Musicians from around the world will soon be converging on Huddersfield for the annual Contemporary Music Festival, the largest of its kind in the UK.
For pianist Richard Uttley, who is premiering three works at the event, it offers a welcome opportunity to return to his home town and take part in a festival that was an important part of his musical education.
Richard, 28, now London-based, was brought up in Birkby and attended Greenhead College before leaving Yorkshire to study music at Cambridge University and the Guildhall School in London.
The first time he played at the festival he was still a student and then he was asked back to take part in the ‘shorts’ - a series of short recitals. This time around he will be given a full solo performance in the Phipps Hall on Saturday, November 21.
Richard is a huge fan of the festival and says we are extraordinarily fortunate to have such an event in the town. “It’s at the cutting edge and yet on the doorstep for people from Huddersfield. Music lovers travel from all over the country, even the world, for the festival and people here have easy access - they’re very lucky.”
Although Richard had a classical training he was also introduced to contemporary music by one of his teachers, Ian Buckle, pianist in residence at Huddersfield University. It was to be an influential eye-opener for the young musician. He says: “I had lessons at the university from the age of 10 or so and my teacher introduced me to Ligeti from the age of 13. It’s not the kind of off-the-shelf music that you normally play at that age but it really got me hooked. It wasn’t until later I realised that some people had never gone near new music at that age.”
The Contemporary Music Festival has been showcasing the latest music compositions, techniques and experimental music since 1978. Richard accepts that the really avant garde concerts may not appeal to all but he stresses that the festival offers a huge range of music. Audiences should try to be open-minded, he says, and added: “There are composers alive today just the same way that Beethoven was alive in his time period. They are composing the music of our time and it speaks of things that are highly relevant to us. I find it completely fascinating. There’s a vast array of diverse music, so if someone goes to a concert and doesn’t like what they hear they can find something else that they will.”
Among the three world premieres Richard will be presenting is a work by fellow Yorkshire musician, West Yorkshire composer Naomi Pinnock. Richard and Naomi met at last year’s HCMF when another of her compositions was being played by the world-renowned Arditti string quartet, an ensemble that has built its reputation on 20th century and comtemporary music.
For this year’s festival Richard was able to commission a piece by Naomi with funding from the Royal Philharmonic Society.
He will also be playing a composition by Manchester-based Michael Cutting, which Richard will play on a Fender Rhodes electric piano (as used by Stevie Wonder); and a piece by Spanish composer Franciso Coll, which he describes as having ‘a percussive quality that really appeals to me’.
Playing in his home town means that Richard’s family (his parents Judith and Stephen still live in Birkby) and friends will be able to see him perform in an international event without having to leave Huddersfield.
Of course, Richard’s concert is just one of many during the festival, which runs from Friday, November 20, until Sunday, November 29, at various venues throughout Huddersfield. This year the festival has introduced a number of family-friendly concerts and events. Up to 400 musicians will be taking part in more than 40 free and ticketed events that include 25 world and 79 UK premieres. For full details visit www.hcmf.co.uk . As Richard says: “The contemporary music festival sets trends - composers are discovered in Huddersfield and go on to become world famous. It’s got to be worth checking out.”