rarescale 10th Anniversary Concerto Gala, St Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch

Rosie Pentreath heads to Shoreditch to celebrate rarescale’s tenth anniversary

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rarescale Photo: Carla Rees of rarescale. Credit: rarescale

With the sounds of shouts and sirens audible from the streets outside, contemporary chamber ensemble rarescale hosted their tenth anniversary concerto gala at St Leonard's Church in the heart of Shoreditch on Saturday.

We were about to hear two concertos for alto flute by living composers and several ambitious new chamber works. rarescale is dedicated to promoting new music and, if previous concerts were anything to go on, it was guaranteed to be a varied and interesting programme.

We were lucky enough to have Tomi Räisänen conducting the world premiere of his own Mirrie Dancers to kick things off. The concerto for alto flute and chamber ensemble explores the wonder and mystery of the Northern Lights. The composer described how: ‘Standing outside in the middle of the night in freezing weather and watching nature’s light show was truly a breathtaking experience.’ There was a sense of the music tapping into the darker side of this mystery, which suited the rich tone of the alto flute well. Carla Rees (pictured above) plays a custom-made Kingma System instrument, which is designed especially for music with quarter tones and allows her to play every pitch in between those of the conventional 12-note chromatic scale.

Sungji Hong’s Black Arrow next revealed deft control and technique from clarinettist Sarah Watts. The bass clarinet was paired with looped electronic tapes resulting in a very warm texture where it was often hard to distinguish between the two instruments.

I found Daniel Kessner’s Tableaux for bass flute and guitar harder to follow – the instrumentation was often sparse and the melodies rather fragmented – but after the interval I felt immersed in his language as Genera coaxed bell-like sounds out of the flute and clarinet duo. The performers (Rees on flute and Watts on clarinet), demonstrated perfect control when they began tones from total silence and gradually warmed them to full volume. The piece ended with a barely-audible sigh – a breathtaking listen.

Penumbra by Paul Goodey (and performed by the composer himself) was a three-minute study of trills. Unquestionably an interesting work, I am not sure how much of a place a study – especially one of such a focused nature – has in a concert of larger works. Paul is an utter master of his instrument though, and I would rather have experienced playing like that than have missed it.

Next Bruce MacCrombie’s Nightshade Rounds, performed exquisitely by David Black on guitar, was utterly spellbinding. ‘A visual interpretation of Nightshade Rounds might be the gradual opening of a flower, perhaps the beautiful but poisonous one like the mysterious nightshade’, states the composer in the programme note. The entire audience sat in rapt silence, mesmerised by the meditative circles of music. For me, this was the highlight of the evening so far.

And then I heard Michael Oliva’s piece inspired by Kent’s coastline – Dungeness for alto flute and chamber ensemble. The piece, and how it was performed, was utterly compelling. Opening with electronic chords matched perfectly with notes from the alto flute, it soon revealed gorgeous melodies shared between the strings and winds. Oliva achieved something close to a Romantic orchestral texture with just eight instruments. Earthy textures and sounds of the sea definitely evoked a remote coastal area. A stunning end to a brilliant concert.