Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival 2021

Johnny James, Music Editor
Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival

Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, 19–28 November 2021 - Book now

Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (hcmf//) is the UK’s largest international festival of new and experimental music. For 10 days every November, venues across the town – including concert halls, bars, churches and an industrial mill – play host to an international community of music creators, performers and audiences, who together explore the boundaries of contemporary music.

While the 2021 programme is yet to be revealed, here’s a look back at what we’ve enjoyed at the Festival in previous years.

The lockdown measures of 2020 necessitated an all-online hcmf//, but that didn’t stop contemporary music fans enjoying a wide range of concerts, installations and talks, condensed into one jam-packed weekend.

Characteristic of hcmf//, there was a healthy mix of music from well-known and less familiar composers. We saw two premieres from James Dillon, a composer who has been closely associated with hcmf// for more than 40 years. He marked his 70th birthday with the first performance of his Pharmakeia, commissioned by Ensemble Intercontemporain in Paris and by the London Sinfonietta, who introduced it at hcmf//, conducted by Geoffrey Paterson. We also heard Dillon’s solo-piano work Echo the Angelus, written for Noriko Kawai, who recorded it for this concert.

On the previous two evenings, concerts by Explore Ensemble, the clarinettist Heather Roche and the GBSR Duo – percussionist George Barton and pianist Siwan Rhys – brought several more premieres. Explore Ensemble introduced Oliver Leith’s Me Hollywood, Heather Roche’s multiphonic virtuosity was applied to Lisa Robertson’s Heartwood and Martin Iddon’s Sapindales, while Barton and Rhys took on the technical challenges of Arne Gieshoff’s Spillikins.

hcmf// 2019, meanwhile, presented a programme that Artistic Director Graham McKenzie described as focussing on “subtle, low-key innovations from many of modern music’s most daring artists”. “The overlooked, the unheard”, he stated, “are the voices to listen to if we want to build a more equal society”.

Accordingly, the composer-in-residence at hcmf// 2019 was the Swedish Hanna Hartman, whose works cherish natural sounds that result from everyday objects, while the first composer to feature in a portrait concert during the opening weekend was the Irish Ann Cleare, three of whose pieces were played by the Riot Ensemble, conducted by Aaron Holloway-Nahum.

One of the 2019 festival highlights was the premiere of a new work by Swiss composer Jürg Frey, in a concert by Quatuor Bozzini, Ensemble Dedalus and experimental vocalist Peyee Chen. Another highlight came from The Hermes Experiment, a young ensemble who broke down the instrumental expectations of quartet playing and rebuilt them from the ground up. Their programme of Meredith Monk, alongside pieces they commissioned, brought out the best in their quirky combination of harp, bass, clarinet and voice.

hcmf// isn’t just a collection of performances, though. During the 2019 festival, an exhibition of Claudia Molitor’s work took place in the Market Gallery – part of Queensgate Market’s Temporary Contemporary venue. With a focus on how racism, misogyny and anti-environmentalism are becoming increasingly normalised in the west, the exhibition featured striking films and sound art that encouraged audiences to assess their own values.

As for the future, we’re hopeful that hcmf// will be returning to its full glory in 2021. Though the details remain under wraps, what can be guaranteed from the 50+ events that make up the festival is innovative thinking. Whether you’re attending a concert, musical theatre piece, multimedia exhibition or talk at hcmf// 2021, there will be plenty to inspire and challenge you. It’s this sense of adventure that keeps audiences returning year on year.

Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival

19–28 November 2021