Brian Slater

The work of three major British composers were featured at the Ars Nova Workshop in Philadelphia as part of a cultural exchange partnership with Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival.


Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007, Germany); realized Derek Bailey (1930-2005, UK)

Plus-Minus [world premiere of this realization] 20’ (c. 1967-69)

In the late 1960s, pioneering British improvisor Derek Bailey was exploring ways to break down the received habits of musical language and leave behind the devalued traditions of existing music. Briefly, composition seemed to provide a possible mechanism for doing this, and as part of his experiments, Bailey began preparing a realization for two (or more) improvising guitarists of Stockhausen’s Plus-Minus (1963). The realization was only partially completed, and almost certainly never played – until now. Simon Fell has completed a performing version from Bailey’s original material and sketches, and the piece will finally be heard, almost 50 years later. 

Paul Rutherford (1940-2007, UK)

Quasi-Mode III [world premiere of new version] 15’ (1980)

Derek Bailey (1930–2005, UK)

No. 22 [Ping] [world premiere] 30’ (c. 1967-69)

Recently discovered in his archive, Derek Bailey’s No. 22 [Ping] is a major early composition by one of the towering figures of European improvised music. Seeking to break the conventional and habitual responses of his performers, Bailey transliterates Beckett’s extraordinary 1967 text into an uncompromising score structure. This concert presents the first performance of Ping alongside a series of other compositions for improvisers by leading figures in the evolution of British ‘free improvisation’. It features a multi-generational ensemble of improvisers, plus a low brass choir, with University of Huddersfield Professor of Drama Franc Chamberlain reading the Beckett text.

No. 10 [Five Pieces for Guitar] [world premiere] 10’ (c. 1966-67)

Nos. 18-20 [Three Pieces for Guitar] 6’ (c. 1967)

No. 23 [Bits] [world premiere] 4’ (c. 1967)

In a series of nine solo guitar pieces, Derek Bailey appears to be using the tools of quasi-serial composition to purge himself of his jazz and commercial music background, while attempting to move towards a world where all inherited musical styles and expectations could be avoided. In Bailey’s own words, 'It became necessary to reject all tonal, modal and atonal organisation in order to leave the way free to organize only through the powers of improvisation', but the series of pieces the process generated are a fascinating document of the early journey of a major creative artist.

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