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Concerts

Welcome to the Sound Laboratory

Welcome to Sound Laboratory, a Sheffield home for contemporary and modern music. Featuring electrifying performances from the cutting edge, and championing the work of composers across the 20th and 21st centuries, we hope Sound Laboratory will open your ears (and eyes) to a new world of sounds and experiences. This listening guide is here to help you navigate this new world, guiding you through each concert and helping you to discover new composers and music afterwards and into the future.

From brand new Sonic Art and compositions created by the world class composers here at the University, to some of the most dramatic works by the great Olivier Messiaen, Sound Laboratory is a tour-de-force covering just some of the music that the contemporary repertoire has to offer.

We look forward to you joining us on our sonic adventures in the laboratory!

Stewart Campbell
Producer

Alex Gowan-Webster
Guide Author and Sound Laboratory Content Producer

Listening Guide: Catalogue d'Oiseaux

About this Concert:

Olivier Messiaen is seen as one of the major composers of the 20th Century, his music is intensely colourful, drawing on a modal systems* of his own creation. His music, frequently based in his deep Roman Catholic faith, draws influence from across the world with rhythmic techniques borrowed from sources as diverse as Javanese Gamelan, the far east and ancient Greek music. Messiaen was a keen ornithologist and fascinated by the music of birdsong throughout his life. He wrote numerous pieces based on birdsong and tonight sees the pinnacle of these works in the epic Catalogue d'Oiseaux which features transcriptions of some 77 different birds. The full work lasts some 150 minutes, during 1956-8 Messiaen travelled across France in order to hear many birds in their native habitats. Catalogue d'Oiseaux represents a natural progression from 1953's Réveil des Oiseaux for orchestra and is perhaps the largest and most complex of Messiaen's birdsong compositions.

*Messiaen is famed for creating his own scales or modal systems, they are known as his "modes of limited transposition." Messiaen had a fascination with scales and chose these modes to compose with as unlike the traditional major and minor scales they have no clear tonic or weighting towards a certain note.

Recommended Further Listening:

For other work that takes influence from non-western sources John Cage's Sonatas and Interludes, deeply influenced by Indian aesthetics, is highly recommended. Another piece worth exploring is Pierre Boulez's second piano sonata. Boulez studied under Messiaen for a short but fruitful period and the second sonata was performed to much anticipation by Messiaen's wife Yvonne Loriod at the Darmstadt Music School in 1952. Find below a playlist to accompany all the Messiaen concerts this Autumn.

Other Concerts in the Series:

On the first of November we've more Messiaen solo piano music this time in the form of Vingt Regards performed by Cordelia Williams and paired with poems inspired by the works read by the poet Michael Symmons Roberts. Yet more Messiaen can be heard in December with the solo organ epic La Nativité du Seigneur (Sheffield Cathedral, 9th of December 2016).

About the Performers:

Noah Kang is a pianist from Seoul, Korea who is currently studying for a PhD under the supervision of Dr. George Nicholson and Benjamin Frith. Catalogue d'Oiseaux is the central focus of her research.

Listening Guide: Vingt Regards

About this Concert:

Our second concert this season to feature the great Olivier Messiaen presents pieces written during the final throes of the occupation of Paris in 1944. Vingt Regards was initially part of a Radio Paris commission to create pieces to accompany a series of poems by the French writer Maurice Toesca. Initially instructed to create twelve pieces to accompany twelve pieces of text Messiaen quickly moved past this initial brief creating one of the largest scared pieces for solo piano ever made. The piece is a powerful example of Messiaen's Catholic faith each piece a deep theological contemplation on the infant Jesus.

 "I never stop being amazed by the sonic and emotional variety within these pieces - performing them is an intense experience. Michael's poems have shed new light on the music for me and I am grateful to have had the chance to work with him" - Cordelia Williams - Piano

Recommended Further Listening:

If you missed it earlier this year Messiaen's Catalogue d'Oiseaux is perhaps his most uncompromising and epic piano work, featuring the sounds of over 77 birds and spread over three hours of music. For further rhythmically engaging and diverse piano works, listen to Ligeti's Études. Beyond this, pushing the boundaries of human (and mechanical) performability, Conlon Nancarrow's Studies for Player Piano are highly recommended. A playlist to accompany all the Messiaen concerts this season can be found below:

 

Other Concerts in the Series:

If you enjoy this concert treat yourself to another towering sacred work by Messiaen, this time for organ, with La Nativité du Seigneur (Sheffield Cathedral, 9th of December 2016). Similarly explore the solo piano further when musical planets collide when the works of two visionaries, Domenico Scarlatti and John Cage, are brought together with David Greilsammer (Firth Hall, 28th February 2017).

About the Performers:

Cordelia Williams has performed across the world. At the core of Cordelia's musicality is a fascination with the human soul and the artistic expression of struggles and beliefs; alongside her performing career she gained a First in Theology from Clare College, Cambridge. This exploration of music and faith led to the inception of the project heard in this concert.

Michael Symmons Roberts has published six collections of poetry, as well as novels, libretti, documentaries and dramas. He frequently collaborates with the composer James MacMillan, including work on two BBC Proms choral commissions, song cycles, musical theatre works and opera. Of these works, The Sacrifice won the RPS award for opera and Clemency was nominated for an Olivier award.

Listening Guide: Ligeti Quartet Microcosm

About this Concert:

Our outstanding associate artists return once again with a programme bursting at the seams. This time exploring ideas of the miniature and featuring some true masters of this style in the form of Kurtág and Webern (in the latter's Six Bagatelles only one lasts over a minute!). Each piece in the programme follows the idea, said by Schoenberg regarding Six Bagatelles, that 'every glance can be extended into a poem, every sigh into a novel' and from minute gestures, whole pieces can be formed. The programme for this concert was as follows:

György Kurtág - Six Moments Musicaux, Op. 44
Anton Webern - Six Bagatelles
Elliot Galvin - Valentine
György Ligeti - String Quartet No. 2
Igor Stravinsky - Three Pieces for String Quartet
Béla Bartók - String Quartet No. 5

Things to Listen for:

A strong Hungarian theme runs throughout this concert in the works of Kurtág, Ligeti and Bartók. With an almost forty year gap between the composition of each piece, tonight is a chance to hear the compositional voices of a nation change throughout the course of the 20th and into the 21st Century. Stravinsky's Three Pieces is a fantastic example of his earlier works, published only a year after the infamous Rite of Spring, listen out for Stravinsky's signature rhythmic complexity that so clearly defines his work. Tonight also features Elliot Galvin's Valentine premiered by the quartet at St.John's Smith Square earlier this year. The piece is constructed entirely by using quotations of love songs from romantic opera to RnB and contemporary pop songs, a chance for the musically minded to see what they can recognise.

"This is such an exciting programme for us to play because the
challenge is that, in all these pieces, so much meaning is packed into
the tiniest musical gestures. We therefore have to be extremely alert
and responsive as an ensemble, making for a thrillingly intensive
performance experience" - Richard Jones, Viola

Recommended Further Listening:

Given the wide variety of composer across this concert there is already plentiful music to be searched out and listened to. However, if you enjoy the miniature nature of these works, Kurtág's Kafka-Fragmente are a standout demonstration of the style. Other recommendations from the composers tonight include Webern's Quartet op.22, scored for the unusual ensemble of Clarinet, Saxophone, Piano and Violin, as well as Bartók's Mikrokosmos  which inspired the title of this concert. In addition to his classical work, Elliot Galvin is a well known Jazz pianist and co-founder of Chaos Collective, an organization and record label, which provides a platform for original improvised music, composition and collaborative performance in the UK. More information can be found on his website. A playlist of some selected recommendations can be found below:

Other Concerts in the Series:

As our associate ensemble the Ligeti Quartet will return several times across this season, firstly for 'A Child's Christmas in Wales' on the 18th of December a uniquely Welsh Christmas occasion featuring the poetry of Dylan Thomas. Secondly next spring with another carefully crafted programme of 20th and 21st Century music.

About the Performers:

The Ligeti Quartet formed in 2010, brought together by a fascination with the music of György Ligeti. Since then they have become one of the leading exponents of new and contemporary music in the UK and have studied a wide variety of mentors including the Kronos Quartet. The Ligeti Quartet are currently associate artists of Sheffield University Concerts.

Listening Guide: NME Autumn 2016

About this Concert:

A regular feature of our series, New Music Ensemble features a wide ranging selection of pieces and music written by composition students studying at the University. A chance to hear boundaries be pushed and new composers finding their compositional voices for the first time. This concert will also feature several pieces by Peter Maxwell Davies, a pillar of contemporary music in the United Kingdom, who unfortunately passed away earlier this year.

Things to Listen For:

One of these pieces will be Maxwell Davies' Seven In Nomine a series of pieces based upon the In Nomine melody made famous by John Tavener in the early 1500s. Maxwell Davies dedicates several pieces in the set to other great British composers including Michael Tippett and Benjamin Britten. The core melody of In Nomine plays a key role in first year composition classes here at the University and performing this work here draws direct connections between Maxwell Davies and the work of students whose work will feature in this series in the coming years.

Recommended Further Listening:

Maxwell Davies has a wide and varied repertoire with a compositional style that developed across his lifetime. In the 1960s he created provoking and shocking work perhaps best reflected in Eight Songs for a Mad King. After moving to Hoy in Orkney in 1971 Maxwell Davies was greatly inspired by Scotland and celtic themes are found throughout his later works for instance the ten Strathclyde Concertos written between 1986 and 1996, or perhaps his most loved work Farewell to Stromness a piano interlude originally part of a series of cabaret songs written in protest of potential uranium mining on Stromness, the largest of the Orkney Islands. Find below a short playlist of some of these works:

 

Other Concerts in the Series:

New Music Ensemble returns each semester so if you enjoy this concert be sure to come back for the next one. To hear other student work including that of electroacoustic composers Sound Junction is a must (25th-27th of November 2016 and 5th-7th of May 2017).

About the Performers:

Music in this concert will be performed by the University New Music Ensemble, an invited ensemble constructed of students and ex-students, many of whom are composers themselves and whose work will be or has been featured in these concerts.

Listening Guide: Autumn Sound Junction 2016

About these Concerts:

Electroacoustic and Acousmatic music is often described as 'cinema for the ears'. Allow yourself to become immersed by the University of Sheffield Sound Studio's 24 channel surround sound system and experience music in a whole new way. This weekend series features a trio of composers from across the globe whose works range from delicate soundscapes to immersive alternative worlds.

Things to Listen For:

In these concerts, composers perform their pieces from a control desk in the middle of the hall, from here they control when and where sounds appear, often diffusing stereo pieces across the 24 channel system. When attending these concerts the best listening position is the centre of the room. Feel free to close your eyes and allow yourself to be transported by the sounds around you.

Recommended Further Listening:

If you enjoy the pieces in these concerts, there is huge variety of electroacoustic music made across the UK and the world. Sheffield's own Adrian Moore (Director of the Sound Studios) released his latest album Séquences et tropes last year including Counterattack which won the 2015 Música Viva competition. Adrian's work and that of many others, including Elizabeth Anderson, can be found at https://www.electrocd.com. Adam Stanovi? (Stansbie) also teaches at Sheffield. Further recommended UK composers include Pete Stollery and Trevor Wishart. Outside of the UK the work of Annette Vande Gorne, Francois Bayle, Åke Parmerud and Barry Truax are all highly recommended. In addition to this an introductory playlist can be found below:

Other Concerts in the Series:

Sound Junction occurs twice a year in Spring and Autumn. Sound Junction Spring 2017 (5th-7th May) will see two giants of the electroacoustic world descend upon Sheffield. Jonty Harrison and Denis Smalley are both world renowned composers, this series will feature a rare dual concert and will also feature the music of some of their own students, Sheffield's own Adrian Moore and Adam Stanovi?.

About the Performers:

Elizabeth Anderson is an American composer based in Belgium, she is fascinated with space and the perception of music and she explores this both in her creative work and research. Elizabeth has been widely published and prized including commissions from GRM (France) and Musiques & Recherches (Belgium).

Annie Mahtani is a Birmingham based composer and sound artist. Her music is created from real world sounds which are then transformed, manipulated and restructured, Annie is the founder of SOUNDkitchen, a Birmingham based organisation dedicated to promoting local sound artists and composers.

Listening Guide: La Nativité du Seigneur

About this Concert:

The final of our three Messiaen concerts this semester sees us travel further into his deep religious beliefs with a performance of his sacred nativity work La Nativité du Seigneur in Sheffield Cathedral. This hour long organ epic takes its influence from the nativity story and closely follows characters of this well known tale including movements inspired by Les Bergers (the shepherds) and Les Mages (the wise men). Messiaen wrote over seven hours of music for the organ perhaps inspired by his position as Organist at Église de la Sainte-Trinité in Paris which he held from 1931 until his death in 1992.

Things to Listen For:

The piece closely follows the nativity story and there are many musical events that are directly reflective of the events in the story. Careful listeners may note the especially long drones during Les Mages reminiscent of the omnipresent star above the wise men on their journey westwards. In his more abstract moments, Messiaen uses the full range and colourful sounds of the organ to demonstrate the full scale of the word of God and the jubilation at the arrival of Jesus for instance in the opening of La Verbe (the word).

Recommended Further Listening:

If you've enjoyed this concert be sure to explore other organ works by Messiaen including L'ascension and the colossal and spectacular Livre du Saint Sacrement his last and longest organ work, often seen as a culmination of the techniques and sounds he developed on the instrument. Another work of Messiaen's that features a similarly bold and bright sound world can be found in the Turangalîla-Symphonie. Find below a playlist created to accompany the Messiaen concert this semester:

Other Concerts in the Series:

Our festive season continues with our associate artists performing a festive treat for all the family based around Dylan Thomas's A Child's Christmas in Wales. It's set to be a uniquely Welsh yet universally Christmassy experience. Beyond this hear more great keyboard works in spring with David Greilsammer's Scarlatti:Cage:Sonatas (Firth Hall, 28th February 2017) and Lucy Parham's Rachmaninoff: A Heart in Exile (Firth Hall, 14th March 2017).

About the Performers:

Joshua Hales is Assistant Director of Music at Sheffield Cathedral, where he accompanies the choirs in their six weekly services and assists in their direction. He is also an Organ Tutor at Chetham's School of Music in Manchester. From 2008 to 2009 Joshua spent a year as Organ Scholar of Truro Cathedral, before going up to Exeter College, Oxford, where he read for a degree in Music and held the organ scholarship. For a year following the completion of his degree, he was Organ Scholar at Salisbury Cathedral. He has performed on both television and radio.

Listening Guide: Ligeti Quartet A Child's Christmas in Wales

About this Concert:

A uniquely Welsh yet universally Christmassy tale, Dylan Thomas's A Child's Christmas in Wales is one of his most loved works. Hear it here with a specially created musical accompaniment, performed by our associate artists The Ligeti Quartet, designed to enhance the wonder and joy described throughout this festive tale.

Recommended Further Listening:

For other uniquely British music that mixes the spoken word and chamber music, Walton's Façade is a secret gem, combining incredible music with the poetry of Edith Sitwell in a humorous and absurd style. Another similar piece is Edwin Roxburgh's How Pleasant to Know Mr.Lear for reduced orchestra and narrator. Listen to some extracts of Façade below:

Other Concerts in the Series:

This concert is the final of our Autumn programme. Sound Laboratory returns on the 28th of February 2017 with David Greilsammer's combination of two giants in his: Scarlatti:Cage: Sonatas. Other concerts of new and contemporary music New Music Ensemble (9th of May, 2017) is highly recommended. Also be sure to check what on during the 2017 Classical Sheffield Festival which runs from the 17-19th of March and features a city-wide series of concerts and events.

About the Performers:

The Ligeti Quartet are currently associate artists at Sheffield University Concerts for more information on the Quartet please refer to their earlier concert in this 'Microcosm.' For this concert the Quartet are joined by narrator and actor Matthew Bulgo, Matthew trained at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) and works as an actor, playwright and director. He is a core member of Welsh new writing collective Dirty Protest and is co-artistic director of True/Fiction Theatre.

Box office

Enquiries

Box office

TicketSource: 0333 666 3366

Enquiries

0114 222 0468