Great opening concert to the 2022 Louth Contemporary Music Festival

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Sam Perkin, Linda Caitlin Smith, Andrew Synnott, Gavin Bryars: Esposito Quartet (Mia Cooper, Anna Cashell [violins], Joachim Roewer [viola], William Butt [cello]), Silvija Ščerbavičlūtė (Flute), Juliet Fraser (Soprano). St Nicholas Church, Dundalk, 17.6.2022. (RB)

Esposito Quartet

Sam PerkinFlow
Linda Caitlin SmithMeadow
Andrew SynnottI follow, I follow
Gavin BryarsWittgenstein Fragments

Louth Contemporary Music Society run a mid-summer Festival each year which is dedicated to contemporary music. The theme of this year’s Festival is, ‘Nothing has changed, Everything has changed’ reflecting the work of the Austrian philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein and the time he spent in Ireland. This opening concert of the Festival featured the world premiere of Gavin Bryars’s work Wittgenstein Fragments.

The concert opened with Sam Perkin’s Flow which is a short work for violin, viola and cello. It was performed here by three members of the Esposito Quartet who have also recorded the work on the Bandcamp website. Perkin described the work as ‘a sound meditation’ which ‘seeks to create a trance-like experience, for the performer and for the listener’. Perkin says that the music invites the listener ‘to enter into that space which we often call ‘The Zone’, where magic is born in the air’. The piece opened with single notes, of varying dynamics, on the strings. The music gradually increased in textural and rhythmic complexity and was built around repetitive patterns and recognisable harmonies. It is very much in the same mould as the minimalist music of Philip Glass and I liked it very much. The Esposito Quartet members performed well and it was a good way to open the concert.

Linda Caitlin Smith’s Meadow was recorded at the end of 2020 to critical acclaim. It was selected as one of The New Yorker’s Notable Albums of 2020. The work is also scored for violin, viola and cello and is in a series of short sections. Caitlin Smith described the work as follows: ‘Sometimes the material is melodic, at other times the melody is hidden, shared between the instruments, and there are some passages that are simply chords…The meadow is a simple place…there are many different types of plants and tiny flowers. It is a place of infinite variation’. The three members of the Esposito Quartet gave a rapt performance of the work, creating sustained lines and gorgeous harmonies. The melodies and underlying harmonies moved from serene, to sombre to plaintive. As the work progressed, one became aware of the increasing emotional complexity of the piece and the more nuanced feelings it induced. The work had a meditative, reflective quality and it reminded me of Vaughan Williams’s pastoral music, although it had its own unique fingerprints. It is an excellent piece and well worth getting to know.

Andrew Synnott’s operas have featured to much acclaim recently at the Wexford Opera Festival. I follow, I follow is a homage to J S Bach and in particular the aria, ‘Ich folge dir gleichfalls’ from the St John Passion with its famous flute obligato. The work is scored for string quartet and flute and it is in three movements. The Esposito Quartet and flautist, Silvija Ščerbavičlūtė, brought an infectious enthusiasm to the contrapuntal lines, light textures and bouncing rhythms in the opening ‘Preludium’. The second movement, ‘Ermuntre dich I’ is a chorale prelude on a Lutheran hymn which reached a climax with some striking dissonances. The final movement ‘Ermuntre dich II’ echoed the famous aria from the St John Passion but reinvented for the twenty-first century. I was struck by the range of textures and sonorities in this movement. The movement ended with a rendition of the harmonised chorale before light pizzicato strings brought the work to a conclusion.

The programme concluded with a world premiere performance of Gavin Bryars’s Wittgenstein Fragments. This work is in a single movement and it is scored for string quartet, flute and soprano. It represents a collaboration between Bryars and the Irish writer Vincent Woods who set some of Wittgenstein’s fragmentary texts in the manner of his famous Tractatus. The soprano, Juliet Fraser, joined the Esposito Quartet and Silvija Ščerbavičlūtė. This work used more conventional musical language than the preceding works and I enjoyed it very much. Fraser was standing behind the strings and as a result I could not always hear the diction very clearly. Having said that, she produced a very beautiful, ethereal sound which seemed perfect for this work and I was impressed with some of her singing in higher tessitura.

Overall, this was a great opening to the Louth Contemporary Music Society Festival. It was inspiring to hear such a variety of new music of such exceptional quality.

You can find out more about the 2022 Louth Contemporary Music Festival in my recent interview with Artistic Director, Eamonn Quinn

Robert Beattie

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