Birmingham Conservatoire composition tutor Richard Leigh Harris used his very pleasant 50th birthday concert on Tuesday lunchtime to pay generous tribute to several of his contemporaries.
We accordingly heard Leigh Harris perform two of his own pieces, one greeting the composer Robert Saxton on his 50th birthday, (Chime-Chain, punningly evoking the dreaming spires of Oxford where Saxton taught), the other, Requiescat, mourning the passing of Robert Sherlaw Johnson with resonant bell-like harmonics from plucked piano strings and gravely lamenting low-register melodies.
Highly capable yet modest in his well-weighted, judiciously-pedalled pianism, RLH then turned his attention to the piano music of fellow-composers. Graham Fitkin's Late '92 and Very Late '92, with their gorgeously lyrical, nursery-land harmonies, flanked a rare Turnage piece for the medium, the berceuse-like Tune for Toru paying homage to the great Takemitsu - another example of generosity among composers.
And there was more, with a sequence of six intriguing miniatures by Howard Skempton ending with one in memory of John Cage (though I found it hard to find any link).
The rest of this lovely programme featured instrumental works by RLH, each of them revealing a Dutilleux-like subtlety and refinement, as well as a wonderful ear for timbre and sonority.
Bringing great concentration and control, a small student ensemble under Joe Cutler delivered a committed premiere of encore III, Feldman-like in its own quiet momentum. Saxophonist Neil McGovern premiered the gently lamenting encore IX, and recorderplayer Ross Winters gave delightful accounts of two of the pieces with which Richard Leigh Harris has enriched the repertoire.