Thursday, August 30, 2012

Unyazi Electronic Music Festival - South Africa

Next week is the annual Unyazi Electronic Music Festival at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. This is a fantastic event that attracts the musically adventurous of South Africa. The line-up is amazing, featuring incredible talents such as pianist Jill Richards, composer Lukas Ligeti and a wide range of experimental artists from Europe.  The event is a series of concerts and workshops for the greater Durban community. As my penultimate concert in this country, I am thrilled to be performing Cameron Harris’s work Lullabies for Philomel for solo oboe and electronics. It is a beautiful piece and is particularly well written for the oboe, though not surprising since Harris is an oboist himself. It may be a brief moment, but the work does delve into the Loboe range.  I have included the program notes and bio for Cameron Harris:

Lullabies for Philomel
for solo oboe and electronics

1) Prelude: Inside a metal cage, a solitary lovebird laments and dwells on the time when there were two
2) Philomel's cry
3) A serpentine question
4) Metamorphosis: bells and birds

Philomel, for soprano, recorded soprano and synthesized sound was a pioneering electronic work by Milton Babbitt, who died last year. Composed in 1964 using a very early RCA synthesizer, the emotional power and effectiveness of the piece is remarkable. The music tells the tale of one of Ovid’s Metamorphosis: Philomela is the victim of incredible brutality at the hands of her brother-in law, the King of Greece, who cuts out her tongue to prevent her revealing the crimes that have been perpetrated against her. The gods intervene and turn her into a bird so she can be free and sing once more. She then sings her story with great intensity.

Lullabies for Philomel is a homage to Babbitt in this, our first electronic festival since his death. In the piece I mirror elements of the story but also offer Philomela music that I hope provides her with some comfort after the trauma she has suffered. There are certain parallels between the two pieces: both works focus on E, the madrigalists’ symbolic pitch for a cry of anguish.  Also, inPhilomel the interplay between the live voice and its manipulated version is key, whereas in Lullabies I have retained this idea but have metamorphosed solo soprano voice into a solo oboist. All the sounds of the piece are created from oboe samples and therefore the entire texture emanates from the sound of the instrument. In the choice of oboe soloist I pay a further homage, this time to Benjamin Britten, whose haunting and energetic Metamorphosis after Ovid for unaccompanied oboe has become a central piece of repertoire for the instrument and is also a great source of inspiration for me. 

Dr Cameron Harris - Bio
Cameron Harris is a British composer and oboist who has lived in South Africa since 2006. He is the chair of NewMusicSA, the South African section of the International Society for Contemporary Music and from 2007-2009 he coordinated the New Music Indaba festival, which combines workshops for emerging composers with performances of South African and international contemporary music. (
Cameron studied at the Universities of Edinburgh, Manchester and Pennsylvania with composers including Nigel Osborne, John Casken, James Primosch and Jay Reise. In America he was the recipient of a Thouron and a Benjamin Franklin fellowship. He also won the Network for New Music Composition Competition in Philadelphia and the David Halstead Composition Prize. In 2007 he performed at the Ostrava festival (Czech Republic), which included works by Stockhausen and Ustvolskaya and the premiere of Quodlibet by Christian Wolf. His orchestral work, Three Night Pieces , was also read at the festival. Cameron coordinates the first- and second-year Music Literacies and Skills courses, and teaches music theory and a fourth-year module on electro-acoustic composition.