Review: RELAY : Exhale

RELAY: exhale began in the most unusual of ways. It started with Ruth Elliot running into Exeter chapel having just completed a 10km run, thereby completing the performance of Andy Ingamells’s work ‘#180’. The instructions to the performer read: ‘Run 10km to a concert and immediately go on stage’. This work set the tone for a night which challenged the audience’s preconceptions of what a musical work can be. The concert involved composers from across Oxford University, coupling their works with those by professional composers. The evening showcased not just music, but a whole variety of multimedia spectacles.

At the more traditional end of the scale was ‘CREED’, written by Joseph Currie, a DPhil student in composition. The piece was well-suited to the chapel’s acoustic, showing Currie’s astute judgement of the space in which their work was to be performed. A composer who has previously stunned audiences with his beautifully orchestrated work Fugitive Pieces last year, now showed his versatility by adapting a piece originally written for piano trio into a piece for vocal trio. Claude Debussy’s famous comment that ‘music is the space between the notes’ was apt here, as the pauses in Currie’s composition, carefully planned, were partially filled with the voices reverberating across the damp acoustic of Exeter Chapel. A fittingly awed silence greeted the conclusion of Currie’s piece.

Eleanor Begley’s works, highly visual but less audible, consisted of art made of ‘cloth, plaster, rope, acrylic paint’ and a visual routine in which heavy weights were attached to Begley’s ponytails and pulled along the length of the chapel. The latter was enthralling, moving the audience tremendously as they saw the pain on the composer’s face. The aleatoric noise which arose from the scraping of the weights against different surfaces also added to the work, creating an atmosphere of pain and harshness.

Elliot continued the evening with its composition ‘Seach ianlaith nan speur’ (‘Than the bird flocks of the skies’) which played ‘with the ideas of transcription and translation’, and which continued the composer’s tendency of using the flute, as shown in the music of The Nether, in a variety of idiosyncratic ways. The composer continues to add much to the Oxford music scene through its ongoing and impressive compositional output. Ted Mair’s ‘Con : Di’ gave saxophonist Ben Clapin a simple rhythmic pulse from which to base his improvisations upon, whilst Mair simultaneously responded to Clapin’s melodies through live manipulation of electronic material. The performers executed the work brilliantly, and Mair showed Oxford audiences his intuition for composing works which combined pre-recorded and live sounds.

Martin Zamorano brought the night to a close with a thoughtful rendition of Maria Houben’s threnody-like composition ‘Drei Choräle’, in a concert in which credit must also be given to the outstanding quality of the performers, four of whom, Millie Chu (Alto), Tom Dixon (Counter-Tenor), Beth Potter (Alto), and Elias Tomarkin (Flute), have not yet been mentioned. The only criticism of the night would be that the composers did not offer a vocal introduction to their music, and that, therefore, much was lost when hearing the works with programme notes alone. But the talent on display, and the thoughts provoked as a result of the fascinating compositions, deemed this evening to be a success. RELAY : exhale was a fascinating delve into Oxford’s new music scene, and Elliot and co. are ones to watch.

Joe Davies

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