New Music Biennial

Having spent last week in several beautiful churches, I found myself this weekend in a Concrete Cathedral – the New Music Biennial at Southbank Centre. Every hour, a new composition was unveiled (there were twenty in total) and given two performances, with the composers/musicians interviewed between the hearings. Moving to a different hall or space for the next piece seemed to refresh the ears as well as the eyes. In some cases the opportunity to focus was perfect; I don’t think my hearing has ever been so pristine as it was in the Queen Elizabeth Hall for Arlene Sierra’s Urban Birds, a three-movement three-piano work incorporating birdsong recordings which was all the more affecting second time through, following fascinating and clearly-expressed thoughts from the stage about piano technology and bird ecology. An ‘evocation’ by impro-trio Bourne Davis Kane of a new work by Piers Hellawell contained equally remarkable piano music, but during the performance in a shout-y Sunday drinks-hour foyer (why does Jazz=Foyer?) my ears had to ‘stand up and fight like a man’ [paraphrasing Charles Ives]. A very stimulating weekend in every respect.

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JUDITH WEIR

Composer