Monday 16 January 2023

Theories of forgetting: composer Hollie Harding curates contemporary pieces at LSO St Luke's

Hollie Harding, Heather Roche, Eva Zöllner, Colin Alexander - LSO St Luke's(Photo Emily Hazrati)
Hollie Harding, Heather Roche, Eva Zöllner, Colin Alexander
LSO St Luke's(Photo Emily Hazrati)
Christophe Bertrand, Laurence Crane, Joanna Bailie, Johan Svensson, Bent Sørensen, Hollie Harding; Heather Roche, Eva Zöllner, Colin Alexander; LSO St Luke's
Reviewed by Florence Anna Maunders, 14 January 2023

A mesmerising evening of carefully curated contemporary chamber works

As part of her involvement in the LSO Jerwood Composer+ scheme, London-based composer Hollie Harding presented and curated an evening of contemporary pieces at LSO St Luke's, which included her own new, extensive work – Theories of Forgetting – and explored the complex relationships between music, time and memory, with music by Christophe Bertrand, Laurence CraneJoanna Bailie, Johan Svensson, and Bent Sørensen performed by Heather Roche, clarinets, Eva Zöllner, accordion and Colin Alexander, cello.

The concert opened with a virtuoso performance of Christophe Bertrand's Dikha (2002)– a solo piece for clarinettist Heather Roche and fixed electronic recordings of clarinet sounds and samples. By deploying a vivid arsenal of extended performance techniques, Roche's playing became, at times, indistinguishable from the electrically processed recorded sounds in a fascinating, fast-paced and driven texture. Her skill at handling the wide range of timbres, techniques and colours demanded by Bertrand, as well as a slick transition mid-stream to bass clarinet, demonstrated why Roche is in such huge demand currently as an interpreter of contemporary clarinet repertoire.

Riis (1996), by Laurence Crane presented a complete contrast to the energy of the opening work. Eva Zöllner's accordion replaced the electric organ of the original version, allowing for a subtly nuanced interpretation of the impressively controlled long notes and sustained phrases from which this piece is constructed. Her long association with Roche and experience in small-group performance were apparent in the intimate interaction between the three performers in this beautifully slow-paced piece.

Each of the three musicians in the program is a highly experienced solo performer, and Joanna Bailie's Trains (2014) presented Colin Alexander on 'cello together with a textural collage of slowed-down recordings of seven different trains, shifted in pitch to form a kind of scale. The interplay between Alexander's commandingly poised, almost vocal performance, and the unfamiliarly transformed mechanically repetitive sounds of the trains formed a fabulous counterpoint. This piece could easily be treated as a curiosity, but this was a committed and expressive performance which transcended the concept of its composition.

Svensson's double dubbing (firefly song) (2019-20) was an utterly gripping musical landscape, in which Roche and Zöllner's clarinet & accordion were joined by an array of piezo buzzers and blinking LED lights spread around the darkened stage. Bursts of coordinated clicking, buzzing and flashing alternated with short spells of silence and darkness. It was difficult to distinguish if the lights and sounds were responding to the musicians or if they were occurring simultaneously, and the rapid alternation of differently textured sections made this the most active and busy part of the evening's offerings.

The most substantial and sustained piece in the program was also the conclusion. Curator/composer Hollie Harding's new work Theories of Forgetting was an expansive, meditative & mesmerising sequence of 4 movements, exploring her musical memories, and revisiting ideas from forgotten and abandoned earlier works, including sounds from decayed teenage tape recordings, and processes from pieces written over a decade in the past, alongside stretched and compressed snippets of popular song from her youth, mutated and distorted almost completely beyond recognition. This was a fascinating tapestry of sound – woven from distinct strands, yet presenting boldly extended surfaces to the audience. Harding has no difficulty in sustaining musical textures into a timeless space. The piece was about 35 minutes long, but could easily have been 3.5 minutes or 3.5 hours – the sense was that the music existed beyond the idea of a temporally-conceived arrangement of sounds. The overall impression was more one of being submerged in the subtly-shifting waves of a warm bath of sound.

This was an evening characterised by sustained music, much of which involved long stretches of music which floated or skittered, almost entirely free of groove or regular pulsation, or with a pulsation so slow-paced as to be felt as structural divisions rather than rhythmic impulses. If this sounds boring, then you'd be mistaken – the three performers were unflagging in their total commitment to bringing every last detail of the scores to life, and the interactions between them on the stage, and the way in which they responded to each other, and the range of electronic sound-sources, revealed the rare chemistry between the trio. The choice of pieces, most of which was unfamiliar or new to the more-than-sold-out St Luke's audience was a brave and novel selection, but there is clearly a real appetite with new music audiences for this type of concert. For a program about forgetting, there was a lot of memorable music-making on show this evening.

Reviewed by Florence Anna Maunders

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