'Rain Tree', 'Rain Spell' and 'Bryce' are the featured works.

Also noteworthy: the collection of Lennox Berkeley 'Sacred Choral Music' (N8557227) to coincide with his anniversary; the Ned Rorem 'Symphonies Nos 1-3' (N8559149) -- which give us a chance to hear what all the recent fuss is about concerning the re-discovery of an American voice nurtured from song to composition by Leonard Bernstein; and Einojuhani Rautavaara's 'Piano Concertos Nos 2 and 3' (N8557009), Ah yes, Nordic themes also loom large on Naxos.

The release of Samuel Barber's slightly old-fashioned but charming opera 'Vanessa' should not go unremarked (N8669140 - 2CDs), either. The National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine and soloists generate a rich tapestry of sound from the Pulitzer Prize winning work -- and show that Barber is not the one-trick pony he is often caricatured as (through the current obsession with 'Adagio for Strings').

Talking of which, the ubiquitous 'Adagio' features in an a cappella choral version on the new CD from Laurence Equilbey's Accentus Chamber Choir, in a rendition created by the composer. This is certainly a good way of unfamiliarising ourselves with the over-familiar. 'Transcriptions' (Naive V4965) also features an interesting range of pieces not originally intended for vocal performance, including the Adagietto from Mahler's Fifth and works by Chopin and songmeister Hugo Wolf.

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Monday, November 03, 2003


On 6 November 2003 (and every other Tuesday) the Zapaduchi duo perform traditional Russian music at Red Square Restaurant in Exeter, proving that creative music turns up in all kinds of unexpected places. This caught my interest because I have just moved to Devon... and because I dined at Red Square the other evening. A very pleasant experience.

Zapaduchi features John Holden on prima Balalaika with Basil Bunelik on accordion. John is one of the few virtuoso balalaika players in western Europe. He has played professionally for over twenty five years touring with dance companies such as Kasatka Cossacks all over the world. He teamed up with Basil Bunelik and Jonathan Coudrille in 1993 to play a residency at the Royal Savoy in Switzerland. They have performed a variety of venues across England since then.

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Sunday, November 02, 2003


Normally, wild horses wouldn't drag me to the television to watch the MTV Europe awards (6 November 2003), you understand -- but the first ever live TV performance by stoically postmodern German techno-crats Kraftwerk is just a little too intriguing to miss, especially for those of us who have always wondered what blistered paint would actually sound like, in somewhat magnified form. Or something like that.

Talking of the iconic past re-visited, I caught John Cale (whose new album HoboSapiens is a kind of avant folk outing) on 'Later With Jools Holland' on Friday. As ever, he is rather more interesting conceptually than sonically. Moody, atmospheric, tantalising... but finally earthbound.

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Saturday, November 01, 2003


NFE is pleased to announce, courtesy of Adey Grummet, the Winter 2003 coming of 'Deep Blue: Sea Songs, Love Songs' (music by Orlando Gough, Richard Chew and The Shout). The Shout is an extraordinary phenomenon. A choir of diverse voices and fantastically talented individuals, it has been called a 'vocal big band', a 'club choir', a 'vocal Stomp', a 'dangerous choir', a 'choir of Babel', a ‘choral phenomenon’. It is all of these things.

'Deep Blue' is a semi-staged concert of songs about the sea and about love. Love songs with a difference: about falling in love in a sweetshop, about an old man caring for his wife after she has had a stroke, about housework, about electricity, algebra, obsessive work and desire….. The lyrics come from, among other sources, the Song of Solomon and a packet of Love Hearts.

11 November: Turner Sims Concert Hall, Southampton 8.00pm Tickets £13/ £12 / £11.70 / £8 023 8059 5151; University of Southampton, Highfield Road, Southampton, SO17 1BJ.

12 November: Komedia, Brighton 8.30pm (Doors 7pm) Tickets £10/ £5 01273 647100 , Gardner Street, Brighton, BN1 1UM.

17 November: Cambridge Music Festival, The Cambridge Corn Exchange, 7.30pm Tickets £9.50/£5 01223 357851; 3 Parsons Court, Wheeler Street, Cambridge, CB2 3QE.

18 November: The Spitz, London 9.00pm (doors 8.00pm) Tickets £10 020 7392 9032; The Spitz, 109 Commercial Street, Old Spitalfields Market, London, E1 6BG.

19 November: The Michael Tippett Centre, Bath Spa University College 7.30pm Tickets £12/ £8/ £2 01225 463362; Newton St Loe, Bath, BA2 9BN.

28 November: National Portrait Gallery, London 6.30pm free event, St Martin’s Place, London, WC2H 0HE.

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