The Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival is going through rocky times. Tom Service was parachuted in to guest-direct this year's programme, the 28th, and has made a decent stab at it. But it needs long-term stability, which is what Graham McKenzie, who leaves Glasgow's Centre for Contemporary Arts for Yorkshire, is expected to bring.
He must make a priority of accessibility to the usually unfamiliar, often esoteric and sometimes frankly weird concerts on offer in this 10-day celebration. When the contents and running order of a concert are not detailed in the publicity, it is outrageous for the festival to refuse to divulge exactly what's being played to someone who has just purchased a ticket on spec, instead directing them to the £5 programme book. At the opening concert, where I witnessed someone's bafflement at this unacceptable situation, the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra pitched in to play music of the 21st century on their 18th-century instruments.
With no pre-concert talk, programme notes that ranged from an imagined conversation between a composer (the Swiss Nadir Vassena) and Beethoven, to quotations from the Concise Oxford Dictionary relating to "rubricare" (by the British-born, Germany-based Rebecca Saunders), and with no public explanation of how this unlikely but intriguing project came about, the event represented the worst possible ghetto-ising of new music.
If the Freiburgers were alarmed at the prospect of scratching their instruments' ribs, they had at least been involved from the start in these five new works. The ghostly hand of a deceased baroque composer added a surreal element to Michel van der Aa's Imprint, with its witty use of lead fingers placed on organ keys. Snatches of reels whirled by in Juliane Klein's ...und folge mir nach, and Saunders' palette of subtly sheened textures, slubby sound-surfaces and richly hued colours was imaginatively fused with baroque tones and techniques at the end of what, even by this festival's standards, was a bizarre evening.
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