Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival 2021

Johnny James, Managing Editor

Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, 18–22 November 2021 - Book now

After a year of digital events, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (hcmf//) returns to the real world with a future-leaning programme running for five days this Autumn. From 18-22 November, Huddersfield will play host to a reunion of artists and audiences in venues ranging from immense concert halls to intimate gallery spaces – a truly unique opportunity to catch the cutting edge of contemporary classical music being performed in West Yorkshire.

This year’s Composer in Residence is Chaya Czernowin, an Israeli/American composer with a unique compositional voice. Her music is married to otherness: it goes beyond, reaches underneath, and finds places submerged, radically reinventing the functions of ensembles and orchestras en route. Whilst the scope of her music, and the approach with which she makes it, may seem traditional, it’s anything but – something that will become clear as we hear many of her works during the Festival.

On 19 November at St Paul’s Hall, Cologne-based Ensemble Musikfabrik will give the UK Premiere of Czernowin’s latest composition, The Fabrication of Light, which typifies the composer’s ambiguous, illusory approach. She compares its structure to optical illusions – ‘colours that seem striking and deep, but that aren’t really there’. Another UK Premiere comes courtesy of The Riot Ensemble, who’ll perform Czernowin’s Fast Darkness on 20 November at the same venue.

At Huddersfield Town Hall, meanwhile, we’ll hear one of Czernowin’s most notable compositions performed by The Arditti Quartet and IRCAM. Combining string quartet, electronics and multi-speakers, HIDDEN (2014) is a slow-moving, 45-minute experience that transforms the ear into an eye. The ear is given space and time to observe and orient itself in the unpredictable aural landscape – an underwater landscape of rocks, inhabited by low vibrations which are felt rather than heard, covered in layers of dense fog.

Another big draw of this year’s programme is the work of James Dillon, one of the UK’s most internationally celebrated composers. His longstanding relationship with the Festival began in 1978 when he was awarded the Young Composer’s Award at the inaugural hcmf//. The first of two Dillon World Premieres featured this year is Emblemata: Carnival, a complex and beautiful work composed for Scotland’s Red Note Ensemble. The Freiburg Diptych, meanwhile, will see violin (performed by Irvine Arditti) meet electronic tape. It will be paired with Dillon’s delicate echo de angelus, performed in front of a live audience for the first time by pianist Noriko Kawai on 20 November.

What else? Opening the Festival at Huddersfield Town Hall, Explore Ensemble will present Systema Naturae, a monumental cycle of four movements by Italian composers Mauro Lanza and Andrea Valle, whereby live musicians will be embedded within an installation of ‘living machines’. A new work by Austrian composer Eva Reiter sounds similarly ambitious. Composed for Belgium’s Ictus Ensemble, Eupepsia/Dyspepsia is a large-scale work envisioned as ‘part conference, part performance’, documenting the indigenous music of Bolivia, and the way it travelled to Europe through Jesuit missionaries.

Two improvised works stand out in the programme, the first by saxophonist Cath Roberts in collaboration with Tullis Rennie (trombone) and Otto Willberg (double bass). And then the next thing you know speaks to the half-broken, fragmented creative lives artists have led during the pandemic, while also drawing on a sculpture by artist Cornelia Parker. You can watch that at Bates Mill Blending Shed on 19 November. At St Paul’s Hall on 20 November, meanwhile, you can catch saxophonist John Butcher imagining alternate realities for his instrument through extended techniques, playing scenarios and an unexpected collaboration with a European ‘super-group’ of musicians from across the continent.

hcmf// shorts – a day of free concerts showcasing the best in emerging musical talent – rounds off the performance side of things on the final day of the Festival, while a full programme of exhibitions and installations offers a different kind of experience. Brigitta Muntendorf and Michael Höppner’s Memorial of Rebellion is a sprawling headphone piece that pays tribute to protest music. Huddersfield-based sculptor and digital artist Charlotte Roe’s new work Entity asks whether a virtual space, made up of intangible data, can take on a material form. And a new installation – The cold black rain shall be your coat – curated by Yonder Gallery’s Claye Bowler, draws on elements of sound art, film, performance and sculpture to respond to Slaithwaite’s local environment.

It’s fantastic to have hcmf// back in the flesh, bringing a community of composers, musicians and artists together with in-person audiences. Not only this, but the 2021 programme is so varied and interesting, genuinely exploring the outer limits of what can be done in the field of contemporary music – and we’ve only scratched the surface of it here. Do explore the rest of the hcmf// programme via the button below.

Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival

18–22 November 2021