ROOTS, RIOTS, REMEMBRANCE at the Albany
The three Rs usually refers to reading, riting and rithmatic. But if you’re a Trinity Laban student it can also mean Roots, Riots, Remembrance, the title of a brilliant concert of works by staff who teach composition at the conservatoire.
The event, hosted by the Albany and curated by Soosan Lolavar, was also one of the final concerts in Trinity’s Venus Blazing season, a year-long celebration of female composers in which at least half the music performed in public by students had been written by women.
So it was that four of the seven pieces played at the Albany had women composers – Laura Jurd, Errollyn Wallen, Deirdre Gribbin and Lolavar. The other three were by Sam Hayden, Amir Konjani and Dominic Murcott.
Jurd opened the show with Jumping In, a fabulous exploration in remembrance of the influence of bluegrass and rock’n’roll with her playing trumpet alongside a 16-piece student ensemble.
Walken’s four-movement piece Photography was like an album of lovely musical snapshots that recalled her hero-worship of Bach and his place at the root of all classical music.
She was followed by Hayden, whose Chorale For David, performed on clarinet, vibes, piano and cello, was a moving memorial to one of his old teachers.
The first half was rounded off with the UK premiere of Deirdre Gribbin’s wonderful Unseen, which was inspired by the traumas that hit London in 2017 - terror attacks, soaring homelessness, the Grenfell Tower tragedy, a tropical heatwave, the fallout from the Brexit referendum – and threatened to reduce the capital to violent chaos. The mood of threat was brilliantly captured by a score played solo by pianist Douglas Finch accompanied by dancer/choreographer Genevieve Grady.
After the interval, the mood of menace was further explored in The Rigid Dichotomy, a study of contradiction bordering on disorder which featured a TL student ensemble of trumpet, soprano and alto sax, bass clarinet, double bass, piano, trombone, drums and percussion.
Murcott’s Dear Sister was another act of remembrance, this one based on real-life 19th century letters sent home from the Crimean War by a civilian seaman who witnessed the horrors undergone by British troops in the conflict. It was deeply affecting, particularly with the letters being read aloud by narrator Arianna Firth.
The final piece was the world premiere of Lolavar’s magnificent Tradition-Hybrid-Survival, an inquiry into the tension of being rooted in more than one place – in her case, Britain and Iran, where she still has family. The work was due to have made its debut in Iran with the Tehran-based Cantus Ensemble but the economic crisis sparked by Donald Trump’s sanctions scuppered the plan.
For the Albany concert, Lolavar scored the work for 18 string players divided into four units – a quartet up in the gallery acting as a kind of echo and Asian-style drone, nine seated in front of the conductor, another quartet ringing them and finally, out in front, cellist Thibault Blanchard-Dubois whose solo virtuosity brought order, harmony and unity to the disparate elements.
It was stunningly effective – and the perfect way to end a triumphant concert.