John Casken (born 1949) - Winter Reels
Recorded live on: 21st October 2011
Duration: 21 mins 9 secs
by John Casken
I. a warming dance
II. a cold song
III. a spirited gathering
Written for six players - the standard lineup of Pierrot lunaire quintet plus percussionist - this work might seem to glance back to the compositions for mixed quartet with which Casken made his name: Music for the Crabbing Sun and Music for a Tawny-Gold Day. For all the steady stylistic development of the intervening three and a half decades, the new piece has a similar strength in being at once toughly made and expressively generous, urgent and colourful. As the titles might suggest, there is continuity, too, in Casken's feeling for landscape and climate, particularly for the landscape and climate of northern England, where he was born, and where he has lived ever since - a landscape and a climate in which there are human figures, bracing themselves to the wind, scanning the horizon. His present domicile is in a remote part of Northumberland, which is, he has said, relevant to this piece: 'Winter was reeling outside the window when I was composing the work.'
Winter Reels has three movements, playing together for about twenty minutes. First come powerful chords for the full ensemble, chords of a kind that run through the piece and embed it in a dense but purposeful harmony. Then, in wave upon wave, athletic triplets begin to assemble themselves until the 'warming dance' can take off. There is a climax on a widely spread chord, followed by memories of the dance and of how it all started.
With a decrease in speed, 'a cold song' takes place largely in the treble register and often features metal resonances from the percussionist, on tubaphone (a glockenspiel-like instrument with tubes instead of plates), bells, gong and steel pan. The song itself, given mostly to the cello, rises from beneath.
The quick finale, 'a spirited gathering', is set off by irresistible drum rhythms that rapidly encourage the instruments to dance together again, through changing groupings but with continuing exuberance.
Casken dedicates the work to Tim Williams and Jennifer Langridge, and my friends in Psappha.
Paul Griffiths ©
Winter Reels was commissioned by Psappha through the support of the Britten Pears Foundation and Ida Carroll Trust.
About the composer: John Casken
About the composer: John Casken's works, many influenced by the
landscape and literature of the North of England, are notable for
their range of colours and strength of form. They have been
performed by leading ensembles and orchestras including The
Hallé, BBC Philharmonic, CBSO, Philharmonia and Northern Sinfonia,
where he was Composer-in-Association from 1990-2000. His opera
Golem won the First Britten Award in 1990, a Gramophone Award, and
has received seven productions worldwide. More recently, The Dream
of the Rood was the winning work in the Vocal Category of the 2009
British Composer Awards.
Casken's rich body of chamber music includes three string quartets for The Lindsays, (for whom he also wrote Rest-ringing, for quartet and orchestra, commissioned by the Hallé in 2005), a Piano Trio for the Florestan Piano Trio (2001), and Inevitable Rifts, a string quintet commissioned by Musiktage Mondsee in Austria in 2009. He is currently composing a Double Concerto for Violin, Viola and Orchestra for Thomas Zehetmair and Ruth Killius.
Casken studied at Birmingham University and went on to study in Warsaw where he had regular consultations with Witold Lutosławski with whom he formed a close association and friendship. After Lectureships at Birmingham and Durham Universities he was Professor of Music at Manchester from 1992-2008 (now Emeritus Professor of Music).
Nicholas Kok conductor
Nicholas Kok is a very versatile musician. In both the concert hall and the opera house he has conducted numerous world and British premieres by composers such as Birtwistle, Holt, Maxwell Davies, Reich, Turnage and Xenakis. He is currently Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor to the leading contemporary music ensemble Psappha. Nicholas has conducted a varied repertoire in the opera house, ranging from Monteverdi to Turnage. Companies he has worked for include English National Opera, Opera North, Oper Koeln, Staatstheater Stuttgart, Teatro Sao Carlos Lisbon, Coliseu Porto, Opera Factory and English Touring Opera. In the autumn Nicholas' compositions will be featured in a television programme about bridging the gap between Classical and Jazz/fusion.
Psappha, Manchester's new music ensemble and one of the UK's top
contemporary music groups, was formed in 1991 by its Artistic
Director Tim Williams and specialises in the performance of music
by living composers and that of the 20th and 21st centuries. The
ensemble has an extensive and varied repertoire of hundreds of
works and a reputation for technical assurance and interpretive
flair. Attracting attention from audiences and music press
internationally, it won the Manchester Evening News Award for Opera
in 2000 and has twice been shortlisted for a prestigious Royal
Philharmonic Society award. Psappha has commissioned and premiered
many works by a wide range of composers including the award-winning
music-theatre work, Mr Emmet Takes a Walk, by its Patron, Peter
Maxwell Davies, also recorded by the original performers.
Psappha has appeared throughout the UK, featuring regularly at most of the country's major music festivals, including the BBC Proms, in special Henze and Maxwell Davies portrait series and in the recent Bernstein Project at London's Southbank Centre, and in a residency at the St. Magnus Festival, Orkney in 2009. To celebrate its landmark 20th anniversary this season, Psappha has lined up an exciting and diverse array of commissions from John Casken, Sally Beamish, Gordon McPherson and Ian Wilson.
It has made highly successful tours to North and South America, Australia, Belgium, France, Holland, Ireland, Jersey, Portugal and Spain and this season appears in the United States as part of a residency at Princeton University. Having made a number of recordings on various labels, Psappha launched its own CD label in 2004 with Maxwell Davies's Eight Songs for a Mad King and Miss Donnithorne's Maggot. The most recent release, Busted Micro Shorts, features music by Steven Mackey.
Contemporary Ensemble in Residence at the University of Manchester, Psappha encourages the breaking down of barriers between artistic and educational experiences, inspiring creativity and the exchange of ideas with students through interactive and collaborative projects. Autumn 2010 saw the launch of 'Composition Lab (www.compositionlab.co.uk), an online resource designed to accompany the composition element of GCSE and A-level music. In August 2011 Psappha became the official University of Salford MediaCityUK Ensemble in a unique partnership which will use the latest in media and digital technology based at MediaCityUK to create exciting new ways of performing. Tireless champions of the music of today, Psappha is continually seeking to develop new audiences, breaking fresh ground in its innovative development of the digital dissemination of its work through free-to-view films of live performances on its website. Psappha welcomes people of all ages to try something new, and become involved with the ensemble and its composers through its online resources, in performances and projects and at its pre- and post-concert events.
Psappha has developed an extensive digital presence and online activity through an innovative new website which includes 32 works filmed live in performance.
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