hcmf// 2017 : Hidden Gems

With many of the top names from contemporary music and their ever growing fan base making their annual pilgrimage to Huddersfield, tickets – especially on the opening weekend – are selling out fast. If you haven’t yet got yours, then don’t despair, hcmf// Artistic Director Graham McKenzie guides you through the diverse range of musical experiences just waiting to be unearthed across the entire Festival!

zeitkratzer perform Kraftwerk | 18 November

It may seem strange to talk about the combined forces of German experimentalists zeitkratzer and pop pioneers Kraftwerk (18 Nov) in the context of ‘hidden gems’, but the surprise here is that this isn’t the Kraftwerk of synth-laden anthems such as Autobahn or Tour de France, rather it is the exploration and re-working of the Düsseldorf group’s early years, when they rubbed shoulders with the likes of Can and Faust, as very much an integral part of the burgeoning ‘Komische’ music scene.

While in these early works Kraftwerk created their ethereal drone-like sounds through the use of primitive synthesizers and technology, zeitkratzer turn to the harmonium, creating the atmosphere of an ‘almost pastoral-like symphony’ rather than a pop track. This is the only UK performance, and there are still a few tickets remaining – but be quick!

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Karkowski: Encumbrance | 21 November

Let’s jump to mid-week, and Tuesday is a great day to get along to this year’s Festival. Noise terrorist Zbigniew Karkowski is hardly associated with vocal music, with the little known and rarely performed Encumbrance the exception. I attended a performance of this in Warsaw last year, and could hear right away that it was an astonishing piece deserving of a wider audience. The sound was a little too polite however, restricted by the limitations of the building. The wonderful acoustic of St Paul’s Hall will, without question, take this work to another level.

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Zbigniew Karkowski

Our Ears Felt Like Canyons | 21 November

Follow this with a visit to Bates Mill Blending Shed where Zwerm, making their Huddersfield debut, will challenge any preconceived ideas you might have about the sonic capabilities of the electric guitar. No-one in modern music writes better for the instrument than American composer Christopher Trapani, and his work Shotgun Schoegaze receiving its UK premiere here, really does demonstrate that whatever the genre, all music really is rooted in the blues!

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Julie Kjær | 21 November

To close the day step across the courtyard to the Bates Mill Photographic Studio for Danish saxophonist Julie Kjær’s extended new work THIS IS WHERE YOU SEE ME co-commissioned by hcmf// and Copenhagen’s newest festival ((Go))ng Tomorrow. Fresh from a tour across Japan earlier in the year, which can only have strengthened her reputation, Kjær has spent the summer months carefully constructing this ambitious extended work. Inhabiting the territory between contemporary new music and free improvisation, the composer puts together a supporting cast of some of the most in-demand instrumentalists from both worlds, to bring her vision to fruition.

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Explore Ensemble | 23 November

Last year the undoubted hit of the hcmf// shorts programme was the young British group Explore Ensemble performing French composer Gerard Grisey’s spectral masterpiece Talea. It was such an accomplished and powerful performance that it simply blew me away, to the extent that I immediately invited the ensemble back to be part of this year’s programme.

I also wanted to support them in commissioning and bringing a new work to the Festival, and I was thrilled when they chose to work with another French composer Patricia Alessandrini – such an exciting artist whose concert music seamlessly connects with issues of representation, and social and political contexts that are so prevalent today.

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Polwechsel + John Butcher + Klaus Lang | 23 November

Later, the same evening (23 Nov) Austrian group Polwechsel make a very rare appearance in the UK. So individualistic is this group’s sound, finely tuned over 20 plus years, that it is difficult to place them in any single category. In general terms however their work is characterised by quiet volume, sustained drones, and slowly developing structures.

For this very special concert they are re-united with former member, saxophonist/composer John Butcher. Completing the line-up is the intriguing addition of composer Klaus Lang on church organ. Sit back and let the music draw you in – this concert is going to sound absolutely gorgeous in the rich acoustic of St Pall’s Hall.

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Laura Cannell: Feathers Unfurled | 25 November

As I am writing this, composer/performer Laura Cannell’s latest album (Hunter, Huntress, Hawker – Brawl Records) has just received a glowing 4-star review in The Guardian. The reviewer describes Cannell as being ‘on the dark edges of folk music’, and ‘a violinist and recorder player who uses traditional instruments to evoke ageless narratives’. It is problematic to find new superlatives to describe Cannell’s work, and impossible to articulate the sheer power and beauty of the soaring, and crashing sonic waves she conjures up in the context of a live performance.

Commissioned by hcmf//, she brings her latest creation FEATHERS UNFURLED to the festival on the closing Saturday (25 Nov). Rooted in nature, but not tethered to the past, the incredible talent that is Cannell just might be the artist above all others that signposts us all towards a new understanding that attempting to place barriers between musical styles and genres, is as misconceived as it is pointless!

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Laura Cannel