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Unquiet: Finding a Way In

For 50 years the Manchester Camerata have been exploring what it means to be a chamber orchestra from within and without the chamber. Across that time, they have proven as interested in tackling Mozart as they are new works, of venerating chamber music’s past as they are forging its future.

In Unquiet, coming to the Howard Assembly Room on Saturday 29 October, Manchester Camerata have programmed a resolutely modern concert anchored by Philip Glass, perhaps the contemporary classical composer who has found the most success outside the genre. Alongside him are composers pushing through that boundary in both directions, those following Glass’s path, and those trying to find a way in from the outside. 

Read on as we explore what makes this programme so exciting…

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Robert Ames and Ben Corrigan

Manchester Camerata
 ‘He Sings Over Me’
Bryce Dessner ‘Aheym’
Hildur Guðnadóttir ‘Ascent’
Philip Glass String Quartet No. 2, ‘Company’
Mica Levi ‘Thoughts are born’

Carmen Villain
Solo set

Carmen Villain with Manchester Camerata

Questioning a boundary

Robert Ames and Ben Corrigan will open the concert as CARBS. Ames first met Corrigan on the latter’s podcast excuse the mess for which he interviews composers before collaborating on new music. The episode with Ames, violinist and co-founder of the London Contemporary Orchestra, was fruitful enough that the pair recorded CARBS, a full realisation of the ideas they explored.

CARBS stands out from the rest of the programme for being almost wholly electronic, in both texture and form. Modular synthesizers and chunky bassline are placed over processed strings, all driven by kick drum or skittering hi hat. This is a piece that exists in between the concert hall and the club, questioning and probing the boundary between the two.

Let light in

Earlier this year Manchester Camerata debuted ‘He Sings Over Me’ at the New Music Biennial. The piece was arranged by CARBS’ Robert Ames and composed by DJ and electronic music producer Afrodeutsche.

On record her music has a dark-electro sound, with an improvisational flair that lets plenty of light in. ‘He Sings Over Me’ sees Afrodeutsche using a string 12-piece ensemble to explore that sense of porousness in richer tone and more flowing structure than hardware allows.

Coming home

In his day job as one of the guitarists in morose stadium rock band The National, Bryce Dessner has long used elements of chamber music to elevate their songs through texture and tone. This is evident in his 2009 composition ‘Aheym’ too. Written for string quartet, the piece sprints from staccato bowed strings to more patient and drawn-out notes interspersed with plucked ones. It is unsettling and beautiful; the piece takes its name from the Hebrew word for ‘homeward,’ a reminder that coming home is not always easy or linear.

Making room

Hildur Guðnadóttir is likely one of the most in demand cellists in the world right now, her work for TV, film, and videogames (particularly the Academy Award winning score for Joker) has earned her a notoriety far greater than most of her peers.

Her career long predates the Oscars’ interest though, and includes a live score for Georg Wilhelm Pabst’s Weimar classic Pandora’s Box, commissioned by Opera North in 2012. Listening to this trio of earlier tracks it is no surprise she has made room for herself on the biggest stages, they are dense and atmospheric, led by Guðnadóttir’s own bold, mournful, and deeply resonant cello.

Glass in microcosm

It is hard to imagine this programme without Philip Glass. The minimalist composer, now in his 80s, has been active since the 60s and influential for almost as long, notably on David Bowie, and so on much popular music since. 1983’s String Quartet No. 2, ‘Company’ is Glass in microcosm, strings play terse arpeggiated motifs, which change with the chord progression, or remain as the chords change around them, creating an uncommon emotional immediacy.

Sound follows light

Like Guðnadóttir, Levi has built a reputation as a fearless composer for film and television, though before that she was the founding members of experimental pop band Good Bad Happy Sad (previously Micachu & The Shapes).

Where Ames and Corrigan bring the textures of the club into the concert hall, Levi’s ‘Thoughts are born’ brings the light. The piece is played in the pitch black with one player controlling a light source to which the rest of the ensemble respond. This is also an inversion of their usual relationship, light usually following sound. Performers are granted some license to choose their own paths, resulting in an ever-shifting air of unease.

Familiar and unfamiliar

By combining elements of jazz and dub, with field recordings and synthesizers, Carmen Villain builds uncanny soundscapes that pitch the familiar and unfamiliar against each other. For Unquiet she will be performing the world premiere of a new work called ‘Faces’ alongside the Manchester Camerata.

She has collaborated with other musicians in the past, including Howard Assembly Room favourite Arve Henriksen, so we are excited to hear what she is capable of with a chamber ensemble at her disposal.

Manchester Camerata will bring Unquiet to the Howard Assembly Room at 7.30pm on Saturday 29 October 2022, with tickets priced at £22.

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