By Spencer Allman
The 40th Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival has got off to an impressive start, writes Spencer Allman.
The highly competent Red Note Ensemble presented works for various combinations, rounding the evening off with a festival co-commission, Tanz/haus, by the British composer James Dillon.
Dillon is an avant-gardist who is no stranger to the annual Huddersfield event. His output explores complex sound patterns though Tanz/haus features passages of wondrous quietude. Indeed, all three movements seemed to move from a Boulez-like mix of scurrying and frenzy to a serene plateau of stillness. These more tranquil sections were beautiful, but were suffused with a sense of something unnerving - we hovered in space, fascinated by the bleeps and blips coming from the ensemble, like radio signals. Conductor Geoffrey Paterson took ownership of this demanding music, a commitment that was warmly acknowledged at the end by Dillon himself, who was in the audience.
The four shorter works that preceded Dillon’s typically large-scale offering were for solo and chamber performers.
Guitarist Wiek Hijmans gave us two pieces from the New York Experimental School. Morton Feldman’s Possibility of a New Work for Electric Guitar is a rarity, as the score disappeared in the 1960s, when it was written. Forty years later a recording suddenly showed up, making it possible to reconstruct the original.
Hijmans then played another solo work by Christian Wolff, virtually the sole surviving member of the experimental music movement that gained some ground in the 1950s under the mentorship of the legendary John Cage (1912-1992).
The concert had opened with two compositions by Stephanie Haensler, who is Swiss. And once again we had been treated to a show of brilliant musicianship. There was truly sensitive playing in Ganz nah, for violin and piano, a gently quirky item that recalled the Japanese composer Takemitsu.
A slightly larger group from the Red Note Ensemble was required for Haensler’s other piece, Im Begriffe, an exercise in disparity moving towards connection.
A week of professionalism in modern music had begun.