Day three of the 38th Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival saw a performance of string quartets by Jürg Frey, this year’s composer-in-residence.
St Paul’s Hall was the setting for this contemplative music, sensitively and superbly played by the Canadian ensemble Quatuor Bozzini.
String Quartet no 2 consisted of a long series of chords played extremely quietly, sometimes accompanied by humming by the players. This was another world of sound: like looking at flat scenery and then gradually appreciating how beautiful it is. Sometimes the soundscape resembled that of a distant choir.
Frey, who is Swiss, is linked to a German-based collective of musicians and composers known as ‘wandelweiser’, whose sphere of interest includes the role of silence in music.
The approach owes a good deal to the US experimental school that began in the 50s and 60s with composers like John Cage and Morton Feldman. But there also seems to be a quasi-religious association here — with the focus more on mindfulness than a deity, perhaps.
The spellbinding effect on the audience was continued with a rendition of Frey’s third quartet, here given its UK premiere. More very quiet music, which this time flowed and occasionally hovered. Some chords lasted so long that I wondered when the change would come — but then I realised it did not matter.
Such music is rarely performed in the UK — unlike, say, in France or Germany. Yet, while many other contemporary composers continue to reinvent the wheel, as it were, Frey takes us to another place.
It was a welcome initiative by the event’s organisers to present works by this important composer.
Other pieces by him — his so-called ‘sound installations’ — can be heard ‘ambiently’ by the people of Huddersfield in various public places around town while the Festival is on.