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HomeOperaSnakebite! Stephen Montague at 80, at St John's Smith Sq.

Snakebite! Stephen Montague at 80, at St John’s Smith Sq.

Stephen Montague celebrating his birthday on 10 March 1944 with his mother in Baldwinsville, NY (Photo courtesy of Stephen Montague)
Stephen Montague celebrating his birthday on 10 March 1944 together with his mom in Baldwinsville, NY (Photograph courtesy of Stephen Montague)

Snakebite: Stephen Montague at 80
 – Stephen Montague: Introit St John’s, Snakebite!, Past the Stone Horizon, Darkish Solar – August 1945; Southbank Sinfonia, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music & Dance, the Centre for Younger Musicians, Lambeth Music Service, Modern Music for All,  Kentish City Cantores, Augustina Kapoti, Rob Smith, Richard Heason, Stephen Montague, Xenia Pestova Bennett; St John’s Smith Sq.

With music spanning almost 30 years and 140 performers mixing younger professionals, college students, amateurs and youngsters, this was an actual celebration of Stephen Montague’s maverick expertise and fascinating sense of music making

Southbank Sinfonia‘s celebratory live performance, Snakebite: Stephen Montague at 80 at St John’s Smith Sq. on Thursday 16 March 2023, introduced collectively a exceptional variety of performers, the orchestra itself, college students from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music & Dance, the Centre for Younger Musicians and Lambeth Music Service, performers from Modern Music for All and Kentish City Cantores, together with 4 conductors, Augustina Kapoti, Rob Smith, Richard Heason and Stephen Montague, in addition to Xenia Pestova Bennett (toy piano).  All in all, some 140 performers, skilled, college students and newbie, youngsters and adults, got here collectively for the foremost work within the second half, Montague’s 1995 threnody for Hiroshima, Darkish Solar – August 1945, however the night offered us with a stunning array of types and musical approaches. I interviewed Stephen some weeks earlier than the live performance [see my interview], and certainly my article was reproduced within the programme [PDF]

We started with a joke, Stephen as compere battling a recalcitrant microphone and suggestions, creating into electronics from Kornelia Nemcova. The primary principal piece was a premiere, Introit St John’s, a piece for symphonic brass and percussion the place Augustina Kapoti performed Southbank Sinfonia brass (together with visitor musicians and alumni), Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance percussion, CoMa and Kentish City Cantores. The piece is Stephen’s remodeling of an early brass quintet right into a far bigger and extra complicated piece. It started as a easy brass fanfare, filled with ceremonial noise and drama but it surely progressively unwound, ‘improper’ notes appeared, maybe a subtitle for it is likely to be ‘the fanfare that goes improper’! Regardless of this deliberate subverting, there was one thing quasi-Berlioz in regards to the piece, and on the finish, we had a wave of percussion from the balcony. 

Snakebite! was written in 1995 for the Orchestra of St John’s and supposed to tour with a Haydn symphony, so it makes use of a Haydn-sized chamber orchestra, however the materials may be very totally different and impressed by Montague’s time instructing in Texas. Fairly appropriately, Southbank Sinfonia was performed by Rob Smith, Professor of Music Composition and director of the AURA Modern Ensemble on the College of Houston Moores College of Music. The piece takes the fiddle tune Dusty Miller and re-invents it, mixing within the concept of a snakebite, and the poison (an alien tune in a distinct key) attacking and dealing its method via the physique.

The result’s a bit which is a terrific evocation of Nation fidgeting with actual chunk and vivid drama, together with the primary of numerous moments in the course of the night when Stephen’s music performed with heterophony in addition to what is likely to be referred to as organised chaos. However there was different drama right here, because the ‘poison’ slowed the whole lot down, but on the finish, the unique materials reasserted itself, Dusty Miller survived. All in all a terrific piece.

The primary half concluded with the premiere of Past the Stone Horizon, the place Richard Heason performed Southbank Sinfonia. This was primarily based on an earlier piece from 2006 that Stephen withdrew and later re-wrote, increasing it each by way of size and variety of performers. At its coronary heart, it’s a chaconne, primarily based on the chaconne from Brahms’ Symphony No. 4 which in flip is predicated on Bach. However as an alternative of giving us a set of variations over a set bass line or harmonic sequence, Stephen topics the chord sequence itself to variation, and it’s only a part of the way in which via the work that nebulous suggestion developed right into a coherent presentation of the fabric. 

It started with little flashes of musical materials towards a background (together with, at first, the viewers buzzing), finally making a form of vibrant stasis that slowly coalesced right into a recognisable picture of the Brahms/Bach chaconne. However this shortly disappeared to get replaced by a sequence of fascinating textures and rhythms, and a way of chaconne/not chaconne tempting us all through. The ultimate climax, the place the entire orchestra was actually wound up, launched an infinite bout of power.

After the interval, the music performed repeatedly. On the centre was Darkish Solar performed by Stephen Montague, however earlier than and after it, mixing seamlessly, was Xenia Pestova Bennett on toy piano. We started with Nearly a lullaby for toy piano, wind chimes and music field, delicate, unusual and unique sounds which at instances evoked a demented chiming clock. The tip of the piece was overlaid by the preliminary graunching chord of Darkish Solar. This piece is for big orchestra, but comparatively open rating, mixing totally different talents (youngsters, college students, proficient amateurs and professionals) with an array of kitchen sink percussion, a number of choruses (within the balcony) and three radios.

It’s basically an enormous soundscape, mixing musical materials with radio broadcasts from the interval in addition to bringing in widespread music of the time. It started with big power and violence, which finally dissolved into an eerie soundscape with radio broadcasts. This interaction of violent organised chaos and eerie soundscapes with radios was an essential characteristic of the work, however progressively a extremely rhythmic throbbing took over, and rhythmic waves overwhelmed the entire ensemble, resulting in a closing eerie soundscape that died away to a hiss and a closing bass drum.

The work was written for CoMA in 1995 and Stephen admits that on the time he didn’t anticipate additional performances, however although written for giant forces, the way in which it’s written (comparatively open rating, with flexibility for mixed-ability performers) has meant that there have been different performances. One of many joys of this efficiency was the way in which that you could possibly see younger teenage performers sitting amongst the adults, concentrating furiously, making their very own contributions.

Because the piece died away, Xenia Pestova Bennett took over on toy piano with Mirabella – a tarantella for toy piano the place she actually gave the little instrument some wellie.

This wasn’t the top, nevertheless. Southbank Sinfonia oboist Luiz De Campos got here ahead to play ‘Blissful Birthday’ on his oboe. Nevertheless, this went improper and De Campos resorted to beat-boxing in a shocking show of virtuosity. And a closing, heterophonic rendition of ‘Blissful Birthday’ introduced issues to a pleasant conclusion.

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Elsewhere on this weblog

  • A beautiful sense of poetry: Timothy Ridout in Lionel Tertis’ viola transcription of Elgar’s Cello Concertoreport overview
  • That is my physique: Determine’s imaginative rethinking of Buxtehude’s intense sung devotion, Membra Jesu Nostri – live performance overview
  • Imaginative programming, uncommon location, distinctive music-making: Nonclassical’s The Greenhouse Impact on the Barbican Conservatory – live performance overview
  • Greater than only a rarity: Tchaikovsky’s first surviving opera, Oprichnik, will get a vibrant efficiency from Chelsea Opera Group – opera overview
  • Late-Romantic environment & emotional turmoil: Ethel Smyth’s Der Wald will get a uncommon outing – opera overview
  • Snakebite! composer Stephen Montague at 80 – interview
  • Sending everybody away with a smile: Academy of Historical Music in Purcell and Locke – live performance overview
  • Shifting harmonies & tonal instability: Kitty Whately & Joseph Middleton are sympathetic & communicative of their programme of late-Romantic lieder on Befreit: A Soul Surrendered – report overview
  • When you hear it, I assure you may be seduced: Arne Nordheim’s The Tempest, Suite from the Ballet in a brand new recording from Bergen – report overview
  • A journey via sound: wanting up | searching from a cellar filled with noise – a trumpet, a tuba & reside electronics create a little bit of magic – report overview
  • An pleasant romp: Rossini’s 1825 coronation opera Il viaggio a Reims from English Touring Opera – opera overview
  • Residence


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