Towards a musical cross-fertilisation at St Andrew’s

Exchange: compositions of Jeremy Hantler for contemporary and indigenous instruments

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 28 April, 12.15pm

An unusual concert took place at St Andrew’s in the usual Wednesday lunchtime slot. What lay behind it was the notion, perhaps inspired by the experiments in European music from the late 19th century, that mixing conventional forms of music and conventional instruments with the music of other, often less sophisticated, cultures could lead to a new and more vital music. Think of the influence of the exhibitions of Asian art and music in Paris on Debussy and others.

The instruments included several drums, violin, guitar, banjo, trombone (Nick van Dijk), saxophone (Blair Clarke), double bass (Scott Maynard), and three players of ‘taongo puoro’ (why don’t musicians give us the names of the individual flutes? It’s a failing of percussionists too: a chance missed to refine audience knowledge).

There was to have been a didgeridoo, but Styefan Sarten didn’t appear. 

I arrived during the performance of a piece entitled Duet, which used a tenor saxophone, a Maori flute, to the accompaniment of what is known as a bull-roarer (Maori name?). It struck me as a work in progress, neither particularly well organised as a composition nor as a performance. Jeremy Hantler, spoke about the music with animation, but without much care for voice projection or clarity of diction so that, sitting towards the back, I caught little.

However, his leadership was clearly sufficient to motivate the other players; and while some phases seemed somewhat tentative, even incoherent, there were also moments when something of genuine musical value happened, with a sequence of harmonies, a tune or the blending of instruments in an unlikely but ear-catching way.

Watchful Eye featured three players of the taongo puoro, that recreated the voices of tui and ruru (morepork) rather effectively, but was otherwise flavoured by jazz sounds from saxophone and trombone, with less conspicuous offerings from violin, but with Hantler very conspicuous on drums. Again, passages sounded less than finished and thoroughly rehearsed, but there was attractive duetting between trombone ansd saxophone.

The piece after which the concert was named, Exchange, was largely driven by side drums and later, Cook Islands log drum played by Andreas Lepper, both skilled and gently exciting. There were striking signs of careful preparation here, with more attention to musical patterns familiar in western music.

The last piece was called Quicksand: resolute drum rhythms and the trombone and saxophone again, though less clear purpose in the playing of violin and guitar. The contribution of the Maori flutes seemed less fully realised, a somewhat arbitrary addition that had not found a comfortable role: the words I jotted down were ‘pasted on’. Yet the chorus that these instruments created towards the end, backed by plucked bass with soft voiced violin and guitar, was one of the most attractive, as they set up a moving lament.

The concert was an interesting and worthwhile experiment, though more attention needs to be paid to conventional modes of presentation, stage management, voice projection, and more thorough documentation of instruments and their characteristics – for the many potential listeners not familiar with nomenclature, but prepared to listen with open minds and ears.

There were acknowledgements in the programme to Richard Nunns, Brian Flintoff, James Webster, Warren Warbrick, Hirini Melbourne and Steph.

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