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  • Miles Hedley


Music is a global language, a truth that has been underscored by its primacy around the world during the Covid-19 lockdown. And no one has made a greater contribution to proving the point than the students, alumni, staff and associates of Trinity Laban.

The conservatoire’s latest lockdown triumph was the week-long Preludes To New Lights Festival, a taster of what’s to come in 2021 after this year’s celebration of the avant-garde was shelved because of the pandemic.

In a series of YouTube showcases over seven evenings, we were treated to world premieres, works by established composers as well as by rising talents, improvisations, pieces highlighting #BlackLivesMatter, multimedia displays, new interpretations of existing music and – throughout – peerless virtuosity.

Day One featured at-home extemporisations by pianists James Hurst, Elle Lumb and Maya-Leigh Rosenwasser and one by flautist Amy Wood followed by Mahsa Salali performing the timely and moving Black Dog, a work by Soosan Lolavar (below) about depression and anxiety.

The day was rounded off by pianist Garrett Snedeker playing Frederic Rzewski’s powerful Which Side Are You On which was illustrated with a film, brilliantly put together by Snedeker himself, tracing US workers’ struggles from the 1930s to today.

Day Two offered piano improvs by Ella Ingram, Dominic Bentham, Felicity Lewis and Marisa Muñoz López, excerpts from a new work, Sonatina Nostalgica, by the great Stephen Hough (below) written for and performed by pianist Philip Fowke and another Hough excerpt, from Sonata No3 (Trinitas), played by Lewis Kingsley Peart before López returned for a fabulously flamboyant rendition of Curiosity Killed Your Bubble by Mikey Parsons. For the record, I’ve never seen anyone take a better bow.

Day Three opened with fascinating individual turns by Peart, Konstantinos Korkodeilos, Carolina Saddi Cury and Andy Trewren. By contrast, Heloïse Tunstall-Behrens’ composition Birds Of A Feather involved nine self-isolating musicians and three dancers joining forces via Zoom. It was a triumph.

Trewren opened Day Four with a witty musical art installation aptly called The Screwed Up Piano. He was followed by Lumb playing Ryszard Tan’s lovely Sarabande & Enlightment and Inès Murer’s collaboration with Snedeker entitled Thinking, Feeling, Playing, Annie Li improvised an intriguing prelude with a typewriter and a melodica before López played Sam Pradalie’s Light Dances, beautifully enhanced by film of Zoe Dominique Subbiah dancing in a deserted park.

The highlight of the evening – and of the festival, in fact - was the world premiere of Fifth Political Dimension by Michael Finnissy, an extraordinary three-part piano piece written for and about Li which referenced (among other things), Red Chinese songs, Li’s childhood, Rachmaninov, Haydn and Utopianism. Both the composition and Li’s interpretation were magnificent.

How do you follow an act like that? You bring in composer Yuka Takechi, whose gorgeous minimalist Winter Light/Ephemera For Piano opened Day Five and was played with miraculous delicacy by Yukiko Shinohara. Then came a set of absorbing improvs by cellist Roxanna Albayati, pianist Isabella Gori, oboist Catherine Underhill and Snedeker again before Christos Fountos played two of composer Rodney Sharman’s renowned Opera Transcriptions, the first a duet from Puccini’s La Rondine, the second from Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde. It was a stunning way to end the evening.

Day Six began with Ed Cooper’s ethereal investigation into the liminal, shadows paralysed into my back, performed by Albayati using her cello as much as a percussion instrument as a stringed one. They preceded fine keyboard improvisations by Markas Michmel, Frank Oliver and Mahsa Salali whose inspiration was the Black Lives Matter movement and who proved just how relevant music is today. The potency of the message was further emphasised by the evening’s last piece, Norman Jacobs’ furious George Floyd Was Murdered On May Twenty-Fifth, which was given even greater emotional heft by pianist Rolf Hind’s delivery.

The festival ended on a high with a Day Seven improv by pianist Melinda Peschut, a collaboration between Cury and electric guitarist Konstantinos Damianakis and an archive film performance from February’s CoLab of Tan’s High Fantasy. And in a truly wonderful finale, Rosenwasser returned to give a sensational performance of Norbert Zehm’s glorious Prelude In Turquoise.

If this is a taste of things to come, next year’s festival can’t arrive quickly enough. Let’s pray the worst of the coronavirus crisis has passed by then so that it can go ahead in the flesh…


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