Huddersfield's Contemporary Music Festival has had a sticky time of late with this, the 29th festival, curated by the third consecutive director in as many years. But its future now looks more certain under the artistic leadership of Graham McKenzie. The highlights of the 50 or so events this year included a retrospective of the music of Morton Feldman - the quiet American who rarely turns up the volume and many of whose intricate pieces challenge the listener's attention span.
Feldman himself suggested that taking an hour and a half in the whole of someone's lifetime was not too much. It certainly didn't seem a moment too long in the performance of his last completed work, Piano, Violin, Viola, Cello (1987), in St Paul's Hall by three members of the Smith Quartet, joined at the piano by John Tilbury. Slowly evolving patterns of sounds and silence characterised by a delicacy of form, combined to create a diaphanous soundworld.
Earlier in the day, in the Town Hall, Thomas Zehetmair conducted the Northern Sinfonia in music by Gyorgy Ligeti, alongside two world premieres. John Casken's orchestral song-cycle, Farness is a glowing setting of three poems by Carol Ann Duffy on the subject of a loved one far away. In "Penelope", Casken weaves the vocal and viola lines seamlessly into the rest of the instrumental texture. When the solo roles are given such refined expression - Patricia Rozario an expressive and eloquent vocalist, Ruth Kilius an incisive violist - the result is no patchwork quilt.
Theatre Cryptic and Paragon Ensemble opened the festival in the Lawrence Batley Theatre with Gavin Bryars's new cantata The Paper Nautilus - in which the sea's depths surface to a libretto by Jackie Kay. Angela Tunstall (soprano) and Alexandra Gibson (mezzo) made a big splash as the two airy soloists, finally paddling across Pippa Nissen's luminously watery set. Cathie Boyd's production had some moments of haunting beauty, while Garry Walker shaped the music expertly, the instrumentalists bringing out the dynamic and rhythmic subtleties of Bryars's aqueous score.
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