Tuesday 3rd MayMay 3, 2011
So following on from my words here last night, I have thought a little about what and how I should write about yesterday’s final day at the Freedom of the City Festival. For those sensible enough to have not read yesterday’s post, I struggled to focus upon, and therefore also enjoy very much of the day’s music, primarily because of my state of mind rather than as a result of how the music may have sounded. I was tired even before I left for London yesterday, and I had some bad news about the death of a young work colleague as I was literally on the steps leading up to the venue, so my frame of mind wasn’t quite there. So I have decided that an in depth review of the day wouldn’t be fair. One or two of the sets I had a very powerful negative response to yesterday, and I thinking back now, while I certainly didn’t click with a few of the performances I think I responded in a manner that the music didn’t fully deserve. So I will quickly run over the earlier sets fo the day, one sentence on each and then spend a little time on the evening’s closing set by John Tilbury and Michael Duch, which would always have been where much of my focus would have lain anyway.
The day began with a great performance by Steve Noble and Paul Abbott, perhaps an unlikely pairing on paper, but after I saw Noble play with Ryu Hankil last year I’m not surprised it worked. The set was a series of explosive events one after another, Noble playing with just a single snare and a cymbal, Abbott working with a percussion/electronics mix that flew from sudden electronic blasts to a semi rhythmic acoustic sensibility that matched Noble’s busy, yet for him relatively restrained playing. This just worked, and sounded like nothing else I can think of, which has to be good.
There then followed a set I know I would have enjoyed a lot if I’d been in a better state of mind, the trio of Jenny Allum, (violin) Ute Kanngiesser (cello) and Philip Somervell (piano). This was a set of many tiny sounds that came in rapid streams that really demanded close listening, and I just couldn’t give the music what it deserved. It was delicate, intimate fragile stuff, with Kanngiesser playing in the most restrained manner I’ve seen I think, but I was also a little too far away at the back of the hall (which has the shiniest and noisiest wooden floor I’ve ever seen by the way) so I didn’t make the connection I perhaps would normally have made.
Then came Axon, the trio of Martin Blume, (drums) Phil Minton (voice) and Marcio Mattos (amplified cello with effects). There were elements I enjoyed in this set, mostly from Minton, but this is definitely one I think I will refrain from talking more about, as I thoroughly suspect I would have enjoyed the performance quite a bit on another day. The duo of Phil Wachsmann and Roger Turner was quite good as well, very highly skilled and sharply executed stuff, Wachsmann also working with some electronics, and I would have enjoyed this one a lot more as well, though it did go on for quite a bit too long, a feature of most of the sets of the day.
The one set that I really struggled with was the penultimate one of the day, from the trio of Pat THomas (sampler keyboard and electronics) Adam Bohman (table full of miked-up odds and ends) and Martin Hackett (analogue synth). I was tired by this time and just couldn’t penetrate the music, which all seemed to rely on too many similar sounds for me, and to my somewhat jaded ears the music all seemed to descend into an airless sludge, which is probably a very unfair, rude thing to say, but I just found the set completely impenetrable yesterday.
So then we came to the evening’s finale, the duo of John Tilbury (piano) and Michael Duch (double bass) playing (in Tilbury’s own words) “a repertoire of ancient music”, or to be more precise three Cardew works, a Feldman and a short improvisation. They performed, all in one stretch with only very brief gaps between them the following works, this this order: Cornelius Cardew: Solo with accompaniment, Morton Feldman: Durations 2 then a short improvisation, followed by Cornelius Cardew: 4th system and finally Cardew’s Unintended piano music. Some of these pieces were originally written as solos, such as Cardew’s 4th System, but they had been adapted by the duo so that some of the sounds were played on the bass, in the case of 4th System, which uses seven notes only, three or four were picked out by Tilbury, the others by Duch, plucking his strings. Also the Feldman piece was originally scored for piano and cello but had been rewritten by Duch for piano and bass. For some these changes might have constituted a step too far, but the pieces worked superbly well in this situation, perhaps in part due to the pair having worked together a lot recently, though usually as a trio alongside the absent Rhodri Davies, who had become a father just days earlier.
After everything that had come before, which had, on the whole, been quite busy and active, listening to this beautiful, wonderfully sensitive music was a real joy. Even during the opening Solo with accompaniment as Tilbury dropped duck calls, whistles and other seemingly inappropriate sounds into the otherwise beautiful music the sense of poise, craftsmanship and the sheer majesty of the music came across to the very respectfully quiet audience. The Feldman recital was wonderful, so great to hear Tilbury play alongside a stringed instrument like this in such intimate surroundings, and the pair played the piece immaculately to my ears- soft, calm and yet incredibly intense.
The improvisation was really great as well, extremely fragile, slow, spaced apart sounds, the kind of improv I’ve always wanted to hear John play, never once actually playing a note on the keys, working entirely within the piano, with Michael the perfect counterweight adding just the minimum required, mostly gentle bowed notes but with some soft percussive sounds. This was one moment when I wished Davies had been there as well as improvising I imagine they would sound stunning and I don’t doubt there is a great improv CD in the trio somewhere, but for now this little interlude, just six or seven minutes long I think, was magical to experience.
So my journey tot he festival was not a complete disaster. The music of this closing set made me forget everything and I completely absorbed the music, the intensity of the room, the humour Tilbury injected before they began when his stool squeaked too much so he swapped it for a plastic chair which saw him sat comically low to the piano throughout the performance. I will never tire or watching John tilbury play, this I know for sure, but here he seems to have found a playing partner very much in tune with his sensibilities, and together with Rhodri I hope they continue to work together as a group as they have a lot to offer, both to this “ancient” music and to new improvisation.
My apologies tot he musicians for my lack of focus throughout the day then, and to the few people that spoke to me and found me somewhat miserable (yes even more so than usual!) Just a blip…
The photo above is one from last night’s concert, taken by someone named Andy New. I found the pic online and have sent the photographer a message to let him know I have used it, but for the moment I have used it without permission. I didn’t take any photos myself so I hope its OK to use this, particularly as its such a fine shot.