Summary Judgment

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.

7 thoughts on “Summary Judgment

  1. pgblu

    Turnover (not the apple kind)
    Thanks for that roundabout update.

    Regarding Klangforum and Musikfabrik, remember that tho they have been around for 20 years they do have what’s called a turnover, so a number of the players are quite young. An ensemble is not some unitary entity that sheds blobs and grows new ones. I can think of about a dozen members of Musikfabrik that have been there for less than 10 years, perhaps less than 5. In 10 more years the ensemble will be just as ‘old’ as it was at its founding.

    That’s all I had to say. Oh, and ENVY ENVY ENVY ENVY ENVY.

    Reply
  2. Lisa X

    Hey Collin, Thanks for your posts on Huddersfield! Your excitement has really got me curious about all this music. And to be honest I haven’t been excited about what you all call contemporary music for a very long time. Scouring the web now for music by all these ensembles and composers that are new to me. Any help in the way of links would be great.

    Reply
  3. stevetaylor

    American Huddersfields?
    Thanks Colin for the excellent posts. I’m totally with pgblu on the envy element! Is there anything in the US that is remotely like the music you’ve been hearing?

    Reply
  4. colin holter

    Is there anything in the US that is remotely like the music you’ve been hearing?

    Well, that’s the thing – I wouldn’t have known there was anything like this in the UK unless I’d gone up north and seen it for myself. There may well be something equally cool in the States – someone already brought up Other Minds, and the annual Spark festival in Minneapolis was certainly a great experience last year – but I don’t know of anything quite like this year’s HCMF. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t one! And it definitely doesn’t mean there couldn’t be.

    Lisa: Here are a few links on Feiler, Poppe, Klangforum Wien, musikFabrik, and EXAUDI.

    Reply
  5. amc654

    Is there anything in the US that is remotely like the music you’ve been hearing?

    In a word, no.

    38 concerts, dozens of informal concerts & lectures, a handful of sound installations, a fantastic shop w/ nothing but scores, books, recordings, & videos of contemporary music … all crammed into 10 days. The performers are almost universally excellent (the others are merely good), the town is swarming with brilliant composers & performers of international stature, along with representatives of most of the major festivals & music information centers in Europe. And, quite unique to Huddersfield, there’s a very interesting mix of approaches to music (so that, for example, on the first day of the festival, I walked out of my office to see John Butcher and Irvine Arditti in the atrium).

    There’s plenty of good stuff going on in the US (ICE, the Green Umbrella series, Spark, etc.), but there’s nothing remotely close to the scale and density of events at a festival like Huddersfield (or Witten, Donnaueschingen, Ultima, Maerz Musik, Warsaw Autumn, Festival d’Automne Paris, etc., etc., etc., etc.) in the states.

    (It’s mostly a matter of funding, presumably. The cost of the Enno Poppe/Klangforum Wien concert alone would be — I’m guessing — larger than the budgets of most (all?) American new music festivals. It seems that most of the really great stuff that happens in the US happens on shoestring budgets, which makes it quite difficult to sustain for long enough to establish the highest levels of excellence.)

    Reply
  6. jchang4

    Huddersfield would be difficult to pull off without a university affiliation, I think. So you university faculty/admins: Get on it! :)

    But I think there is enough going on in the U.S. that we shouldn’t just all defect oversees :) Here in the L.A. area we do have a number of concert series that are rather impressive. They don’t happen all at once in a marathon-like festival… They’re more spread out over an entire season, which is a timeline that actually I prefer. The Monday Evening Concerts and the Piano Spheres series are two of my favorites, and it’s nice to see that they are gradually becoming higher profile events. It’d be even nicer to read/see/hear about these things on these pages more often. *winkwink*nudgenudge

    Reply

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