On the night of Dec 10th Durham’s New Art Music Ensemble (NAME) performed at Mark Hillery Arts Centre in Collingwood College. A non-auditioned ensemble specializing in music written since the Second World War, over the years NAME had built up a record of introducing challenging, innovative music to their audience, and their first concert of this year was as eye-opening an event as one had expected.

The concert was divided into two parts, with the society’s two subgroups, NAME Pierrot and NAME Collective, each performed a series of text pieces and graphic scores, ranging from ambient to the avant-garde, but all centred around interactions and transformations between music and texts, or between different kinds of sounds. The effect was, despite some chaotic moment, energetic as well as remarkable, an experience worth having for people who want to explore and feel the frontier of classical music.

The first half of the concert was performed by NAME Pierrot, consisting of a flutist, a clarinettist, a violinist, a cellist and a pianist. Their performance kickstarted with Michael Pisaro’s ‘Harmony Series No.20’, in which the composer translates the poem ‘The End of Zen’ by James Tate into text score, attempting to find the implicit sound between the poem’s lines, to seek out the internal forces of the text. While the work itself is quiet and sparse at first listen, it is undoubtedly difficult to capture the underlying dynamic and suggested movements between the simply flute, cello and violin lines, sometimes the harmonies felt a little bit unbalanced and unstable, though the group did convey the overall contemplative and meditative atmosphere. The performance went on to James Sounders ‘choose who tells you what to do’, an experimental piece written in 2014, in which we saw players each given out instructions to others and reacted as soon as possible to the instructions made by others. Instruments that were played in every way, computer, even the players’ own bodies were engaged in creating different sound effects. Instead of conventional melodies and rhythms, the audience was lead to reflect on a series of interactions between sounds and noises in general.

The Pierrot’s set ended with the highlight of the night: Michael Torke’s ‘Telephone Book’. A three-part movement series which, while essentially influenced by minimalism and post-minimalist, combined a wide range of composition styles to create an evolving, fast-paced and vigorous kaleidoscope. Though performing without a conductor, the group’s playing was tight and engaging, each component of the group fused harmoniously, bringing out the driven force of repeated patterns and melodic riffs.

a refreshing and daring performance’

After an interval, the NAME Collective took the stage with Carl Bergstrom-Nielsen’s ‘Toward an Unbearable Lightness’, a graphic, intense piece illustrating the process of transforming from heavy, dark sounds to light sounds. The energetic playing, especially on the parts of the strings, lashing out thundering notes to the audience, although when moving to the parts with lighter sound the group’s playing felt a bit untidy. The more ambient-leaning Jurg Frey pieces following next, ‘Circular Music No.2’ and ‘Fragile Balance’, similarly, made one felt a certain want of more controlled playing. As the score progressed and the group immersed themselves more fully in the intricate vibration between tones, they did manage to give out the careful, floating feeling of the compositions. The Collective ended their set, as well as the night’s concert, with an avant-garde experiment of John White, in which each performer read out loudly a piece of newspaper articles, performing each paragraph in a different way. In this last part of the concert audiences were reminded again of the central theme of the night: that music could be seen and feel as interaction between sounds, and a process of translation from text to pure auditory stimulation.

In general the NAME concert was a refreshing and daring performance. The works they performed were challenging, yet through their playing one could feel the determination and enthusiasm of the group to explore different trends of contemporary compositions and the ever-evolving concept of music itself. For those who are interested in the more unconventional sounds and harmonies their performances deserves much attention.

Yasmine Zong