The Manchester premiere of James MacMillan’s Stabat Mater: sacred music concerned with the suffering of humanity

The Manchester premiere of James MacMillan’s <em>Stabat Mater</em>: sacred music concerned with the suffering of humanity

Can a medieval poem meditating on the suffering of Mary, the mother of Christ, as she stands at the foot of the cross have any relevance to these times, or to someone like me who adheres to no faith? The answer given by the performance of James Macmillan’s new setting of Stabat Mater at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall was a resounding yes.

The singers of Harry Christophers’ The Sixteen and the strings of the Britten Sinfonia combined to produce an electrifying performance of Macmillan’s elegiac, angry and often discordant cry of grief and personal commitment in the face of tragedy. I don’t think I’ve attended a more enthralling concert of contemporary music in the classical tradition. Continue reading “The Manchester premiere of James MacMillan’s Stabat Mater: sacred music concerned with the suffering of humanity”

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Alan Barnes and Gilad Atzmon seek The Lowest Common Denominator

Alan Barnes and Gilad Atzmon seek The Lowest Common Denominator

The mercurial Gilad Atzmon has a new project, its purpose defined on the sleeve of his new CD as being ‘to revive the dwindling and complacent British jazz audience.’ At the Band on the Wall in Manchester last week a much-revived and expansive audience were treated to the result: an evening of straight-ahead jazz and lively on-stage banter.

The banter ricocheted between two stalwarts of the British jazz scene: Atzmon, no slouch in the motormouth department, and fellow saxophonist Alan Barnes who was once described as playing ‘music that was radical 50 years ago – hard, urban post-bop’ but infusing it with ‘so much passion and energy you could believe it was minted on the spot.’ With the sterling support from Frank Harrison on piano, Yaron Stavi on double bass and Chris Higginbottom on drums the pair led an evening of superb music that bore the name of The Lowest Common Denominator. Continue reading “Alan Barnes and Gilad Atzmon seek The Lowest Common Denominator”

The Simon and Garfunkel Story: passing time and frail memories

The Simon and Garfunkel Story: passing time and frail memories

Time it was
And what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence

If he ever got back to the twentieth century, Paul Simon wrote in a recent song, he would ‘open the book of his vanishing memory.’ Listening to a succession of glorious songs from his catalogue in The Simon and Garfunkel Story at Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall on Sunday night, made evident how many of Paul Simon’s songs right from the early days were concerned with the passing of time and the frailty of memories. Continue reading “The Simon and Garfunkel Story: passing time and frail memories”

Vishwa Mohan Bhatt gives an astounding, ear-bending performance at the Capstone

Vishwa Mohan Bhatt gives an astounding, ear-bending performance at the Capstone

Back in the 1990s, idly sifting through CDs in Probes Records, I stumbled across an album called A Meeting by the River that featured an Indian musician whose name was unknown to me: Vishwa Mohan Bhatt. But, drawn by Ry Cooder’s name I bought the record and once at home discovered a gem.

The Grammy award winning album is a masterclass of musical interplay, particularly outstanding considering that Cooder and Bhatt met for the first time only a half-hour before the recording. Most of all, though, it is the album’s mood of harmony and peace, a reverie of tranquillity, that enthrals the listener.

So when Vishwa Mohan Bhatt introduced his performance at the Capstone last Saturday night saying that his was as ‘music for meditation and  thepurification of the soul’ I expected a similar mood to follow. Continue reading “Vishwa Mohan Bhatt gives an astounding, ear-bending performance at the Capstone”

An extraordinary performance of Different Trains in the world’s first railway station

An extraordinary performance of <em>Different Trains</em> in the world’s first railway station

An amazing event took place in Liverpool last night. On a railway station platform a mile from my home the American composer Steve Reich appeared on an outdoor stage to present a world exclusive presentation of his iconic 1988 composition Different Trains, performed for the first time with a film accompaniment created by documentarist Bill Morrison. Continue reading “An extraordinary performance of Different Trains in the world’s first railway station”

Terence Blanchard and the Inner City Ensemble

Terence Blanchard and the Inner City Ensemble

Terence Blanchard is a magnificent trumpet player with a huge reputation. Even if you’re not into jazz you may have heard his music on the soundtrack of films, including most of those directed by Spike Lee – including, memorably When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, Lee’s 2006 powerful film about Katrina and its aftermath.

So it was quite something to be able to hear Blanchard perform live at Parr Hall in Warrington recently as part of a new project – piloted by The Band on the Wall – in which he had worked with some of the UK’s most remarkable emerging musicians, as a mentor offering a bunch of thirteen musicians an apprenticeship culminating in live performances around the northwest.

What resulted was an evening of sensational jazz in which Blanchard treated us to stellar moments of trumpet virtuosity, while the young musicians of the Inner City Ensemble, left to their own devices by Blanchard for a major part of the gig, proved an equal match in both their collective playing and in individual  exchanges between instruments. Continue reading “Terence Blanchard and the Inner City Ensemble”

Markus Stockhausen and Florian Weber at RNCM: exhilarating, intuitive music

Markus Stockhausen and Florian Weber at RNCM: exhilarating, intuitive music

Among the galaxy of boundary-probing musicians recorded by Manfred Eicher’s ECM label, the name of Markus Stockhausen has a particular resonance. He’s the son of composer and pioneer of the avant-garde Karlheinz Stockhausen, regarded as one of the great visionaries of 20th-century music, with whom Markus collaborated on several compositions.

The flugelhorn player has got a new album out on ECM, Alba, on which he appears with pianist Florian Weber, and he was at the RNCM in Manchester last night to promote it, at the same time leading sessions teaching students the rudiments of what he calls ‘intuitive music’.  During the concert – in which the duo – a.k.a. Inside Out – played several compositions from the new CD, we were treated to two exhilarating examples of intuitive music, performed with a band of the brilliant students with whom he had been working. Continue reading “Markus Stockhausen and Florian Weber at RNCM: exhilarating, intuitive music”