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Concert Review Pushing Boundaries

SIMON DUFF relishes the new work of four up and coming composers at this year’s LSO Soundhub

LSO, St Luke’s London

THE London Symphony Orchestra’s Soundhub Associates showcase is an artist-led mentoring scheme for four rising composers. Designed to present an exciting array of fresh and new works by British-based composers in a curated evening of music, developed in collaboration with LSO musicians. 

The 2023 event held at LSO St Luke’s represented composition with a conceptual focus exploring notions of human volatility, fragility and a sense of time stretched around events, ranging from themes around war to human emotion. Each composer was given a 30-minute slot with a line-up broadly based around two violins, cello, three percussion set ups, tenor clarinet, harp and electronics, all under the baton of Darren Bloom.

First up on the bill was Tonia Ko with a work called Held. 

Ko is a Hong Kong-born composer who has collaborated with leading soloists and ensembles across a variety of media, from acoustic concert pieces to improvisations and site-specific installations. 

Held began with slow single notes played on the harp by Helen Tunstall, backed with winding harmonics played by cellist Louise McMonagle’s. Both set a sombre mood and above the band a video screen displayed an unfolding romance set in a remote desert location. The tempo increased as the music came into a full bloom with bursts of melodic intent led by violinist Miya Vaisanen as the work progressed to its finale. 

Held is an extraordinary work deserving of a full orchestral presentation.

Next, a change of sonic textural approach came with the abstract and psycho-acoustic exploration of destruction in Liam Dougharty’s Hymn to God ... In My Sickness. 

Dougharty is a London-based composer and sound artist from the United States, whose work exists in the space between electro-acoustic concert music and conceptual audio-visual installations. His music is concerned with the materiality of sound, and often employs extreme durations that recontextualise instrumental design, audio feedback and noise, and found-sounds. 

Hymn to God included drone FX, percussion and electronics, used to explore themes around the invention of the atom bomb. With Dougharty on stage, guiding the electronics, the video depicted the US military testing their atom bomb during WW2 in preparation for the attack on Japan. Industrial noises worked around deep bass percussion and playback. The overall effect startling, dramatic and visually compelling.

Kate Milligan is an Australian composer and researcher based in London. 

Her work brings design thinking to music. She researches living systems and natural phenomena for their capacity to inform composition and sound art, with reference to the existential threat of climate change. The work often includes elements of graphic and animated notation. 

Her Soundhub composition Visions Vestiges worked around a line-up of renowned clarinet player Heather Roche, cellist Louise McMonagie and percussion from Matt Farthing. Roche’s low bass interpretation conveyed the sense of fragility required, backed by arching cello lines and delicately meditative cymbal and drum work. An orb placed in an adapted cabinet, helped to realise the visuals, with the score from an iPad, projected off a magician’s crystal, around the stage and onto walls, creating an ethereal dream-like effect.

The final piece, In Hollows Spilled Thin, was from John Aulich, a British composer whose works are performed internationally. 

In Hollows started with the percussionist Sam Walton walking onto stage with a shopping bag full of what might have been soft ping pong balls that he dropped around his drum set: a cascading sound to start the work. Then Mira Benjamin’s violin approach continued the drama, with light touches and opulent fx leading the way and deep clarinet backing provided again by Heather Roche. 

With these four composers so full of radical ideas the LSO has much to choose from as it looks to forge alliances with innovative contemporary composers. 


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