Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival 2: 22–23 November 2013by Phil Maguire






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Hudderseld Contemporary Music Festival 2: 22–23

November 2013

Phil Maguire

Tempo / Volume 68 / Issue 268 / April 2014, pp 77 - 79

DOI: 10.1017/S004029821300171X, Published online: 20 March 2014

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Phil Maguire (2014). Hudderseld Contemporary Music Festival 2: 22–23 November 2013. Tempo, 68, pp 77-79 doi:10.1017/S004029821300171X

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Where Walshe meticulously hones her material, Ute Wassermann is a vocalist renowned for her extraordinary improvisation. In her voiceXtensions programme, an innovative collaboration with light artist Michael Vorfeld, however, she performed works specially composed for her by Cathy van Eck, Matthias Maierhof,

Andrew Noble and Richard Barrett. Between each piece, Vorfeld performed a brief interlude, dancing bare light bulbs across the stage, the simplest of tricks (the on/off switch) creating sensory delight. During the course of the programme (in a blacked-out community hall), light and voice became ever more closely entwined. Wasserman is a spellbinding performer and, for me, the highlight was the world premiere of Another Light Bulb Song, which she and Vorfeld wrote themselves.

Lights of another kind entirely lit the solo voice recital of the German soprano Irene

Kurka, a Monday short at St Paul’s Church. If walking round the ring road to the candle-lit church felt like a pilgrimage, that was no bad thing. The programme was called ‘Prayer: sacred music for voice solo’. Kurka, a soprano who paired John Cage and Hildegard von Bingen on a 2011 solo CD, has a presence both grounded and ethereal. She sang Antoine Beuger’s touchingly simple setting of the Lord’s prayer (Vater unser) with poise and compassion; likewise

James Weeks’ hypnotic The World in Tune.

Kurka brought the same poise to bear on her performance of Antoine Beuger’s en una nocha oscura, a 4-hour setting of words by St John of the Cross. A founding member of the

Wandelweiser collective, Beuger’s presence at hcmf// 2013 consolidated a thematic thread of silence at the festival. Beuger’s work consists of single notes played on sustaining instruments at low volume, interspersed with long periods of silence, and a slow, fractured syllabic setting of the sacred/erotic text by the Spanish Christian mystic. As Beuger expressed eloquently in a public conversation, silence for him is a space into which loss pours itself, an absence, a bereavement; the exploration of silence in music is his response to the sorrow of the human condition. The concert (10 pm–2 am) may not have been well attended in terms of numbers, but the attention of everyone in St Paul’s Hall was complete. Most stayed the four hours, and the musicians of edges ensemble (all of them students), under James Weeks’ direction, performed quite wonderfully.

There was more incredibly quiet music to be heard the following evening, in the world premiere of Jakob Ullmann’s Son Imaginaire III (a piece he tried to stage twice, in 1989 and 1990; both times the audience failed him – third time lucky in Huddersfield). Unlike

Beuger and his Wandelweiser colleagues,

Ullmann isn’t interested in silence itself – in fact, there isn’t any in his music. Instead, the instruments play continuously, but as quietly as they possibly can, barely audible, physically straining to keep their resonant instruments under control. The gesture is never stressful, but it requires great concentration and composure. Here was yet more fantastic musicianship on display from the newly formed n s m b l, brought together by bassoonist Dafne

Vicente-Sandoval who has worked with Jakob

Ullmann for several years.

What has stayed with me in the weeks after the festival is not so much the music as the people. It is of course a place to hear new work, but it’s also a forum for discussion, and a place to learn more about composers who might otherwise maintain a certain mystique. Brian

Ferneyhough spoke of making balsa wood aeroplanes as a child; lively discussions about new scores flowed out beyond the Town Hall after each Composer’s Kitchen showcase; and fleeting conversations with fellow audience members over a bowl of noodles gave rise to others. In one, the whole table came to the conclusion that such a gathering of composers, performers and participants from different countries, backgrounds and even musical cliques, simply couldn’t happen anywhere in the UK other than Huddersfield. Long may it continue.

Sara Mohr-Pietsch

Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival 2: 22–23 November 2013

Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival’s promotion of Scandinavian and Catalan music – through established partnerships with The

Danish Composers’ Society and Music Norway, and a more recent association with Catalonia’s

Institut Ramon Llul – have helped to bring under-represented regions for contemporary music to the foreground of the international scene.

Presented alongside works by other European composers, the closing Friday and Saturday of this year’s festival also highlighted the two regions’ often-contrasting styles and aesthetics, producing a multi-faceted series of concerts.

Friday evening saw Composer-in-Residence

Hèctor Parra’s final concert, in which first performances 77 Downloaded: 14 Mar 2015 IP address:

Barcelona ensemble BCN 216 performed the UK premiere of Parra’s Caressant l’Horizon (2011), in an all-Catalan programme. As with several of