Michael Parsons at 80

Monday 28 January 2019

A small bright spot, then another week of flu. I can still recall enough of that previous Friday evening with gladness, the ambience of bonhomie that filled Cafe Oto for the Michael Parsons birthday gig. Life is cold and gloomy this time of year, but there was cheer to be found in this array of brief (but not small) pieces. Apartment House played, in string quartet formation, abetted by pianist Philip Thomas. A selection of pieces by Parsons from across some fifty-odd years were interspersed with premieres commissioned for the occasion by fellow composers. Perhaps understandably, there was a more overtly charming side to some of these occasional works, such as the John Lely and Makiko Nishikaze pieces; but more unexpected were the terse and tough-sounding chorale by Christian Wolff, a contribution by Howard Skempton even more fleeting than usual, and a looser piano quintet by Laurence Crane that sounded likely to be tidied up sometime in the future.

The thing that impressed most in all of Parsons’ pieces was the attention to touch, the care given to the presentation and life-span of each sound, however brief. This facet, shown to full benefit by the musicians, kept appearing in different ways: in one piece, sounds would alternate between short and long, dying away, while in others the contrast came through alternations in register, or in single and complex sounds. A strong, consistent character emerged through the pieces spanning several decades, without ever betraying a simple formula. It was a portrait of a composer always experimenting, always exploring new ways of working with that contrast between attack and decay, seeking out a more subtle and complete means of expression.

A roaring start to the year

Thursday 17 January 2019

Last Friday night at Cafe Oto watching Frederic and Jan Rzewski play I felt like not only had the year really started, but I had finally restarted. It had seemed so long; I’ve missed so many gigs. Travel, friends and flu meant that I missed all of last month’s London Contemporary Music Festival. I also missed an extra Music We’d Like To Hear gig, launching Catherine Lamb & Johnny Chang’s Viola Torros project CD. As a consolation, I have the album now; a fine pair of CDs which I will do justice to in a review in the next few days.

Incidentally, the new issue of Tempo has just been published, which includes my review of the last Music We’d Like To Hear summer season. I have only two small regrets about the review. First, that I didn’t post about it on this site, to talk more about what a superb set of concerts it was. Second, that I omitted to mention Francesca Fargion’s performance of Michael Parsons piano piece Variations. I shall make amends for this by writing about tomorrow night’s concert by Apartment House, in celebration of Parsons’ 80th birthday.