MUSIC / It's a sell-out: Keith Potter at the 1993 Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival

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The Independent Culture
On the face of it, the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival - the UK's only annual festival of modern music (now in its 16th year) - is a continuing success. Dig deeper, however, into issues of artistic policy, and things seem more critical. Take, for example, the fact that Henryk Gorecki is one of this year's featured composers.

Five years ago, not even Alfred Schnittke's polystylistic Post-Modernism would have found favour with Richard Steinitz, a festival director originally motivated by a desire to persuade a conservative local audience to put a toe into the turbulent waters of musical Modernism. Now, the darling of Classic FM and the rock charts has had no fewer than seven of his works performed, mostly quite large in scale.

Don't get me wrong: I'm more favourably disposed to Gorecki than many festival regulars appear to be. Admittedly, Kleines Requiem fur eine Polka (played on Saturday by understandably apprehensive- sounding student forces) seemed trite; the eruption, at its centre, of a strange circus music merely cheap rather than disturbing. But the other recent work - the Concerto- Cantata for flute and orchestra (given a moving performance by Carol Wincenc and the BBC Philharmonic under Yan Pascal Tortelier on Sunday) - convinced me much more. It, too, has a silly centre - a vaguely Shostakovich-like dance - and wilfully squanders its orchestral forces. Yet its resourcefulness with almost ludicrously limited melodic material and, in theory, predictable arch structure was quite compelling.

But the attempted integration of these works into a Gorecki survey that included two student scores (unexceptionable folk-inspired and serial pieces, respectively) did little to explain why he was being presented in the festival at all. He hardly needs Huddersfield's support. Perhaps the idea is to use the popular to finance the less popular. If so, local audiences are seemingly more open to Modernism than one might suppose.

Like the festival itself, Minimalism, another of this year's themes, is a broad church. It's a pity that LaMonte Young, the true Minimalist pioneer, and so many other radicals of the movement were excluded from Tuesday's 'Minimalist Marathon'. A reasonable range of more or less Post-Minimalist pieces was nevertheless to be heard: from the Dane, Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen, who can make even arpeggiated triads sound weird, to the Americans David Lang and Julia Wolfe, whose work is far removed from conventional notions of downtown Manhattan mindlessness.

Revolutionaries may, as Steinitz asserts, be hard to find these days, yet the Huddersfield Festival still manages to mount challenging work. Some short new string quartet pieces by Harrison Birtwistle, for instance, in the Arditti Quartet's recital on Saturday, return aggressively and persuasively to non-developmental ideas of structure. This quartet's commitment to the challenging rather than the hyped should serve as a reminder to Huddersfield of its original, and surely true, purpose.

Festival continues to 28 Nov (booking: 0484 430808)

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