Nonesuch began in 1964 with Jac Holzman's plan of marketing cheap classical recordings to young Americans, licensed from European sources. However a year later when Teresa Sterne joined, this quickly expanded into a catalogue of de novo recordings of contemporary, experimental, world and new music – all with a high standard of content and artwork which brought brand awareness to the venture. When Teresa left Nonesuch in 1979 several composers wrote to the New York Times to publically voice their unhappiness at loosing her. In 1984 Robert Hurwitz took control of Nonesuch attracting artists such as Steve Reich, John Adams, Philip Glass and the Kronos Quartet, and this award winning format continues today.
I went to two of the concerts on Sunday – Session 4 in the Guildhall's Milton Court, and Session 5 in the Barbican Hall.
Iarla Ó Lionáird
The combination of folk and minimalism was very effective. Words and music looped, switching between equal tempered and just-tuned spectral pitches. A longer dynamic loop formed a simple structure. At its best it was atmospheric and moody, a sea of music on which Ó Lionáird floated. But sometimes the loops played by the instrumentalists did not necessarily fit together (which is after all the trick behind minimalism) and sometimes they were doubling each other effectively reducing the harmonisation.
A couple of times it was too loud for the room, with the singer practically shouting – the musicians (or the person in charge of the amplification) making up for in dynamic the depth the piece lacked in orchestration.
The second half of the concert consisted of fourteen folk songs and tunes performed by the Kronos Quartet and singer songwriter collaborators from the Nonesuch stable. The first was 'Last kind words' by Geeshie Wiley which the Kronos Quartet had played as their encore on Tuesday night and which has been going round my head all week.
Rhiannon Giddens. Picture credit: Michael Wilson
Next on the bill was Olivia Chaney (1982-) playing guitar with a reworking of Purcell's 'There's not a swain' with and (on piano) a song she wrote in Paris 'Cassiopeia'. Her style of singing was introspective and used the different ranges in her voice to produce different colours. For her second set she sang 'Montagne que tu es haute' (Mountain you are to high) and played the drum, and 'Rambling Boy' by Andy Irvine arranged for Kronos and harmonium by Donnacha Dennehy. Each of these had a different style of accompaniment – a versatility the Kronos are well known for.
Natalie Merchant. Picture credit: Dan Winters
The last performer to mention was Natalie Merchant (1963-) who sang 'Butchers Boy' a lament about unrequited love, and 'Johnny has gone for a soldier' a 17th century Irish folk song which became for the American revolution. Despite her hiccup at the start (she missed her place and had to start again) she was very good, very emotive, and well deserving of her reputation as being 'quietly magnificent'.
The Nonesuch event at the Barbican continues until the end of May.
Reviewed by Hilary Glover
Elsewhere on this blog:
- WIN:A study day with Bellini and Nelly Miricioiu
- Toe Tapping: Vivaldi L'Incoronazione di Dario - CD review
- Birthday celebrations: Kronos Quartet at 40 - concert review
- All the fun of the fair: Cosi fan Tutte at ENO - opera review
- 300 Christmas Songs: Arditti Quartet - concert review
- Vale of Glamorgan: Clare Hammond in recital - concert review
- Vale of Glamorgan: Quatuor Tana in search of the contemporary string quartet - concert review
- Vale of Glamorgan: Chamber Choir Ireland - concert review
- Romanian adventure: Alexandra Dariescu and Alexandru Tomescu - concert review
- War and Peace: Tallis Scholars - concert review
- Characterful and effective: Choral music by Phillip Cooke - CD review
- Ancient and Modern: Harmonia Sacra in Weston-super-Mare
- Pifarissimo: Instrumental music from the Council of Constance - CD review