First published in the Guardian on 22 November, 2015
Derek Bailey was one of the 20th century’s great sound adventurers: a dauntless, oddball, gloriously uncompromising guitarist whose pursuit of all things new and ephemeral took improvised music to places it had never been. In the late 1960s he wrote some music, too — as in, he wrote down notes on a page, though actually performing anything pre-determined was never really his thing. So there was an infectious buzz in the room when Simon H Fell and Ensemble Anomaly unveiled Bailey’s setting of Beckett’s Ping late on the opening Saturday night of the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival: a substantial Bailey premiere, 50 years after it was (semi)scored. Frank Chamberlain intoned the text, heroically deadpan against a mercurial panoply of scraping sax, thwacking percussion and warmly roaming guitar lines. Who knows what Bailey would have made of it; the affection and attention to detail was enormously touching.
Time was that Huddersfield would have balked at a toe-tapping beat or a straight-up major chord, but this Saturday was full of them. Conductor Garry Walker and the London Sinfonietta gave a clean and diligent account of Laurence Crane’s new Chamber Symphony No 2 (subtitle: The Australian) which thrums along for a cheery 20 minutes of hearty textures built from simple elements with a robust, pleasing equilibrium. Periodically the ensemble clears to dwell on a resolute piano triad, brazenly primary coloured. The Sinfonietta opened with a graceful piece by Edmund Finnis called Seeing is Flux, featherlight strands deftly laced together.
Some of the day’s most arresting moments came in a recital by Richard Uttley. I was enthralled by his composure, lyricism and ability to hold a moment without forcing it. Tristan Murail’s La Mandragore was tender and soft-hewn; Michael Cutting’s This Is Not A Faux Wood Keyboard was a surprise five-minute Fender Rhodes marvel.