Luke Stoneham – Portrait, Kettle’s Yard New Music Sunday lunchtime concert 27/1/07

Stephen Gutman's scores at the ready

Yesterday my son Will, my father-in-law Paul, and I went to the first of the new season of Kettle’s Yard New Music Sunday lunchtime concerts. It was a programme of piano work by Luke Stoneham. Luke’s an old friend of mine – we went to infant, junior, and senior school together and then found ourselves together again at Sussex where I was doing my doctorate and Luke was studying with Michael Finnissy. I wasn’t expecting him there, but the lunchtime concert opened with a conversation between Richard Baker, the Kettle’s Yard New Music Associate, and Luke.
The concert opened with Stephen Gutman playing John Cage’s “The Seasons – Ballet in one Act” and we were immediately aware of how fabulous Stephen’s playing was. His technique was flawless, and the acoustic in Kettle’s Yard is wonderful, but what really set Stephen’s playing apart was the theatricality. His playing is almost dance-like: at times arrogantly dominating the keys; at times peering inquisitively into the music; and at times gathering the music into himself as he played. Wonderful. Interestingly although Paul was not converted to ‘new music’ by the concert he too loved Stephen’s playing. Will, on the other hand, found it too theatrical. I’d certainly travel to see Stephen play again.
After the Cage we had five of Luke’s pieces which Stephen played with equal sensitivity and panache. First off was “Pour les cinq doigts”, one of a series of companion studies commissioned by Stephen from British composers responding to each Debussy piano études. There were brief Debussy-like fragments in more modern territory.
Stephen then played “Nobody here but us chickens”. I was half hoping for a “Famous Potatoes” homage! This was in fact a wonderful piece that Luke had written for harpsichord, though actually for a friend’s out of tune virginal. Stephen was playing a piano version and the range of expressivity he brought to it, while keeping the sense of it being harpsichord music, was excellent. It was fun watching the score too as there were additional bars glued onto the side (they are just visible in my flickr picture above).
Then Stephen realised he’d missed out Luke’s short piece “Plume” This formed a nice bridge piece between the Cage ballet and the last piece “Mercury in Retrograde” as it was written for dance. It was written by Luke improvising at the piano (I think he said he was blindfold!) This was the prettiest of the pieces, the looping reminding one of smoke curling in upon itself.
“Magenta cuts” had some striking moves between childlike playing that Luke recreated from early memories of seeing a piano at a family friend’s house as a child, and more scholarly adult work.
Lastly “Mercury in retrograde” was a larger piece with Stephen playing three movements: “I Trick”, “IV Glitch”, and “V Wit”. The programme notes point out that this piece had its origins in dance-theatre and Stephens theatrical playing style really brought out each mood and kept it direct and accessible.
There are some mp3s of Stephen Gutman playing some of these pieces on the Critical Notice website. I’ll also scan in Richard’s programme notes on flickr, they were superbly informative.

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One Response to “Luke Stoneham – Portrait, Kettle’s Yard New Music Sunday lunchtime concert 27/1/07”

  1. In praise of randomness « Tim’s Zen Blog of Sparseness Says:

    […] on what applications that might enable. iii) The recent John Cage piece I saw Stephen Gutman perform at Kettle’s Yard reminded me of Cage’s use of randomness, from the performers throwing dice to decide what to […]

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