Despite being a music writer it is rare that I am invited along to a classical concert.
And as I’m used to going to gigs after the sun has fallen after a warm up drink in a bar it is also pretty unusual to be sat in a seat waiting for the performance to begin at 11am, not long after eating breakfast.
But that was exactly where I found myself on Saturday morning when I joined an almost full house at the atmospheric St Paul’s Hall in the Huddersfield University campus at one of the first events of this year’s Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival.
Torn as to what should be my first experience of the festival, I decided to pick Philip Thomas, a pianist and lecturer at the university who was billed to perform a three piece experimental classical piano set.
A far cry from the gigs I would normally find myself at where dancing is mandatory, I was drawn to it due to the fact that the longest piece to be played had been influenced by the Beat Generation poets, an American group who rallied against conventional writing and attitudes in the 1950s.
Challenging my preconceived idea about what classical music was and could be, Thomas did impeccably well, right from the first note.
Drawing together his selection of avant garde composers he first performed a short piece, named Oculus, by a composer called Howard Skempton.
This was made up of staccato sounds that shifted suddenly from the sharp high-pitched to softer lower tones – a passage that commanded such attention that it was immediately clear that this show would not be one for those who like only to enjoy easy-going classical pieces on a Sunday afternoon.
Yet it was the memories and emotions that this and the following pieces, Sailing by Christian Wolff and Beat Generation Ballads by Michael Finnissy, conjured up that made the set so remarkable, even to someone with a relatively untrained classical ear as myself.
The first piece somehow brought up memories of spring rain due to the mix of soft, gentle notes which suggested the promise of warmth with more driven ones which seemed to reflect the constant pitter patter of inclement April weather.
Meanwhile, the switches between more delicate and deep, harsh and dissonant sounds, intertwined the feeling of shock, hope, fear and courage – a style that was introduced and explored in the latter two pieces.
These were the points in which the music seemed to urge everyone to let their thoughts and responses to the music flow freely and definitely enabled me to explore feelings and unearth situations that I had buried long ago.
The other intriguing point about his set was the way in which he demonstrated the impact of the pause.
Not accidental parts in the pieces, they were used to intensify the sounds created by the previous staccato sound in an incredibly well-mastered way.
Pausing for up to several seconds at a time, it gave the audience time to reflect on the resonance of the notes and created an impressive tension as everyone waited to find out which way their emotions would be unpredictably jolted.
A performance artfully designed to be enjoyed live in atmospheric surroundings, it was a fantastic reminder of the way in which music can be used to encourage useful contemplation while also being a sure-fire way to blow out the cobwebs in the morning.