Review: Alexander Hawkins Octet at Café Oto

Alexander Hawkins. Photo Credit: Andy Sheppard. All Rights Reserved
Review: Alexander Hawkins Octet
(Café Oto. 26th February 2013. Review by Rob Edgar)

The audience at Cafe Oto on Tuesday was treated to two sets of music by pianist/ composer Alexander Hawkins; the first consisted of members of the octet pared down into smaller ensembles and began with Oren Marshall and Byron Wallen on tubas with Mark Sanders keeping things together on the kit. Their piece set the mood for the rest of the evening; it featured sections that sounded through-composed with dissonant contrary motion counterpoint, flashes of free furious cacophony, and a general ebb and flow character with the first theme acting as a reference point throughout.

At the end of the piece, the crowd was briefly stunned into silence before erupting into deserved applause and were fully primed for the next group with biting double stops and sinewy sul ponticello from cellist Hannah Marshall playing against whines, key-clicks and multiphonics of Chris Cundy on bass clarinet and Percy Pursglove’s whirlwind of notes on the trumpet.

Alexander Hawkins actually made his first appearance as pianist towards the end of the first half, underpinning the shrieking,wailing, sometimes almost Ferneyhough-like spinning complexity of Pete McPhail and Peter Evans (on flute and piccolo trumpet respectively) with a gnarled and expressionistic chaconne.

“I’m going to have to spend the rest of the evening with my back to you I’m afraid” said Hawkins (he’d had a four hour delay on the motorway, a delay which had eaten into the scheduled rehearsal time) before he began conducting the new BBC commission which made up the second half of the concert. This piece – which does not yet have a title – was fifty minutes of uninterrupted bliss, walking the line between improvised and composed flawlessly, it featured the usual compositional techniques of thematic development and variation (the calm second theme turned on its head to create another passage for example) and grew organically like a flower opening but also featured eight musicians who had equal time in the spotlight and considerable freedom with how they interpreted the lines. Hannah Marshall’s frenetic cello at times sounded as though a colony of ants had been let loose to scurry up and down the fingerboard, Peter Evans again blew us away with a delicate solo that almost sounded polyphonic at times followed by equally gentle interplay between the flute and drums, and one particularly conspicuous aspect of the night in general, was that all the players managed to coax new, unusual and sometimes even disturbing sounds from their instruments.

At the end of the piece, the audience was briefly silent once more, we needed time to reflect and let the vast and powerful music sink-in before flaring up in rapturous applause.

The (so far untitled) piece for octet has been recorded in the studio for broadcast on Jazz On 3 on 25th March 2013, as part of BBC Radio 3’s Baroque Spring.

Categories: miscellaneous

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