Musical highlights of 2012
This is a post from the weareoca.com archive. Information contained within it may now be out of date.
Just before we consign 2012 to the cutting room floor, here are some musical highlights – as chosen by members of the OCA music team.
For me the highlight of 2012 has to be the première of my violin concerto, Bakolo Drom (Adventures of a Balkan theme), at the Swaledale Festival in May, played by the phenomenal violinist Harriet Mackenzie. I wrote a piece for her in 2008, Maiko, based on traditional Japanese themes. She had just returned from a tour of Japan and remarked on how closely it caught the character and atmosphere!
We talked about a concerto, and when the opportunity came along in the form of a commission for the Swaledale Festival, and to work with the excellent young professional orchestra Skipton Camerata, she was very clear about her brief. It was to be based on Balkan themes and leave plenty of room for improvisation! Reconciling the rigour of your own compositional process, and determining the notes and sounds that you want, yet allowing for the freedom of the soloist is always an interesting challenge. In this case Harriet’s ability and willingness to take on board all my (considerable) demands, and still bring her own freshness and imaginative improvisations to the invention was inspiring. It was a privilege to work with her, and to conduct the first performance.
On a personal musical level it was a year where plans came together, finally! I have been researching recently the flautist composers of the 19th century which culminated in two published articles a monograph and an interested publisher for a possible book based on the 80,000 word monograph I wrote in early 2012. It has also allowed me to dust down my flutes and get playing this material in some greater intensity than just as a semi-professional. Similarly, I had been planning composing a song cycle on the poems of Raymond Tong called “Engla Tocyme” for a number of years and at last this year I got around to creating it; a most enjoyable experience unlike some compositions of the past.
On a more external front I have been researching and revisiting an era of music that until now I had really only dipped into via the great masters – that of the Romantic Period. Listening to all these great warhorses of the period I made some wonderful discoveries of the music of so called lesser composers. I would recommend highly the Symphonies, Concertos and Chamber works of composers such as Franz Lachner, Xaver Scharwenka, Hermann Goetz, Carl Reinecke, Felix Draeseke, Robert Volkmann, Eduard Franck, Frederick Gernsheim and the three highly accomplished symphonies of Max Bruch. Wonderful music that will enhance your understanding and love of this great era of change.
My musical highlights this year have been varied and fascinating. One was a local performance of Mozart’s Magic Flute; this was a small production which didn’t feature any big name performers, but captured for me a very important aspect of musical performance, namely entertainment. It is all too easy to forget, as a professional musician striving for the highest possible standards all the time, that at a fundamental level performances don’t need to be world class to be enjoyable. Of course, world-class performances can be life-changing and intensely moving, but this local performance, although a bit rough around the edges, was well executed, amusing, musically enjoyable, and above all, memorable.
Another highlight for me was performing Morton Feldman’s For Philip Guston at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival with legendary pianist John Tilbury (who worked with Feldman) and percussionist Simon Allen. This is a four and a half hour trio, which gradually unfolds through gentle harmonic shifts. This is the second time I’ve performed the piece, and this time something really seemed to click; the structure made total sense and I found the end of the piece, in particular, to be deeply moving. Performing a piece of that length is something of an endurance challenge, but this performance also felt like something of a musical milestone.
I’m going to cheat and suggest three highlights –albeit very briefly! In terms of listening to live performance, the stand out moment was a local choir (St John’s, Ranmoor) singing the unaccompanied setting by Michael Pretorius of Es is ein Ros entsprungen; cue the speech about ‘less being more’ and purity being more effective than complexity. From the perspective of playing, the highlight was coming back to Bach’s Viol da Gamba Sonatas after a gap of a few years (I play the harpsichord); the added beauty and depth of Bach’s obligato sonatas struck me yet again, compared with the continuo sonatas of, say, Loeillet, Vivaldi or de Fesch among many others.
Turning to jazz, it’s been a year in which the guitar has featured prominently on my radar. I have always enjoyed Wes Montgomery, Jim Hall and Joe Pass but found myself adding several others to the list during the year. Of the more mainstream players, Grant Green was the main discovery (look out for Jean de Fleur, for example); of the more modern, I found Mike Stern’s solo on Bob Berg’s Friday Night at the Cadillac Club hugely exciting; another modern player I have come to admire is Anthony Wilson (here playing behind Diana Krall).