Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, Various venues, Huddersfield

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The Independent Culture

You can plug in to an "electrical walk", and explore the acoustic landscape of Huddersfield, or salivate over the sounds of carrot flutes, pumpkin basses and leek fiddles in the Vienna Vegetable Orchestra. Where else but at the UK's largest new-music festival could you hear 20 harpists improvise on ragas, or try to crack the coded musical messages broadcast between the BBC and Warsaw during the Second World War?

Thirty can be a dangerous age but, under Graham McKenzie's direction, the 30th Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival is about much more than the wacky and the weird. Blending experimental sounds with more traditional music, adding an audio-visual dimension and dabbling in interactive media, McKenzie offers a wide range of genres and musical experiences in 50 concerts, including a world premiere for each year of the Festival's life.

As well as a special Dutch focus, there are visits from major figures and ensembles in European contemporary music, among them the innovative musikFabrik from Cologne.

A substantial part of the second of its two concerts was taken up with Harrison Birtwistle's Orpheus Elegies, in which Orpheus is portrayed on oboe, with the harp as his lyre and a countertenor adding narration. Rilke's Sonnets provide the inspiration and, while most of the pieces are instrumental, some are vocal settings of the German text, given quasi-operatic depth of feeling by Andrew Watts.

Stirrings still by Rebecca Saunders is inspired by Beckett. It's scored for five instruments – piano, clarinet, bass flute, oboe and the delicate effect of a violin bow drawn over tuned cymbals. While it proved wonderfully evocative, the world premiere was trumped in terms of spatial effects by the emergency siren swishing along the road outside.

Jonathan Harvey avoids words altogether in his distinctive Sprechgesang, in which the entire musikFabrik ensemble provided a colourful backcloth to a virtuosic imitation of spoken language expressively created on oboe and cor anglais by Peter Veale.



To 25 November (01474 430 528; www.hcmf.co.uk)

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