The Latest in Platform 4 Action

Last Thursday and Saturday hailed the performances of a job lot of new Platform 4 stuff in a couple of collaboratory concerts that we put on with world-renowned contemporary pianist Phil Thomas (www.philip-thomas.co.uk) and two Huddersfield composers, Ben Isaacs and Pat Allison.

Thursday’s concert was in the fabulous St Paul’s Hall (a converted church and Huddersfield Music Department’s bespoke performance venue; if only Sheffield had one of those…), whilst we opted to try out the fabulous acoustic of the Upper Chapel in town.  A lovely venue (despite a ticky clock interrupting some gripping silences) – I hope we can head there again for future concerts, not least given the fabulous Yamaha Grand Piano, suitable for a man of Phil’s talents.

We really were fortunate to procure the top skills of Dr Phil – his playing really is second to none, and, given he didn’t have much time to prepare for this concert, really did do all of our pieces justice.

The programme included Jenny [Jackson]’s Sanctum – a piece involving a ‘miming’ pianist with otherworldly accompaniment from hidden performers, each with graphic scores that echoed Phil’s movements.  See / hear the results here.  Also on the bill was Tom Owen’s Exhibition Suite; an incredibly image-conjuring solo piano exploration of J.G.Ballard landscapes, incorporating his earlier Memory Chasm; Tom James’ Quartet, a clarinet/horn/cello/piano combo incorporating a veritable feast of colours, most notably featuring the ‘head-tones’ one can hear when two wind instruments together are playing similar high pitches; my piece Of Limits (see post below for details); and Pat and Ben’s myriad exploratory miniatures, my favourite of which was Pat’s 10 Ex-static Parodies [for solo piano], which featured all manner of nuances and novelties – my particular favourite instruction was that the pianist should ‘play the notes silently, but with the force of playing mf‘.

Both concerts were reasonably well-attended with attentive and appreciative audiences of 30 -40-odd (although we could have done with a few more in the crowd in Sheffield…!).

Yet again massive thanks to all the Platform 4 extended family, who regularly (and happily) give up their time to rehearse and perform with us, and John Chappell for his excellent audio / visual assistance.

Biggest thanks must be reserved for Phil Thomas who managed to squeeze us in to his busy schedule and perform none-too-diminutive-or-difficult concert programmes in both Huddersfield and Sheffield – many thanks Phil.  It really was a joy to hear my piano pieces being brought to life.

What next?  I guess that’ll be decided over ‘Sexy Lunch’ (i.e. more than coffee) in Vittles tomorrow…

Of Limits

Last Thursday’s performance of my new piano piece, Of Limits, is now uploaded to our flashy Platform4composers YouTube channel.

Have a listen here. Below are the programme notes from the concert programme (more on which later)

Of Limits
Phil Thomas – piano

Of Limits is a series of five short studies for piano (and one medley), each based upon one obvious constriction (and sometimes other limitations), and explores both the process of composing something cohesive under such limitations, and the possibility of combining each movement into a cohesive whole in the form of a medley of sorts, entitled Off Limits.

Serialist

A series of folksy melodies are given serialist treatment, with each (approximately) four bar melodic phrase accompanied by the notes that aren’t included in the melody. A calmer middle section is bookended by two frantic sections, with the accompaniment constantly diminishing rhythmically, giving the impression the movement is ‘doomed to fail’.

Octave Range

Everything here is within the range of an octave; the E either side of middle C. Different textures and applications of the limitation are explored.

Quartal

All intervals here are perfect fourths and fifths, save for the odd passing note in the tune, and the ending, which breaks free from its constraints.

Major Seconds

Here the interval of a major second provides the sole building block of the study, either as part of a chord or as a melodic step (after which it can move to any other note, providing that the interval after that is another major second). This limitation appears to have given rise to more folksy undertones.

Unison

A jazz chord scheme (given in full as an epilogue of sorts) is broken down into unison melodic outlines; four interpretations, each increasingly erratic.

Off Limits

The medley combines each study and attempts to create something new merely from stitching parts of the other five studies together.

Eeeeeeeeee right excited for our next Platform 4 concert like…

Platform4PhilThomasPoster

A little Kendal-itis coming out there.

This morning me and the other 3/4s of Platformers converged at Jenny’s house for a little show-and-tell (ooo-err) of our new pieces, freshly prepared in advance of our next concert with contemporary pianist ans self-styled ‘comprovisor’ extraordinaire Phil Thomas (see post below).  It’s all very exciting.

I’ve written a solo piano suite, entitled (for the time being at least) Of Limits.  It’s a study of the process in which composers limit themselves to certain boundaries in order to further explore smaller details.  In this case, each movement explores a different self-imposed restriction and attempts to see what’s possible under such contraints, with the final two movements representing different compilations of the material sourced in each of the five previous movements.  I can barely bash through it myself but the other guys re-assure me it’ll be more akin to advanced sight-reading for Phil…!

The concert’s being performed twice, once in Huddersfield on Thurs 17th Oct (where Phil teaches at Huddersfield University) and once in Sheffield on Sat 19th Oct.  Check the poster above for further details, but rest assured in Sheffield we’ll be trialling further our ‘donations to cover cost’ admission protocol which worked so well with the Brandenburgs, i.e. pay what you think it’s worth / what you can afford.

Hope to see you there.

Prom 27: A Review; and A Wonky Shoulder

Firstly, the injury.

Playing football a couple of Thursdays hence, as I normally do every Thursday, I landed heavily on my left upper arm.  A lot of pain and a trip to A&E later, I was told I had dislocated my shoulder.  The x-ray was fun – my bone was certainly nowhere near its intended socket.  The pain was not fun (although the re-location wasn’t nearly as gruesome as I had expected, in the event it just nicely slid back in, no yank-and-crank as I had expected; mind you, the ‘happy gas’ probably helped considerably).

Anyway, I’m on the mend, and spending more and more time without my sexy sleek black sling.  The injury has stopped me doing the following things however:

1)  Ceilidhing at a friend’s wedding (a blessing?  If only for my lack of footwork)
2)  Driving (although I managed a stint of motorway driving, i.e. no chicanes)
3)  Composing.  I took my stage piano along to a cottage holiday near Ashbourne with the primary intention of writing some stuff for the forthcoming Platform 4 Phil Thomas concert(s), but it’s still a bit much at the moment.  Which is a bummer, being on holiday and that, thus having precious time to write.  Anyway I’m improving each day, and I’m sure it won’t be long before I can get back on the ivories (plastics).
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Friday night saw my first ever visit to The Royal Albert Hall, let alone my first ever Prom concert.  I’ve got no idea why it’s taken me so long to get down there – I’ve watched many a Prom on the telly, and at a meagre £5 per prommer there’s no fiscal excuse for it either.  But anyway, this was my first visit, and I thought the concert I went to see merited a review, so here it is.

Prom 27: Royal Scottish National Orchestra: Naresh Soral / Rachmaninov / Tchaikovsky; Peter Oundjian (cond.) / Nikolai Lugansky (piano)

This was always going to be a lengthy prom, with two intervals scheduled between 3 c.45 min pieces.  It didn’t help then, that Naresh Soral’s BBC-commissioned new work, The Cosmic Dance outstayed its welcome, aptly both in spirit and physically.

Wielding an 80+ strong orchestra, Soral’s work attempts to neatly wrap up the mysteries of creation citing mathematical theories and the Indian texts of the Upanishads and Rig Veda.  Admittedly I wasn’t armed with this knowledge before listening to the piece, and so I can’t really comment on the relation between the work and the texts, but what I can comment on is how the piece sounded and emoted as a whole.  While Soral created some lovely textures throughout the 7 or so movements, you would half expect that with the instruments at his disposal.  I guess you could say the overall creationist ‘mystique’ was captured through his ethereal (yet slightly prosaic) flute / alto sax melodies and extensive use of percussion, but then given the players and instruments at his disposal, you would hope for as much.

Yet the piece was over-long, and for the most part non-coherent.  Use of metre and time was predictable, and along the way we were treated to pastiched Ravel, a naff ballroom waltz, the worst synth piano entry you have possibly ever heard (although I did enjoy the meaty contrabass of some of the pad sounds), and some overly loud brass.  Woodwind textures were neglected for the most part, as were dynamic subtleties (a lot was ‘on’ or ‘off’).  And then suddenly the piece ended with little précis or development, leaving the listeners wondering most crucially why on earth the 20 Rototoms on stage weren’t fully utilised.

Thankfully, after we had re-emerged from the interval after a sit down and a small booze, things picked up drastically.  Nikolai Lugansky was the soloist for Rachmaninov’s 3rd piano concerto, and he ably demonstrated why he is currently one the most in-demand soloists anywhere in the world.  His playing was near-flawless, and his interpretation was heavy in emotional understanding but light in schmaltz, playing the first and final movements with dignity yet not too much romance, and handling the middle movement with much majesty, and not too much pomp – this movement in the wrong hands can sound slushy yet this was thankfully avoided on this occasion.  It was a breathtaking display of effortless skill, and conductor Peter Oundjian always ensured a decent selection of pace, and sensitivity to the soloist was sensibly demonstrated.

Oundjian’s interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s famous Fifth Symphony was solid if not spectacular (maybe playing it slightly safe on his Proms debut), yet that isn’t really damning with faint praise on this occasion, as his choices of tempi were decent and his orchestra were definitely ‘in the mood’, playing the piece with buoyancy and purpose.  Again, the brass were overly loud, getting rather excited with their turn on the old fate motif (especially in the finale) and drowning out at least the horns, if not actually some of the lower strings too.  Still, the overall effect was majestic, and a fitting testimony to the lasting appeal of arguably Tchaikovsky’s greatest work.

Busy (and nervous)

Yes, examiners get nervous too.

Next week sees my first ‘tour’ (an interestingly grand slant on ‘visit’) to Yateley, Hampshire, then Oxford (er, ‘, Oxon’) as part of my new (and, importantly, still only probational) job as an ABRSM examiner.  I am nervous, and have been since last Monday.  It is silly, as it is something I can do and have done already – the only difference being from my training is that this time my marks count, and not the moderator’s.

It is hard to describe what it feels like to go full circle.  I have witnessed the job of examiner from all angles now – pupil, teacher, accompanist, and now first person.  Thankfully, still only being just into my thirties, doing my Grade 8 is not too distant a memory.  I can only hope that this empathy will help me put students at ease, and in a strange way, myself.

So whilst I’ve been musing over this, the logistics of accommodation / travel (including fretting over a car with a bust engine valve), I have had the most mental of days in recent times, with gigs a-plenty, and continuing trips to Leeds to help out with the In Harmony project.  Tonight, although it will be a mad dash straight from teaching, sees me dep-singing for the Soul Travellers (a job I relish, until I realise that I can’t use my vocal chords the following day) at Baldwin’s Omega, that most legendary of Sheffield function-specific venues, for the Medico-Legal centre’s annual ball.  I’m hoping to spot Quincy.

Tomorrow (Sat 15th) is the cream on the cake though – another outing with the aforementioned Soul Travellers, playing our yearly gig at The Cressbrook (er, ‘, Cressbrook’), the pub with, and I quote non-disputedly ‘the best view in the Peak District’, having as it does glorious views over Monsal Dale.  But it’s not only the views that make it – we come for the views, but most definitely stay for the spread tea, the packed crowd, and of course, the Pagan march down to the well and back as part of its ‘dressing’ ceremony (NB on a full stomach, never sure why they don’t reverse that order).  We only get £30-odd take-home readies, but gigs like this are so much fun it doesn’t matter.

If you can make it down, it will be ace – it’s always a brilliant night.  And with me on vocals again, who can resist?  (Maybe small animals)

Me: A cross-section of daily life

Just thought I’d share the goings-on of the previous 32 hours or so, as it provides something of a cross-section of daily (NB not at all like this on a daily basis) life.

May 24th

6.45 Alarm.  Too sodding early.  I am not a morning person, more a mong-in person, to paraphrase Ricky Gervais.

7.30.  Lift to Leeds courtesy of G Usher.  Have been drafted in to accompany the primary school choirs of Windmill Primary, Belle Isle, Leeds, as part of Opera North’s In Harmony project, the North England equivalent of the El Sistema project in Venezuela.  It’s fun.  I get to play Rubber Chicken, jazz-vamp under ‘My Dog Is A Good Dog (Yes He Is)’, and have a jam with reputed jazz violinist Omar Puente.  And why not.

12.30 Return to Sheffield.  Spend 3 hours looking for a cars after my engine went kaput the other day on the M1.  Not cool.

4.00 Teach pupils.  Just the two this Friday, both Grade 4 pianos, brother and sister.  Always enjoyable, that visit, even if it does mean studying the pedalling to a trad. Latvian folksong for half an hour.

5.30 Off to Manchester.

7.30 Manchester.  Gig with the Soul Travellers, albeit in quartet form, albeit with only 2 current serving members.  Venue is Imperial War Museum in Salford Quays – the most weird venue for a wedding reception you can imagine, especially when our warm-up act is a 10-minute presentation on the horrors of war.

11.30 Beer in Chorlton.

12.00 Second beer in Chorlton.  Pissed.  Bed (J Hunter’s pad).

May 25th (plans thereof)

Hoping to tick off the following today:  Meet Charlie at train station.  Manchester CityGames in Deansgate (no real ‘names’ this year unfortunately, but could still be fun.  Might be cutting it fine given that I’m writing this blog now instead.  Arndale centre to indulge retro gaming passion.  Fopp to indulge cheap jazz passion.  Mr Scruff’s tea room to indulge specialist brew passion.  And later, this: http://bandonthewall.org/events/3939/

And then I think Charlie will drive us both home, which is lovely.  Small collapse (i.e. sleep).  Princess Royal, Crookes, Sheffield on Sunday for BIG BAND FUNK ACTION.  More on which later.

Quick plug…

Quick plug…

A quick plug for a gig I’m doing this Tuesday (21st May) at the White Lion pub in Sheffield.  I’m playing the funkier side of Herbie Hancock’s oeuvre alongside Johnny Hunter on drums, Steve Jouanny on bass, and the fabulous Pete Lyons on tenor sax.  Entry is free and we’ll be starting around 9pm, so come on down…

Soundcloud action, part deux

MEIN GOTT there’s more to check out on my recently dust-removed Soundcloud account.

Additions are two-fold:

1) A jazz vocal / piano duo demo with the fabulous Daisy Swift ‘on singing’ (as I myself was most excellently labelled on a funk gig once), and with myself on piano.  Wedding friendly!

2) MOJO (aka Medics’ Original Jazz Orchestra) is a big band that I have the utmost privilege of running, and have been doing so for well over 5 years now.  Finally we got round to actually getting something recorded, and, for an afternoon’s work, I have to say I’m delighted with the results.

Soundcloud action

Just thought I’d try out WordPress’s sexy Soundcloud embedding feature with the pleasing side-effects a) A shameless re-plug of an arrangement of Norwegian Wood I did for jazz trio some months / years back, and b) LOOK I’VE GOT A FUNKY NEW LAYOUT.