Crumb and Reich

Clearly named after the composer, the Ligeti Quartet, a young foursome hailed as the UK’s leading exponents of contemporary music, has been appointed Sheffield University Concerts’ first-ever Associate Artists.

So many coincidences attach themselves to its first violin, Mandhira de Saram, she must surely be related to the distinguished cellist, Sheffield-born to Ceylonese (now Sri Lankan) parents Rohan de Saram, long associated with the Arditti Quartet.

Be that as it may, the Ligeti appears at Firth Hall next Tuesday in the University Concert Season to play a programme of music mainly by American composers, all of them still on this mortal coil.

Some scary stuff is on offer with Black Angels by the avant-garde composer George Crumb, which he subtitled as Thirteen Images from the Dark Land – we are told it was his response to the American war in Vietnam!

It makes the concert’s other main work, the three-movement Different Trains for amplified quartet and tape by Steve Reich, penned 19 years later in 1989 sound almost conventional!

The outer movements represent train journeys Reich made between New York and Los Angeles visiting his separated parents before and after World War Two and, in the central one, during the conflict when he also ponders, as a Jew, the sort of train he might have been travelling on had he lived in Europe.

Two other works getting performances are by jazz trumpeter and composer Wadada Leo Smith: String Quartet No 3 ‘Black Church’ and String Quartet No 4 ‘In the Diaspora’, two of 19 pieces he wrote over 34 years reflecting the civil rights movement that went into a highly acclaimed four-CD set, Ten Freedom Summers, in 2012.

Completing the concert is Five Famous Adagios by the much younger, London-born Johanna Bailie, perhaps best described as a composer with leanings towards experimentalism.

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