Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Audience review - Coaxing interesting sounds from a flute

It’s been a long time since I was asked to pay close attention to a piece of music. Some 20 years, in fact. I was studying for a GCSE in music and we thought our teacher was pretty contemporary when he asked us to discuss pop classic Alone by the big-haired, big-voiced band Heart. This was the late 1980s after all.

But I suspect when it came to our discussions on the more traditional notion of classical music, the closest we got to contemporary was Gabriel Fauré. And he died in 1924.

So, as I listened to four world premieres and one UK premiere at the latest New Dots event at The Forge in Camden, I realised just how little I knew about this area of music. Classical means Mozart, Bach and Wagner, right?

New Dots was founded in June 2012 to dispel exactly this myth. The charity brings together emerging composers and musicians to collaborate on and perform new works. Clearly, there is a thirst for this sort of partnership with 40 submissions for the May concert and 70 already submitted for the next one in November.

In the end the New Dots team had to whittle 40 down to five, selecting a range of international rising stars to compose music for wind and piano. The result was an hour and a half of fascinating work, ranging from Yuko Ohara’s flute solo inspired by human DNA, to Michael Cutting’s piece for piano, flute and clarinet inspired by the E.E. Cummings poem [in Just-], to a full-blown wind quintet about the way we experience spaces in our day-to-day lives by Aaron Holloway-Nahum.

As well as the collaborative part, New Dots is also determined to bring this vibrant contemporary music scene to a broader audience. So, as well as the performances – in this instance courtesy of the Atéa Wind Quintet and Richard Uttley on piano – the composers and musicians shared their inspirations while composing and their experiences of playing this technically demanding music. I’ve never seen anyone coax such interesting sounds from a flute as Joshua Batty; at one point he sounded exactly like a violinist plucking their strings pizzicato-style.

Yuko Ohara and Josh Batty talking about Double Helix for solo flute

Not all of it was to my taste – I preferred the solo pieces to the ensembles – but that’s the beauty of music. My husband detests my passion for 1980s pop. You don’t have to like everything you hear, but you cannot help but admire the work that goes into the composition, along with the skill required to make the instruments themselves – the very way they are played – a crucial part of the music.

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