Tone Poem Tuesday

It’s February and Black History Month, a time when I try to spotlight works by Black composers. We start this time with Hannah Kendall, a British composer born in 1984. From her website bio:

Known for her attentive arrangements and immersive world-building, Hannah Kendall’s music looks beyond the boundaries of composition. Her work bridges gaps between different musical cultures, both honouring and questioning the contemporary tradition while telling new stories through it. Contrasting fine detail with limitless abandon, she has become renowned both as a composer and a storyteller, confronting our collective history with narratively-driven pieces centred on bold mission statements.

Marked by striking and often polarising dynamics, her large-scale work simmers on the surface, and is upturned by the briefest moments of bombast. Ensemble pieces subvert audience expectations of ‘quiet and loud’, ‘still and moving’; scattering those musical opposites unexpectedly. The sounds are visceral, but their placement is complicated, disclosing the detail that exists beneath. While hinging on intense moments, Kendall’s music is also staggeringly intricate, manoeuvring tiny decisions that reveal themselves on further listens.

The piece here is Spark Catchers, which she describes thusly:

The Spark Catchers was commissioned and premiered at the Proms in 2017. The piece opened Chineke!’s debut concert at the festival. The group is majority minority ethnic players, and it was such a momentous occasion, and a privilege to have written the piece for the occasion.

It takes inspiration from Lemn Sissay’s poem with the same title, which he wrote for the 2012 London Olympics, and is permanently etched into one of the transformers at the stadium. It depicts the working lives of the women who worked in the Bryant and May match factory, which once stood on the edge of the Olympic Park, and how they had to keep a watchful eye, catching any stray sparks that might set the factory alight.

It’s an interesting piece, contrasting rhythmic passages that suggest industrialism with meditative passages that seem also vaguely industrial, like the floor of a factory at night when all the machines have been shut off and the shadows are slowly moving….

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