Contemporary music can be challenge for many, for others it a declaration that music is for now and not just to be preserved an aural museum. Sometimes presenters of contemporary recitals make it more difficult by being entirely uncompromising in matters of presentation. Alan Holley, who doubled as composer of three of the pieces as well as compare, avoided this pitfall of making the show overlong. The concert was barely 45 minutes (too short for my liking) but enough satisfy a small but diverse audience.
The audience responded to the virtuosity of three excellent musicians. We first heard from the highly experienced trombonist Greg van der Struik, who played a Alan Holley piece, called Autic. Unapologically modernist, it featured long slides, brass-bandish moments and mournful, plaintiff cries. That is was played behind most of us gave it an even more extraordinary feeling.
The second performer, flautist Christine Draeger, played a piece of her own Melusina’s Dream from a show she wrote itself based on the fairy tale The Little Mermaid. The music shifted from the lyrical to multiphonics to reel-like dance rhythms. At one stage there was an almost piercing upper harmonic accompanied by a totally breath-filled lower harmonic, perhaps heard more commonly heard in a jazz context.
We then heard from a remarkable saxophonist, James Nightingale, who played another Holley piece entitled Hemmings 111. On soprano sax, he effortlessly exploited the highest reaches of this instrument, almost oboe like in its penetrating and evocative sound! For me it was the highlight of the concert!
After this Christie Draeger returned this time in the upper level of the gallery, again out of the immediate sight of the audience. The piece Rozella was full of bird sounds and rather more. A short and evocative conclusion to a very interesting program!
Perhaps Alan Holley spoke a little too much in introducing the pieces in a short concert. The gallery itself had an ideal acoustic to these breath-based, high-pitched, instruments. Holley suggested that some might find the pieces not all that ‘accessible’ although he thought that was not really valid for contemporary music. As far as I could tell the audience, who included both persons of mature vintage and young children, listened intently and enjoyed the show. I suspect fifteen and twenty minutes more would have easily assimilated, not the least because the virtuosity of the instrumentalists, and the relative rarity of solo pieces for trombone and soprano saxophone outside the world of jazz.
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