Monday, 19 May 2008

Gig-a-Blog™ (Trillium, St Anne & St Agnes)

Trillium: Sarah Field, soprano saxophone; Giles Liddiard, trumpet; Richard Ward, trombone; Alex Kidston, tuba.

I'm so chuffed that Trillium are back at London's Premier Antidepressant Lunchtime-Gig Church™. I loved their last appearance at St Anne's a few years ago and it is great that they're here again now.

This was a truly amazing programme. Trillium have been having some kind of flirtation with the SPNM - I didn't catch the details, but the upshot is that they have a really amazing collection of new music with which to blow your socks off. In this concert we heard no fewer than six world premieres, all works dated 2007, alongside one positively elderly work from way back in 2003. That's very impressive by any standards: we need new music all the time and it's just terrific to have people making it their business to build repertoire.

Not, of course, that there's anything wrong with playing Gabrieli; we need that too. Just not on this gig, maybe!

One very interesting development concerns this group's USP at which I hinted earlier. It used to be quite a cool moment when one of the trumpet players put down her instrument and continued on impeccable soprano sax. I very clearly remember the impact this made on me when Trillium were last here. What has now changed is that Sarah Field no longer plays the trumpet in it, or as the programme note has it she has "decided to pursue the saxophone as her main solo instrument". Chiz.

So, yes, in a way I was a little disappointed by this change as it was rather exciting and bizarre to see someone playing both well. My own (very limited) experience suggests it's not straightforward, though when, last time, I spoke to Sarah about this she explained that she'd been doing it forever so it really wasn't a big deal to her.

On the other hand, that reaction of mine was perhaps largely to do with the novelty value of having the player swapping. From the point of view of the ensemble's development and repertoire you can see that, while there are plenty of brass quartets around, a three-brass-plus-sax lineup really does offer something quite unusual and different so it's probably a good move to make as the group matures.

Right, waffling done, on to the music, noting in passing that I'm probably the second worst person in London to write about new music: sorry.

Tim Benjamin: Chaconne Canon Cancrizans

This work was preceded by Sarah Field reading the crab-related (but of course) poem by which it was inspired.

Starts with long slow cup-muted chords opening out, then a melody emerges in fragments. Energy picks up with more nervous, pointed figures in the higher instruments. This continues with a steady transition to a busier, fuller state with more and more interplay between parts. Eventually it stops building, becomes calmer, the mutes are back, the original atmosphere returns. A gorgeous work, beautifully shaped, flawlessly performed.

Paul Seaman: Worm Sandwich

Beboppy swingy thing, rather fun. Busy. Interesting challenging crunchy chords and tight rhythm. Very crisp performance.

Eoin O'Keefe: Gameshow

Apparently the composer does Drum Corps writing. I don't know how (or if) that relates but this jolly, light, virtuosic piece was most enjoyable.

Luca Vanneschi: Echoi

- "ethereal" they say ... yup!

Started with lovely plaintive tuba then spreads - polyphonic texture but I'm not sure if it's a real canon or what.

New rhythmic drive: marchlike - then it fragments again. Nice "shimmering" sound between sax & trumpet, over big trombone solo. Interesting, good piece, I need another hearing. Have I mentioned that this lot can really play? This lot can really play!

Paul Seaman: In The Zone

Nice tuba solo at the start. Then busy stuff - riff-like lower bits underlying broader material from the upper voices. Clever, fun, hard. I'm not sure why but I like this better than Seaman's first piece.

Howard Haigh: Blow

Dance rhythms - lively, exciting. Then a more symphonic ending finishes it off in style.

Tom Armstrong: Damascene Prequel & Portrait (2003)

Based on (I think they said) a lute improvisation transcribed off an old recording. Or something.

Near the start I liked a very clever same-range thing, passing the melody at pitch between the three brass instruments. Interesting, thoughtful writing.

Lovely melodies and fascinating interplay between the instruments

Surprising faster interludes and even more surprising rhythmic clapping. Calm epilogue-ish thing. A nice, varied piece.

And that's about it. What a fantastic, novel, refreshing concert. This is a great ensemble who not only get their music across through excellent performances, but are also good at talking to their audience, an important skill not vouchsafed to all. I say well done Trillium and come back soon!


Finally, at the concert a friend told me a wonderful and very exciting piece of news, about which it might be rather indiscreet to blog just now, but watch this space.


Eoin O'Keeffe said...


Thanks or the kind comments regarding my piece Game Show in the above blog. No, my involvement in drum corps doesn't really have anything to do with this piece, which is very much based upon cheesy game show theme tunes.

Not sure if what you have in mind for drum corps is what I actually am involved with, but take a look at this and it will give you an idea what it's all about: I am involved with a drum corps near Southampton where I teach voluntarily each weekend.

Eoin O'Keeffe (

Strawberryyog said...

Hi Eoin and thanks for the comment. I loved your "cheesy gameshow themes"! Thanks also for the YouTube link - a very impressive example and yes it's what I thought it was!


monsterjazzlicks said...

Eoin, i really liked the part in your "Gameshow" piece where you used (mildly) dissonant harmony to voice an ascending major scale !! My guitarist friend who came to the NPG recital with me prefered your piece above all the others (even mine !!).

Strawberry, thank you for your comments and observations. Your remarks about the bebop (melodies) and bass-line (in tuba) are 100% correct and are two elements i wanted to make intrinsic parts of each composition (and some other pieces i have written). i wonder if you enjoyed "Zone" more than "Worm" simply because it came second (in order of performance) and so you had (whether you like it or not !!) become somewhat more 'conditioned' to my writing ?? i often find myself listening more attentively and being more in the present moment when i have already heard a piece of music by a composer i am not familiar with. What i am trying to say is that (had i have been in YOU in this same situation) i would have been thinking and analyzing (style, ability, complexity, etc) the composer/composition during the first piece and then sitting back and flowing with the music on the next work. Thats how it always seems to be with ME anyway !!

Kind regards,


Eoin O'Keeffe said...

Completely delayed reaction, only saw your post now Paul, but thanks for your comment on Game Show, glad you liked it.