Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (hcmf//) 2021

Festival returns with five-day programme of live events –

Thursday, November 18 – Monday, November 22, 2021

–   Chaya Czernowin is 2021 Composer in Residence

– Two brand new works by James Dillon [pictured] – plus a host of UK premieres

– Ensembles and performers from UK, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Belgium travel  once again to Huddersfield

Emphasis on protecting the health and well-being of artists, audiences and festival  team is paramount, says Artistic Director Graham McKenzie

Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (hcmf//) returns to the stage with a vibrant programme of live concerts, performances, talks, exhibitions and installations, running from Thursday, November 18 – Monday, November 22, 2021. Due to the global pandemic, hcmf// 2020 took place online and on radio – the first time the renowned contemporary music festival had missed its appointment with audiences in Huddersfield in its 44-year history.

Public booking opens on Thursday, September 30 and full details of the programme are published on the Festival’s website today (Thursday, September 23).

BBC Radio 3 is again a valued partner for the 2021 live festival, providing comprehensive coverage of hcmf// via its flagship contemporary music programme, the New Music Show.

The hcmf// 2021 programme includes a particular focus on the work of Israeli/American composer Chaya Czernowin – this year’s Composer in Residence; two new works by Scottish composer James Dillon; and the World Premiere of a large-scale ensemble piece for an international line-up of soloists by composer/improvising saxophonist John Butcher, as well as a newly-minted work for her own trio by Cath Roberts. A host of UK Premieres include works by Laurence Osborn (UK), Eva Reiter (Austria), Enno Poppe and Eva-Maria Houben(Germany), and Mauro Lanza and Andreas Valle (Italy).

Many of the new works in the 2021 programme have been created through hcmf//’s commissioning activity – including its COVID-19 Commissions programme – which, since 2020, includes 30 original compositions, ranging from large-scale pieces to miniatures, providing immediate and direct support for artists, including established composers and new voices.

Featured ensembles include, from the UK: Explore Ensemble, Riot Ensemble, Red Note Ensemble (Scotland), the Arditti Quartet (performing alongside a speaker installation from IRCAM in Paris) and GBSR Duo. European visitors range from Germany’s EnsembleMusikfabrik to Ensemble Klang (Netherlands) and Ictus Ensemble (Belgium). Soloists include Irvine Arditti (violin), Noriko Kawai (piano), Agata Zubel (soprano) and Juliet Fraser(soprano).

Despite its shorter than usual duration, this year’s hcmf// comprises all the elements that its audiences have come to expect from the UK’s leading festival of new music, including hcmf// shorts, a wide-ranging programme of free concerts and events on the Festival’s final day (Monday, November 22), culminating in a concert devoted to Catalan composers by London Sinfonietta.

Graham McKenzie, hcmf//’s Artistic Director, commented:

“In curating the five-day festival against the on-going risks and uncertainty of the pandemic, we are placing a huge emphasis on protecting the health and well-being of our artists, our audiences and the Festival team. Within this context, we are nevertheless ‘cautiously excited’ to be presenting a programme that celebrates live performance and brings a community of composers, musicians and artists back together with in-person audiences. 

“Whilst some things will necessarily be different this year, with the number of events and capacity more limited, we believe that the changes are merited in order to enable artists and composers to once again share their music in a live setting.”

With safety in mind, the five-day programme is concentrated across three of hcmf//’s larger spaces – St Paul’s Hall (University of Huddersfield), Huddersfield Town Hall and Bates Mill Blending Shed – allowing the Festival to facilitate socially-distanced seating for optimum audience numbers.

To enable the Festival to manage venue capacities, all events, including those that are free to attend, will be ticketed and pre-booking is required. The full programme and all booking information will be available on hcmf//‘s website in mid-September.


Chaya Czernowin (Israel/USA, 1957) – hcmf// 2021 Composer in Residence

An artist with a unique compositional voice, Czernowin’s music seeks out new sensations, radically reinventing the functions of ensembles and orchestras. Her music is married to otherness: it goes beyond, reaches underneath, and finds places submerged. Whilst the scope of her music, and the approach with which she makes it, may seem traditional, it is anything but.

Czernowin’s output includes chamber and orchestral music, with and without electronics, and large-scale music theatre works. Her music has been performed widely by leading orchestras and performers of new music, and at contemporary music festivals in Europe, as well as in Japan, Korea, Australia, the USA and Canada. Czernowin considers teaching to be an important aspect of her continued compositional development; she was the first woman to be appointed as a composition professor at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna, Austria (2006–2009), and at Harvard University (from 2009).

Featured works and premieres by Chaya Czernowin:

Cologne-based Ensemble Musikfabrik gives the UK Premiere (Friday, November 19/7pm: St Paul’s Hall) of Czernowin’s latest composition to date, The Fabrication of Light, a piece 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’. Meanwhile, The Riot Ensemble, with virtuoso clarinettist Gareth Davis, return to hcmf// to give another UK Premiere – Czernowin’s Fast Darkness (Wien Modern/Transit Festival/Riot Ensemble/hcmf//co-commission; Saturday, November 20/7pm: St Paul’s Hall).

On Sunday, November 21 (4pm: Huddersfield Town Hall) The Arditti Quartet and IRCAMperform HIDDEN (2014), one of Czernowin’s most notable compositions, combining string quartet, electronics and multi-speakers. As the title suggests, it deals with things unseen, concealed in the recesses and only perceived as showy intimations. The piece is arguably the purest distillation of her craft – music that sounds wholly its own, apropos of nothing.

James Dillon: Two Premieres

James Dillon is one of the UK’s most internationally celebrated and performed composers.Over many years, his journey as a composer has often run in parallel with hcmf//. He achieved one of his earliest milestones when he was awarded the Festival’s Young Composer’s Award at the first ever edition in 1978. He has continued to enjoy numerous commissions, premieres and performances at the Festival over the last four decades.

For the 2021 edition, hcmf// will present a range of new music by Dillon, including two World Premieres. Firstly, Scotland’s Red Note Ensemble presents Dillon’s immense new work Emblemata: Carnival (Friday, November 19/1pm: Huddersfield Town Hall). Red Note has been a prominent exponent of James Dillon’s work for the last decade, bringing premieres of his large-scale works to hcmf// in 2013 and 2017. The second – a UK Premiere – from Dillon is The Freiburg Diptych, a phenomenal new work for violin and tape that sees Irvine Arditti’s twisting solo movements accompanied by dominant electronic interventions. It has been co-commissioned by hcmf// and Stuttgart’s ECLAT festival (Saturday, November 20/1pm: Huddersfield Town Hall). In the same concert, pianist Noriko Kawai reprises Dillon’s delicate echo de angelus, broadcast on Radio 3 as part of last year’s hcmf//, but performed here to a live audience for the first time.

Other notable premieres

Opening the festival, (Thursday, November 18/7pm: Bates Mill Blending Shed) Explore Ensemble presents Systema Naturae, a cycle of four pieces created by Italian composers Mauro Lanza and Andrea Valle. It’s a monumental work which reimagines the medieval taxonomy of nature according to four kingdoms: animals, plants, minerals and fossils. Live musicians are embedded within an installation of “living machines” – electromechanical instruments made from domestic appliances and miscellaneous junk. The resulting playful “noise-orchestra” is very much in the tradition of Italian Futurism.

Created expressly for GBSR Duo (George Barton (percussion) and Siwan Rhys (keyboards)), Eva-Maria Houben’s new work, together on the way (Thursday, November 18/9.30pm: St Paul’s Hall) is something quite grand. Using the organ of St Paul’s Hall as a catalyst, Houben hopes her new work will create ‘a temporal landscape, whose vista slowly opens, and gently returns into darkness and silence’. Houben is associated with the Wandelweiser movement, and her new work is partly inspired by her experiences of listening to Morton Feldman in concert.

Enno Poppe has visited hcmf// with an array of pieces in recent years, all of them distinct, speculative experiments. Prozession is his knotty new piece, a counterbalance to Chaya Czernowin’s The Fabrication of Light in Ensemble Musikfabrik’s concert (Friday, November 19/7pm: St Paul’s Hall), which the composer also conducts.

British composer Laurence Osborn thinks in terms many would consider alien: he wonders what pop music can do for composition. His collaboration with Ensemble Klang (Saturday, November 20/9.30pm: Bates Mill Blending Shed) comes out of the ensemble’s 2018 performance at hcmf//, where the composer witnessed what he described as ‘the loudest performance I’ve seen at the festival’. And so of course he’s named his new piece – which combines his acerbic, emphatic music with an elemental, spun-out ensemble – Essential Relaxing Classical Hits, a bitter case study into late capitalism, detailing our collective transformation into objects of mass exploitation. The soloist, singing Osborn’s own text, is Polish soprano Agata Zubel.

Austrian composer Eva Reiter’s Eupepsia/Dyspepsia, for Belgium’s Ictus Ensemble(Sunday, November 21/7pm: Bates Mill Blending Shed) is a sound museum. It depicts the history of 18thcentury Bolivia, and the violent effects of its colonisation by Spain. Through a large-scale work envisioned as part conference, part performance, Reiter documents the Indigenous music of the country, and the way it travelled to Europe through Jesuit missionaries. In Reiter’s own words, ‘Eupepsia offers hybrids not as solutions or remedies, but as sound-objects to ponder the longue durée of cultural violence.’

..and premieres of improvised works from Cath Roberts and John Butcher

For the last four years, saxophonist Cath Roberts has been meeting with improvisers Tullis Rennie (trombone) and Otto Willberg (double bass) to play deliberately disrupted music. The group formed in 2018 and have been wilfully disruptive ever since. Roberts’ new project for the trio, And then the next thing you know (Friday, November 19/10pm: Bates Mill Blending Shed) is about describing the half-broken creative life artists have led since 2020, and the fragments of life being lived. The piece is chiefly inspired by Cornelia Parker’s artwork Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View, a sculpture in which shattered wooden debris cast an echo of shadows across the room. Roberts’ took the piece as the catalyst for a new graphic score, the trio performing around a cluster of cardboard hangings with painted-on instructions which provide the remnants of Roberts’ score – half-clues as to what it said at the point of creation. 

John Butcher has dedicated his music career to imagining alternate realities for the saxophone, finding new ways for it to be an instrument through extended techniques, playing scenarios and unexpected collaborations. His new, large-scale commission for hcmf//Fluid Fixations (Sunday, November 21/9.30pm: St Paul’s Hall), is a love letter to the relationships formed through improvisation, and brings together a 14-strong European ‘super-group’ of musicians drawn from France, Germany, Norway, Austria and the UK. A myriad of personal connections are scattered through it, Butcher coalescing memories of those special, unrepeatable moments of person-to-person contact into a larger work about the harmony of different approaches.

hcmf// shorts (Monday, November 22)

Running from midday to almost midnight, hcmf// shorts rounds off hcmf// 2021 with an especially generous offering of free events.

The day’s programme opens with Laurence Crane’s Natural World, written specially for soprano Juliet Fraser and pianist Mark Knoop. The duo have been collaborating in performance since 2013 and inaugurated their musical partnership performing work by Crane. Here, they affirm their bond with his music through this gently unfolding piece. 

Virtuoso clarinettist and master of extended techniques Heather Roche presents a programme of World Premieres by Larry Goves, Scott McLaughlin and Amber Priestly.

Then it’s the turn of two Sound Pioneers – Nwando Ebizie and Lottie Sadd – each presenting a highly distinctive view on the world. Ebizie is a multidisciplinary artist and curator who here carves out her own  particular strand of science fiction. Sadd’s electronic work I’m made up of more space than I actually take up is composed entirely from recordings of Sadd’s own body, using highly sensitive microphones to reveal the usually-hidden nuances of the internal world. 

The Riot Ensemble initiated its Zeitgeist project in the early days of the pandemic to provide creative opportunities to composers, and to its own prodigiously gifted lineup of soloists. Extraordinary solos have reached a global audience through its online portal. A bespoke series was commissioned in 2020 in association with hcmf//. Here, four of the commissions – by Anna ApplebyHeloise Tunstall-BehrensAuclair and Matthew Grouse – are performed live for the first time by, respectively, Amy Green (soprano saxophone), Adam Swayne (piano), Ausiàs Garrigós Morant (bass clarinet) and Sam Wilson (percussion).

As the day draws on there are further interventions from Timothy Cape(percussion/performance) and Mayah Kadish (violin/voice/performance); from one of hcmf//‘s current crop of Young Curators, Bethany Holloway, from Polish soprano Agata Zubel and from composer/visual artist Luke Nickel.

The culmination of this packed day of free events – and the conclusion of hcmf// 2021 – is a concert of music from Catalonia by London Sinfonietta (9pm: St Paul’s Hall). Here, the ensemble’s programme, conducted by Edmon Colomer, juxtaposes music by pioneer Roberto Gerhard with recent work from Joan Magrané Figuera and Raquel García-Tomás – two of Catalonia’s modern generation of composers. Lisa Illean’s Januaries rounds off a programme of unpredictable, and often introspective, music.

Sound installations

Brigitta Muntendorf and Michael Höppner’s Songs of Rebellion began as an ambitious, large-scale homage to protest songs, as well as an examination of their current place in the world. Killed off by COVID-19, Muntendorf and Höppner’s project has re-emerged as Memorial of Rebellion (Bates Mill Photographic Studio), a ‘memory-trail’ experienced on headphones whichcontinues to contemplate calls to action throughout the world, and protest songs’ place in popular culture.

Claudia Molitor’s sound installation Listen to my World, at the University of Huddersfield’s new Bath House Gallery, is the result of collaborations and conversations with six people living in different European towns. Weaving a tapestry of experiences together, the artist and composer tells a myriad of environmental and social stories, combining visual and sonic material to reflect the connections and divergences in the lives of the participants. 

Presented as an installation in Huddersfield’s DAI Hall gallery, Huddersfield-based sculptor and digital artist Charlotte Roe’s new work Entity aspires to make browsing the internet feel tactile, asking whether an existing virtual space, made up of intangible data, can take on a material form. 

Embracing improvisation across the board, Henry McPherson’s PhD project More Than One Thing encompasses dance, music and performance art, bringing a huge roster of collaborators in on the task of ‘collective meaning-making’ in a series of live studio sessions, a big screen and sundry online environments (Phideas Lab, Barbara Hepworth Building, University of Huddersfield).

Centering the experiences of queer and trans artists, Claye Bowler’s Yonder Gallery uses its quiet rural setting in the West Yorkshire village of Slaithwaite to offer residencies and collaborations to those exploring new avenues of their practice. A new installation for the space curated by Bowler, The cold black rain shall be your coat involves four artists – Charlotte Cullen, Roma Hardaker, Fraz Ireland and Oren Shoesmith – using elements of sound art, film, performance and sculpture to respond to Slaithwaite’s local environment.

Georgia Rogers’ online sound installation Tonewood is inspired by an ash tree she sees from the back of her North London flat. She has attempted to capture its myriad seasonal changes, to record the tree against the cycles of weather and hibernation. The piece features these sounds, filtered into a mix with Rodgers’ own cello and violin accompaniment, connected in an ‘exploration of the different voices of resonant wood’.