You can learn a lot from a composer’s programme notes. Those that discuss the music’s gestation and structure suggest someone eager to communicate: the ones that indulge in self-obsessed psychobabble often seem more concerned with obfuscation than enlightenment.
We had both in the first concert of the new BCMG season. Simon Holt’s description of his alchemy-inspiredNigredo, for solo piano, implied a ‘darkness to light’ spiritual journey, achieved musically by the expansion and development of the opening material, a process the work’s dedicatee, Rolf Hind, charted with wonderful sensitivity and tonal control.
In his own The City of Love (on ancient Indian poems for soprano, cello and piano), and the skittishly titled piano piece A jasmine petal, a single hair, seven mattresses, a pea, Hind pushed technical boundaries further, using prepared-piano techniques (chiefly Blu-tack applied to some strings) and requiring the awesomely talented Sarah Leonard to vocalise in unconventional ways, which she did to stunning and beautiful effect.
Equally impressive was the premiere, under Richard Baker’s direction, of Simon Holt’s a knot of time, a five-piece ensemble setting of Lorca that demands as much from the instrumentalists as it does the singer. Cellist Ulrich Heinen and clarinettist Joanna Patton led the field, matching Leonard’s almost superhuman virtuosity (Holt’s vocal writing, though fiendishly demanding, is also rewardingly expressive) all the way, especially in the cadenza-like outbursts of the second and fifth songs.
Paul Griffiths’ programme note for Helmut Lachenmann’s Go Lost definitely belonged in Private Eye’s Pseuds’ Corner, and the music itself made even less sense. Sarah Leonard managed to puff, squeak and trill without cracking a smile while Hind played expertly, and quite subtly too, with the Blu-tack.
As sound manipulation it had some novel moments, but soon became tiresomely repetitive – and extremely boring.