Live Reviews: Up North! Concorde & Harry Sparnaay


Concorde & Harry Sparnaay, Bank of Ireland Arts Centre, 7 December 2002. Ingólfson – Vink 2 (1994) O’Leary – Reflections II (2002); Torstensson – Spans (1981); Olofsson – Le Miroir Caché (2002); Sermilä – Ego 2 (1990)

The concert on Saturday 7th December in the Bank of Ireland Arts Centre, Dublin, consisted of five short works performed by Concorde and bass clarinetist Harry Sparnaay.

The first performance was of Ego 2 by Jarmo Sermilä, a trio for flute, cello and accordion. This combination of instruments produced a surprisingly full sound, and the composer highlighted the range of the accordion, with it providing very light high pitched trills in the first section and harsh bass sounds in the third. Overall this piece was not an attempt to convey any substantial musical feeling, but during a few moments of the second section, with all three instruments playing, it gathered a playful, syncopated, momentum, which would have been the perfect accompaniment to the jerky motions of a puppet. The use of unorthodox sound, such as the striking of the cello and breathing noises from the players seemed entirely redundant.

Reflections II was then given its world premier. This is a work by Jane O’Leary written for Concorde and Harry Sparnaay. In four movements, the work does not evolve so much as present four images linked by a similar range of sound and a sense of reflection, tinged with sadness. By contrast with the first piece, O’Leary’s use of techniques such as strumming the open strings of the piano, were entirely justified, as the rolling grating bass sounds were an important dark current throughout the work. A dark, percussive opening, and a stark final movement where violin and bass clarinet played in their higher ranges while a sombre piano sounded its deepest voice were the most involving parts of the piece.

The centrepiece of the concert, and indeed the highlight, was Klas Torstensson’s Spans, a bass clarinet solo, written for Harry Sparnaay. The performer had to lay out the score along the length of the stage, given that he would have no time to turn pages while playing. So he moved across the stage as he played, which semi-consciously added a touch of humour to the work. The bass clarinet has an extraordinary range, from slaps of percussive noise – that sound like a snare drum – to deep bass reverberation, and this composition exploited them to created a dynamic series of pulses whose freneticism eased at the end into a sound akin to a synthesizer playing a long phased bass note.

Next came Kent Olofsson’s Le Mirror Caché (I-XIV) – still life with Schoenberg, Giraud and Pierrot, commissioned for this festival. The very first electronic note was exciting, complex and interesting, created as it was from the computer analysis of a distorted recording of the first song of Pierrot Lunaire by Arnold Schoenberg. But it rapidly became disappointing clear that the musical content of this work was extremely thin. The potential of the electronics seemed wasted as they functioned simply as background layers – like simple notes sounding, sustained, then fading away. The self-referential parts of the libretto drawn from the poetry of Giraud were fashionably post-modern and indeed the whole piece was more of an intellectual game than an aesthetic experience.

The concert closed with Vink 2 by Atli Ingólfsson, an unpretentious and cheerful piece which rushed erratically along at a fast tempo, like a drunk lurching through the streets, with the sounds of church bells suggested by the piano.

It is always a pleasure to attend world premiers and engage with new music, and no criticism can be made of the organisers and sponsors for promoting new compositions. But the program was a reminder that for every deeply thrilling and exciting new work, there are inevitably a lot of unsuccessful experiments.

Published on 1 January 2003

Conor Kostick is a writer and journalist. He is the author of Revolution in Ireland (1996) and, with Lorcan Collins, The Easter Rising (2000).

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