I just got back to London after my second and final weekend at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival. I’m not sure that I have enough perspective on it yet to offer a truly well-considered writeup, but the fourteen concerts I managed to attend (there were 38 in all) have led me to a couple of conclusions I wanted to share with you all. Time for some bullets:
- All else being equal, young ensembles with something to prove give better performances than older, established ensembles. No one’s denying that Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgart know what they’re doing, but EXAUDI has simply built a better mousetrap.
- On the other hand, Klangforum Wien and musikFabrik are both 20 or so years old, and they clearly remember how to bring the heat.
- Dror Feiler takes it up to notches heretofore unheard-of. After the second of his two performances that I caught, I literally couldn’t walk straight because of the sustained pressure on my cochlea. You don’t get that in Eden Prairie.
- The 88 Noodle Bar at 15 Cross Church Street should be your first port of call for inter-concert victuals.
- If you like mid-period Stockhausen, you can make yourself enjoy late Stockhausen if you really try. You just have to think of him as a mystic who knows a lot about 20th-century music rather than as an actual composer.
- If an event looks cool, get tickets in advance. Believe it or not, new music concerts sell out sometimes.
- If you don’t like brutish but affable drunks calling you “love”— “loov,” actually—stay out of West Yorkshire.
- Above all: If you think you have a solid grasp on the state of contemporary music today, you’re almost certainly wrong. Because if Donaueschingen, Darmstadt, Other Minds, etc. are as rich as Huddersfield, you’d have to go to all of them to have even the faintest clue what’s up, and even then you’d be missing out on a lot.