Those lovely people at Howard Assembly Room don’t just throw their programme of events together will-nilly, far from it. After the US composers concert on Thanksgiving Eve, we had Winter Solstice on, you guessed it, Winter Solstice.
21st December is the date when the sun is farthest away from us, and is therefore the shortest day of the year. That means it is good news as the days now grow longer and the nights shorter until summer solstice on 21st June when the process reverses. Should you live south of the equator it is the other way around, whilst for those living on the equator don’t really care as it is great weather all year.
The music featured during the evening comprised tracks by Supriya Nagarajan and Duncan Chapman from their album Dusk Notes along with a new piece involving members of the Orchestra of Opera North. It was presented in partnership with South Asian Arts-uk.
Supriya Nagarajan was born in Bombay and trained in Carnatic South Indian classical vocal music. She is also the founder of Manasamitra, the South Asian arts organisation based in Dewsbury. I had done no research into Carnatic music before the concert as I wanted to approach it from scratch. I am pleased that I hadn’t or I might have been put off by the complexity of elements which go into it. The crux is that it is music composed to be sung, and even when performed solely on instruments they must be played ‘in a vocal style’. It also involves an element of improvisation as well as the formal framework.
Duncan Chapman is a composer, musician and sound artist who inspired this work with his sunset field recordings which were used as the starting point for this collaboration. During the evening he was seated behind a laptop and mixing desk providing the ambient sounds over which the voice wove its magic. He also made contributions on trumpet and bells.
Howard Assembly Room itself was trimmed up for the Festive Season with seven, yes seven, Christmas trees on the stage. Although this provided a welcoming atmosphere I am not sure that it didn’t detract in some small way from the overall effect. As the music was being performed a lighting effect was projected onto the back of the stage. It looked like a series of intertwines circles, the kind that you might draw with a Spirograph, the whole thing slowly rotating. It was in a yellow colour on a warm orange background which I took to be symbolic of the Sun, especially as in the second half it was replaced by stars and images of the Northern Lights. The effect would have been truly hypnotic had the trees not broken up the flat background. Ten minutes on google and I am an expert on the niceties of South Indian Music and visual art!
While the visuals were not totally hypnotic, the music certainly was with Ms Nagarajan’s voice alternating between a play on a single note and swooping through the scales. Sadly, not being a speaker of any of the Indian languages, I didn’t understand the words but the message came over loud and clear that this was a piece which exploited the emotions rather than the analytics. It was truly delightful.
There was no break, the orchestra members surreptitiously taking their seats on stage as the excerpt from the album drew to a close. They then went straight into the new piece with Anamika Chowdhury on tanpura providing the drone for the work and the Orchestra North musicians; Susannah Simmons on violin and Adam Mackenzie, bassoon, giving more depth, as the back projection changed from day to night.
Ironically, I thought, the second part of the concert, signifying night, was a bit shorter than the first, which is the wrong way round for Winter Solstice, but that is probably just me using my analytic brain rather than my emotions. It might mean that, with a bit of tweaking, it can be performed again on Equinox when days and nights are of equal length.
At the end, Keranjeet Kaur Virdee, Chief Executive and Artistic Director of South Asian Arts-uk, instigated a short question and answer session.
If it is performed again, or if you see Supriya and Duncan advertised in any other performance, I suggest that you go along for the experience. I am certainly glad that I did.
I began by saying that the programme for Howard Assembly Room is thoughtfully compiled to be as relevant as possible. I hope that that ceases right now as I notice that on Saturday 15th January, 2022, there is an event called Twilight Concert: Quartet for the End of Time. Now I realise that the outlook isn’t great but…..
The feature image shows all of the musicians and Keranjeet Kaur Virdee.
All photographs by Nick Singleton
For a list of forthcoming attractions at Opera North please go to https://www.operanorth.co.uk/whats-on