Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival begins on Friday and celebrates its 30th anniversary. As VAL JAVIN reports, it’s an event which brings a real buzz to the town, plenty of new ideas, some of them distinctly quirky, but all of them offered with passion and huge creativity
‘Supporters and performers alike will travel to Huddersfield from around the world’
A festival determined to be open to all
MUSIC that demands to be seen not simply heard.
That’s the message that Graham McKenzie, artistic director and chief executive of the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, is aiming to get across in the run-up to this year’s festival.
With the festival just days away expectations are high for an event which is celebrating its 30th anniversary and which over those three decades has grown into one of the most respected and important events of its kind worldwide.
This is where you will hear the work of, and perhaps meet, some of the leading composers and performers working in contemporary music.
Over the next 10 days dozens of performers and artists will take part in more than 50 performances and events.
Supporters and performers alike will travel to Huddersfield from around the world to spend their days, and often nights, listening to and talking about music.
It’s an event which brings a real buzz to the town and plenty of new ideas – some of them distinctly quirky – but all of them offered with passion and huge creativity.
The performances and premieres are supported by exhibitions, talks and workshops in a range of places across the town, from traditional concert and theatre venues to a converted mill space.
It all adds to the feeling of a festival determined to be open to all.
Expect a host of the leading names in contemporary music, vegetal violins, musical code-cracking, singing cash machines, a piece for 20 harpists and another for dozens of brass players.
And tot up the statistics: 50 concerts, 30 world premieres, 50 UK premieres. This is seriously high- profile music-making.
Hardly surprising perhaps to hear Graham McKenzie, who took over the festival in January last year, say that this is music to be seen, not simply heard.
He said: “There is an emphasis in this year’s festival on audio-visual and interactive media, but in addition elsewhere in the programme its roots are firmly steeped in the aesthetics of live art or performance art.
“Enjoy the festival and together let’s take the first steps towards the next 30 years.”
Those steps are very much the start of a new journey for Graham, who arrived at the festival from a job as head of the Glasgow Centre for Contemporary Arts.
The festival opens on Friday with Night Of The Unexpected, a festival within a festival, that will surround the audience in Bates Mill in Queen Street South with music, light, performances, exhibitions and installations.
This is the first time that Amsterdam’s premier avant-garde music event has taken place outside its home city.
It takes place there every September and offers a taste of everything from club culture and contemporary classical to indie and pop music.
It is one of those events that is packed with surprises, including a band comprising 120 local brass players, and very much ticks the “this was an experience” box.
Bates Mill, a former spinning mill, is fast becoming a home for cutting- edge arts.
For Graham McKenzie, this first full year of his directorship must make him feel that, finally, he gets to start work on shaping the festival’s future.
He said: “When I came in last year I felt I would probably have to run somebody else’s festival.
“I discovered – to my relief and horror – that nothing had been booked. We had a very short time in which to plan 50 concerts.
“There wasn’t a lot of time for me to worry about it. Sometimes you just have to go for it. This year is a bit more like the difficult second album!”
“For me, the big thing last year was bottoming the definition of contemporary music.
“I was interested in all this other non-mainstream stuff. I can’t be the only strange, weird person who sees all these things as part of the definition of music! We can embrace all of these things. ”
And he is certainly offering plenty of chances for people to dip in and out of some very different musical choices.
For the 30th anniversary celebrations this is one musical party that includes old friends, giants of European contemporary music and new faces. But what is perhaps different is the way in which Graham has chosen to present them.
It is why, for example, German supergroup musikFabrik will perform a new piece based on Victorian era telegraphic codes and created by the festival’s composer in residence, Yannis Kyriakides, seen as the rising star of the Dutch new music scene.
And it is why the renowned Arditti Quartet are teamed with the rock and new music experimental guitarist Fred Frith.
Iconic American composer Robert Ashley makes his Huddersfield debut working with the Ensemble Mae and the Nieuw Ensemble returns to the town as part of a strong Dutch influence on this year’s events.
Highlights include a new work commissioned by the festival from saxophonist and composer Evan Parker and a world premiere from British composer Sam Hayden, plus the world premiere of a concert/ installation from concert pianist and visual artist Tomoko Mukaiyama working with Dutch designers Niels Klavers and Astrid van Engelen.
There are many other events which are unique to HCMF. Graham points to the introduction of sound walks where you will be able to pick up an NP3 player and walk around Huddersfield to discover the secret sounds that the town makes, thanks to an electrical walk created by German artist Christina Kubisch.
Dutch violinist Monica Germino will not only be giving a concert during the festival but will be living in a house locally as part of an installation. She will rehearse in the house and give micro-performances in it.
The festival will also bring together 20 harpists, most of them students from across the region including from Huddersfield University, to play a new piece by Rhodri Davies.
There’s also a rare foray outside London for the radical electronic festival Cut and Splice. Co-produced by Sonic Arts and BBC Radio 3 it will investigate our obsession with food through a series of events, including making vegetable instruments at the open market.
Shoppers will find themselves being encouraged to create a carrot flute or leek violins.
And if you don’t believe it, try Bates Blending Shed later in the festival to hear what sounds the 11-piece Vienna Vegetable Orchestra can make with familiar vegetables from celery to pumpkins.
It is said to be a liberating experience which makes people curious about other everyday objects and the kind of sounds that they can make. And opening people’s eyes and ears is, after all, what much of this festival is about.
Box office is on 01484 430528 or you can book online at www.hcmf.co.uk