Monday, 9 March 2015

A new venture in new talent with the Borletti-Buitoni Trust

Kate Whitley
Kate Whitley
Room to Play; Kate Whitley, Eloisa Fleur Thom, Sarah Jane Lews, Sean Shibe; Borletti Buitoni Trust at Wilton's Music Hall
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Feb 25 2015
Star rating: 4.0

First of BBT's young artist showcases with young composer/pianist

Borletti-Buitoni Trust's (BBT) new adventure took to the stage at Wilton's Music Hall last night showcasing Kate Whitley's talent as a composer and pianist ably assisted by Eloisa-Fleur Thom and Sarah Jane Lewis. There was also a sneak preview of the next concert in the series with Sean Shibe on guitar.

The BBT was established in 2002 to help young musicians throughout the world. The Trust assists young classical performers and composers to develop their careers on an international stage by supporting their projects and providing performance opportunities. Young artists are nominated onto the scheme by established musicians and composers, but once accepted they are encouraged to think creatively about their future and how the trust can best help them.

Wilton's Music Hall is a glorious venue for this type of concert. Its faded grandeur hints at its long history first as a concert hall (1839) and theatre attached to the 18th century pub, then, after a major rebuild, as music hall (built 1859 by John Wilton). It found new purpose as a Methodist hall serving soup to poverty stricken locals, rather than ale, after it was damaged by fire. After the Second World War it was saved from demolition by local support led by Sir John Betjeman, Peter Sellars and Spike Milligan, but remained unused and decaying until the late 1990s when it was brought back to life by Broomhill Opera Company. Frances Mayhew took over running Wilton's in 2004, and has slowly been restoring it, working to make the structure safe but yet retaining the charm and function of the Grade II listed building.

One of the 2014 BBT award winners was Kate Whitley. A pianist and composer, she a go-getting supporter of new music and of exploring new ways of reaching performers and audiences.She, and fellow conductor Christopher Stark, established Multi-Story in the car park at Peckham Rye. You can find reviews of her work in this venue on this blog.

She has several operas and compositions to her name including 'Bonesong', 'Unknown Position', and 'Terrible Lips', a sci-fi dance opera with bodycorps and the opera company Carmen Elektra. She was 2013-4 Music Fellow at Rambert Dance Company, and is currently the New Music Programmer at Kettles Yard Art Gallery.

Tonight though the choices were personal. Whitley performed her recent composition 'Five piano pieces'. She described each movement as being “self contained” - yet they all somehow connected, each requiring the others for fulfilment. The first was loud with rhythmic insistence focussed on a high A, the second, contrasting dynamically worried at a C#. The final, loud “low and growly” movement provided a finality at its ending that was absent from the earlier two movements.

Eloisa-Fleur Thom
Eloisa-Fleur Thom
This was followed by a couple of duets with Thom. The first was a set of three pieces by György Kurtág (1926-): 'TremPezzi per violin e pianoforte Op. 14e'. The first of these began very quietly with spare piano and held cords from the violin which progressed into a crescendo and slides. Very discordant, this contrasted nicely with the Whitley piece which came before. For the second the violin's mute came off as Thom pecked away, the bow being replaced by pizzicato as the piece progressed into more of a march, before returning to high and light. The third piece began high on the violin's G string producing a sound that was scratchy and ethereal. Double string chords and harmonics were underscored by an ever sparer (if possible) piano line.

The second duet was another work by Whitley. This also fitted well with the Kurtág, with similarities of style, but enough contrasts of rhythm, dynamic, and speeds to highlight their differences. Each piece was played with a repeat and, like her previous piano pieces, tended to be fixated on a specific note. The violin had some romantic and tuneful lines peeking out from dispossessed notes and supporting chords. Like the piano work these three formed a cohesive set only really reaching completion at the end of the third piece.

Sarah-Jane Lewis
Sarah-Jane Lewis
'This is my love poem for you', a setting the words of Sabrina Mahfouz, was written recently by Whitley. The poem dealing with how a relationship can change your view of the world was beautifully sung by Sarah-Jane Lewis (who I last saw at Speak by Shadwell opera) with a fast, tripping, watery accompaniment on piano.

The final work of Whitley's set was the outstanding 'Tombeau de Messiaen' by Jonathan Harvey (1939-2012) for piano and tape. Written in commemoration of the death of Oliver Messiaen (1908-1992) the recording (performed by Harvey himself on a piano tuned to a harmonic series) provided a ghostly, sometimes honky-tonk, disembodied foil to the typically Messiaenic sounding chords and bells from the piano played by Whitley.

At the end of the concert Shibe played a little taster of the next concert and the first two movements of a sonata by Antonio José (1902 -1936). Summarily executed in 1936 at the start of the Spanish Civil War by the fascist Falangists, his career as a composer was cut short at only 33. The first movement was tunefully Spanish in style follows by a more retrospectively European courante interspersed with chords or a bass tune.

BBT Wednesdays at Wilton's is planning to move to the newly refurbished upstairs cocktail bar for the next concert and features Shibe on guitar.
Reviewed by Hilary Glover

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