The Ergodos Festival, Dovesand Trio Quattroreviewed by Irish Timeswriters
The Ergodos Festival is new, but not quite. This celebration of new music used to be called the Printing House Festival of New Music, and was held in the Printing House of TCD. Under its new name, it has expanded from a weekend to eight days, and it’s migrated to the National Concert Hall and venues further afield.
It’s an odd experience going to the festival’s NCH concerts. It’s a bit like following Harry Potter along Platform 9¾. You don’t head into the main auditorium, or seek out the John Field Room. Instead you walk towards the toilets behind the box office and take a right turn through a door that’s normally locked.
The festival spent its first days in the Kevin Barry Room, part of the space that’s been vacated by UCD, and is now being used for NCH talks, masterclasses and other small-scale activities.
The first of the concerts I attended was given by a string quartet. Not a regular string quartet, mind you, but a quartet of Indonesian students, who have been coached by one of Indonesia’s masters in the ways of western music. Well, actually, I lie. The concert was in fact given by a percussion orchestra of Indonesian instruments, Gamelan Sekar Petak, played by students from York University, trained and led by gamelan expert Neil Sorrell. But you get the idea.
The programme, given on Saturday, concentrated on works by western composers, and the music ranged from an excerpt from Lou Harrison’s Double Concerto for violin, cello and Javanese gamelan, to Jody Diamond’s Prelude: Anyone Can Play(with audience participation) and Sorrell’s own A Frog in that Bright Green, where contemporary fondness for unorthodox playing techniques is applied to Indonesian instruments (and where the more orthodox the sounds, the better the piece sounded).
Unfortunately, the enthusiasm of the student performers didn’t often translate into performances that were sharply energised, and the programme as a whole, which included a number of new commissions, didn’t find any truly interesting new things to do with this fascinating eastern sound world, which has influenced western music for more than a century now.
Monday offered a programme curated by Judith Ring, essentially creating a portrait concert framed by two of her tape works, and including pieces and improvisations by friends and colleagues.
Ring is a composer working in the domain of electro-acoustic music who has chosen to be overt about the limitations in her selection and processing of material. Her Mouthpieceis an elaborate tapestry woven out of recordings of the real-life, unprocessed voice of mezzo soprano Natasha Lohan. It’s presented as a kind of music without disguise, and the thrall it exerts stems in large part from the unmistakable nature of its material. The almost painful-sounding, impossibly high notes that Lohan reaches up to, the in-the-mouth closeness of some of the sounds (worked up to a kind of choral effect), the concerted glissando effects, were all marshalled in a way that seemed at once straightforward and imaginative.
Ring’s Metallurgytook a similar tack with exploratory percussion recordings by Beau Stocker, and another tape piece, Linda Buckley’s Stop What’s Started, which the composer relates to her experience of Berlin noise gigs, offered a sample of what it might be like to suffer from a particularly unpleasant form of tinnitus, with heavy evocations of industrial machinery.
The evening also included two improvisations (one by Jonathan Nangle and David Bremner, the other also involving Ring and Buckley), which, given the luck of the draw in these things, proceeded without any special moments.
Special moments were in short supply, too, on Tuesday, when a programme titled Liminalityincluded three numbingly dull Études for hexaphonic guitar by Enda Bates (the instrument allows for spatial distribution of the sound from the different strings), and two works by Benedict Schlepper-Connolly, Cyanand The Sun Also Rises I(for Paul G Smyth on piano, with electronics), which never seemed to get out of the starting blocks.
Of the two works for clarinet and tape offered by clarinettist Jonathan Sage, the more effective was Richard Glover’s Bilinear, which played narrow-gap chasing games with clarinet and sine-wave tones. MICHAEL DERVAN
The Ergodos Festival continues until Sat
They’ve been hiding away for the past few years in a barn in the middle of the countryside, tinkering away at their new songs, but Doves’ prolonged period of reclusion has yielded fine fruits, and the audience at the Olympia was ripe and ready for tunes from their luminous new album, Kingdom of Rust. In their absence, fellow melancholy northerners Elbow have come good and scooped the Mercury Music Prize, and Doves’ record label is hoping for a similar late result for their boys. But while the new album is reassuringly stuffed with warm, empathetic songs and laced with sonic stardust, it still can’t touch the emotional heights of 2001’s The Last Broadcast.
Any suspicions that Doves may be morphing into an indie Pink Floyd were confirmed by the swirling, swooping intro to Jetstream. Forget “doing an Elbow” – Doves should be aiming straight for the stadiums and getting in the giant inflatable pig. Winter Hillsees the band taking cuttings from The Joshua Treeand replanting them in the Lancashire landscape, while 10:03is a ballad that builds up steam until it turns into a runaway train of thought.
They waited a few songs before pulling out their best-known tunes, and when the relentless beat of Poundingkicked in, the crowd was whisked back to reassuringly familiar territory. This is the main part of Doves’ appeal – there’s an enduring comfort to be had from Jimi Goodwin’s bearhug vocals, the distilled soul of Black & White Town and the grainy recollections of recent single Kingdom of Rust. Caught by the River provided a swelling finale without resorting to anthemic clichés.
For the encore, Goodwin led the crowd through the repeated acoustic refrain of Northenden, before stepping behind the drums to allow drummer Andy Williams to take lead vocals and harmonica for Here it Comes. Unsurprisingly, the band ended on the emotional high of There Goes the Fear, the samba drum coda sending us out into the warm April night with a spring in our steps. KEVIN COURTNEY
City Hall, Dublin
The Dublin-based period-instruments ensemble Trio Quattro were appearing as part of the Dublin Handel Festival in this, the 250th anniversary of the composer’s death.
It was a gem of a concert, opening with a trio sonata by Corelli (E minor, Op 2 No 4) that would warmly reawaken nostalgic gratitude in former music students whose baroque history studies gifted them with an introduction to this pillar of trio sonata form.
How lucky we were then and how well it sounded now as violinists Anita Vedres and Marja Gaynor echoed and swapped Corelli’s perfectly shaped melodic lines.
There later followed a trio sonata (Op 2 No 4 in F) by Handel, who had studied the older Corelli’s music. It featured a similar conversation between the violins, though now with Handel’s voice and also with increased activity and melodic satisfaction for the lowest line. This was played with great relish and awareness by Malachy Robinson on the violone, the viol family’s precursor to the double bass.
Interestingly, the City Hall’s problematic acoustic bloom was less often detrimental on this occasion, perhaps owing to that searing, clean quality of gut strings and baroque-style execution. Only the fine, crisp playing of harpsichordist Rachel Factor was occasionally masked.
There were solo sonatas for violin (Handel in A, HWV 361) and on recorder (Castello, Sonata Prima) with Vedres tossing off delicately understated ornaments, and recorder player Jenny Robinson combining a pure, fresh-voiced sonority with an eager energy.
The programme included Hiccupby Elaine Agnew, commissioned by RTÉ Lyric FM for the European Broadcasting Union’s project, Handel in New Clothes. Here the two violins played more in unison than in dialogue, until a central quiet passage featuring closely intertwining chains of plaintive dissonances. True to baroque models, the piece ended in a lively dance mood but with more funk to it than gigue.
The concert closed not with Handel but with the Concerto da Camera in A minor (TWV 43a3) by his friend Telemann. With the recorder substituting for oboe – and Robinson gleefully flying through her virtuosic passagework – this piece brought all five players together and showcased their unanimous ensemble, their solidarity of period style, and a great joy in music-making to boot. Brill. MICHAEL DUNGAN