Anne L Ryan reports on New Music – Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge 28 Jan 2007

Artist Visiting Cambridgeshire
Etching Sound Forms: a portrait of Christopher Fox

Fox - Memento (running into), Susan's Purple; Cage - Music for Three; Tenney - Harmonium No. 5; Fox - Blank, Catalogue Irraisonne/Generic Compositions

New musical sounds, nuances and textures were presented with aural finesse by avant-garde ensemble Apartment House on Sunday lunchtime, Kettle's Yard, Castle Hill. Aural being the operative word, for whilst new music can have a touch of the Emperor's New Clothes, Sunday's exposé was very clearly dressed. Either way, it didn't matter. Most of the audience listened throughout with eyes wide shut. Dispensing with notes, Anton Lukoszevieze, cellist leader of the ensemble, and Christopher Fox, featured composer, opened with an informative discussion about the programme.

Fox's Memento (of what, he was unable to remember!) was a surreal evocation of a sound memory card; soft, with a razor's edge, it left you spinning a circular image, with a playful creature enclosed, punching inaudibly to break free. Lukoszevieze's vital cello brought the piece into a diminishing day-dream leading to Susan's Purple, a vibrant depiction of a pigment from Gaunier's Cabinet of Curiosities in the Queens' College, Cambridge.
Music for Three (John Cage), played by three string members of the ensemble (normally played with 20 instruments), had an exciting urgency to it; like the experience of reading a good book - never wanting it to end, but having to read on to know what happens - it left you worked, but sated.

The incredible musical precision in James Tenney's Harmonium No. 5, brought ringing to the ears of sensitive listeners. Inspired by finding ‘harmony' in early pieces of Cage's music, Tenney explored rich harmonic overtones using cycles of 5ths and more. The instruments pulsed inner notes, whilst the harmonic dynamic released echoes of horns and trumpets bouncing off the strings. It was an acoustically profound, three dimensional sound, ending with a resonance that lingered in the silent air.

Fox dedicated his piece Blank to Tenney. The rhythmic discipline of this composition was contained and played effortlessly by Tim Parkinson. His hands were like a cute cat walking musically on a piano. It moved gracefully into Catalogue Irraisonne/Generic Compositions, one of twelve pieces written for voice and instruments. There was something sweetly calming in the fore and aft flow of curved bow, spoken consonants and instruments.

It was both a pleasure and an education to hear this hour-long concert of New Music at Kettle's Yard - well worth a visit to challenge your musical taste buds (it may have been scheduled for Sunday lunchtime, but a traditional roast it certainly was not). There was additional delight in seeing artistic works by Picasso and Rodin and Gaudier-Brzeska at the current exhibition: WE the moderns: Gaudier-Brzeska and the birth of modern sculpture.

Writer: Anne L Ryan