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Raga

An unsuspecting audience was treated to a bag of surprises and finally a sonic bombshell at this year’s Adelaide Guitar Festival . . .

After a magical performance of Ravel’s Mother Goose suite from the ASO came the night’s bombshell, Andrew Ford’s new Raga for electric guitar and orchestra with soloist Zane Banks. It is a clever and riotously enjoyable piece that fearlessly reinvents the classical concerto with injections of classic and experimental rock: everything from Pink Floyd to Frank Zappa. Not for the faint-hearted, it pits the electric guitar against a psychedelic canvas of orchestral sound consisting of pounding percussion and grinding rhythms.

Serene to begin with, the guitar gradually cranks up in sound and energy levels to the point where it screams out over the orchestra in full distortion. At the end it is pure rock ’n’ roll mayhem. The Town Hall erupted in thunderous applause.

Graham Strahle, The Australian

Raga captivated from beginning to end. The soloist, Zane Banks, was terrific – the perfect choice to embody a role that the composer described as 'a combination of Ravi Shankar and Jerry Garcia'. Often malevolent, sometimes dreamy, the work seemed charged with an inner pain, both muscular and exotic. Indian influences were subtly interwoven into the mix, the balance often intoxicating. There were brief moments of incoherence, where clarity and ideas were lost as the orchestra grappled with the taxing demands of the work. Raga evidently needs a little more time to really show its best, but this was an impressive premiere nevertheless. As the cadenza fired up and the beat of the drum kit escalated the intensity, some members of the orchestra worked hard to suppress a smile. Some of them failed. But they need not have worried. The audience smiled too, and it was quite clear by the end that everyone had thoroughly enjoyed this exhilarating new composition.

Dylan Henderson, Limelight

Andrew Ford’s Raga was an even rarer beast – a concerto for electric guitar and orchestra, with Zane Banks as the excellent soloist. Inspired in equal measure by rock and classical Indian music, while sounding like neither, it is colourful, dramatic and, in the faster sections, exhilarating. It’s a kind of musical fusion cuisine, bringing together ingredients from diverse cultures in a heady mixture of Indian spice, raw rock and roll energy and sophisticated classical orchestration.

Stephen Whittington, The Advertiser

 

Contradance

Contradance was tight and gripping, and tantalisingly full of little shards of dance which could be echoes of an old song, or might be brand new.

Harriet Cunningham, Sydney Morning Herald

Often meter and rhythm are at odds and frequently there is a sort of demented dancing gait, with multiple contrasting dances happening at once. It reminded me of a Bruegel painting.

Daniel Kaan, classikON

A substantial work inspired by imaginary folk music (“Martian” folk, Ford called it in his witty introductory speech), it launched itself from the nether regions of the piano. hand-in-hand with rasping contrabassoon, bass clarinet and plucked bass, it's halting rhythmic ruckus brought to mind Bartók taking a turn on the dance floor with the lovechild of Malcolm Arnold and John Adams. From that lumbering start it soon picked up with nimble cross playing on piccolo and duetting violins. Omega generally offered a sure footed and disciplined contribution, before the almost bluesy postlude wound the work down with a lovely horn solo over gently lapping strings. .

Clive Paget, Limelight

 

Slow Air

The most important composition on the program was also a premiere, Andrew Ford’s Slow Air (2014). This well thought out and concise work started in a very dramatic way with fortissimo playing from the trumpet and the trombone. Beautifully played by Brennan and Immel this fanfare like section paved the way for the entry of the guitar. Indeed, it was the guitar that Ford used to both propagate his musical argument and to create a substratum on which to lay rich brass sonorities. Ken Murray is a guitarist of rare musicianship. Ford’s skill in handling his material and the way he brought out so many colours was a sheer delight. It was obvious to all that the performers enjoyed this work and they brought a depth of understanding not always evident in a first performance. Slow Air deserves to be heard many more times.

Alan Holley, classikON

 

Last Words

Rarely does a composer choose to tempt fate like Andrew Ford does in his newest work, Last Words. For soprano and piano trio, it sets in continuous song form the final utterances of a miscellany of writers and historical figures. It’s unsettling, at times voyeuristic. There’s Chidiock Tichborne’s bitter railings at a life cut short before he was executed in 1586, Virginia Woolf’s despairing last note before she drowned herself, Noel Coward’s famously ironic 'Goodnight, my darlings, I’ll see you tomorrow', and a lot more to arouse one’s morbid curiosity.

Ford responds to these different gazes into the face of death with a quixotic sense of remove. Tichborne’s elegy is transformed into what stylistically resembles a simple English folksong whose words are torn apart by shrieking chordal outbursts from the piano over a throbbing cello drone. Sullivan Balou’s profoundly moving letter to his wife from the battlefield acquires a strangely alluring beauty thanks to its sweet ballad-like melody overlayed by a spectral shimmer of harmonics in the strings: it felt like one was floating among angels. Unexpected elation accompanies the last words of Dorothy Porter and Maurice Chevalier, while furious vocal gymnastics ramp up the intensity of Florenz Ziegfeld’s frenzied final hollering to Broadway and the painful demise of Fish Lamb in Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet.

If one was looking for composerly statements on death, there were none. Ford’s Last Words looks solely through the eyes of his selected writers and demurs from making pronouncements of its own. It is nevertheless a gripping and thought-provoking work - and one hopes its fatalistic theme brings no ill-luck on the composer himself.

Soprano Jane Sheldon, to who Last Words was dedicated, brought mesmerising emotional truth to the performance - the skill and maturity of this remarkable young Sydney-born, Manhattan-based singer were the highlight of this Seraphim Trio concert.

Graham Strahle, The Australian

 

Using the final poems, letters and diary entries and even purported deathbed utterances of people as early as Sappho and recent as Dorothy Porter, Andrew Ford has strung together 17 very diverse items to form an integrated and arresting song cycle. Varying in length and mood, this is far from being a morbid catalogue of woe. Ziegfeld’s final 'The show looks good!', Maurice Chevalier’s 'Il y a de la joie!' and Dorothy Porter’s gentle words of acceptance and gratitude: '… despite everything/can’t believe my luck' broaden context and accentuate an appreciation of the good in life.

Initiated by soprano Jane Sheldon, the writing is tailor-made for the beauty and focused clarity of her voice. She also has the dramatic wherewithal to characterise very different styles, both vocally and physically. Whether in short outbursts as in the initial urgency of Goethe’s 'Mehr Licht, mehr Licht' (the only recurring phrase in the cycle) or the concentrated stillness of Virginia Woolf’s incredibly moving farewell, each piece was given thoughtful attention.

The only selection to come from the realms of fiction is the final passage from Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet. In the program notes, Ford writes, 'But in order to write fast music, I had to turn to fiction.' And he certainly makes the most of Winton’s highly musical prose, as well as giving Sheldon the opportunity for a dramatic scream at the end after Fish Lamb becomes himself in the water’s embrace.

As a group of highly accomplished musicians renowned for their spirit of adventure, Seraphim Trio was an obvious choice for collaboration on this project. The portraits of imminent mortality were threaded together by sustained notes of varying duration from all three instruments, enhancing a unity of musical language and providing an emotional connection between the fragments of text. Even though the Woolf passage was virtually unaccompanied, there was an eerie hushed suspension of not hearing yet almost hearing a breathing thread of sound. The controlled beauty of the trio’s playing was central to creating this effect.

Heather Leviston, Classic Melbourne

 

String Quartet No 5

Ford's music always tends towards structural originality and his reference points seem to be the shapes of narrative rather than classical musical form. After some ethereal harmonics, the String Quartet No.5 starts with a simple rising stepwise theme that initially hints at a mood of solidity and comfort. This quickly changes to something more ambiguous and unsettled as the theme strives up the whole-tone scale. There is a spiky interlude and rapid return, which raises the music to the high register leaving it in the seraphic stratosphere as though referring back to the harmonics of the start. This section trails off beautifully into the twilight. That might have been enough but unexpectedly one hears a hymn as though listening from outside, and suddenly we have spirited, even bacchanalian, variations on the tune known as 'Monks Gate' or 'To be a Pilgrim'.

The ending is ambiguous, back to earth and pernickety, and one is left as though after a dream one neither remembers nor understands. It was among the best of Ford's pieces I have heard.

Peter McCallum, Sydney Morning Herald

Andrew Ford has come up with a teasingly simple idea for a string quartet. Three plain but familiar-sounding melodic notes keep reappearing against an ever-changing textural backdrop - they nag one's aural memory until 'To be a Pilgrim', the English hymn, materialises in full at the very end. Ford's single-movement String Quartet No 5 is clever, but it is also as honestly hale and hearty as the hymn itself. At the Adelaide Town Hall on Friday night, the Australian String Quartet played it with great fervour.

Graham Strahle, The Australian

Rooted in Bunyan’s poem, 'To be a Pilgrim', set by Vaughan Williams, it is a wholly engaging piece. Valiant, too, as the text requires. Ford is brave, supremely confident. Passages of combined plucking and bowing . . . whistling harmonics, tantalising fragments of the theme, satisfaction when he relents and gives us the whole hymn. But never complacent. His cheeky ending warns against taking anything too seriously.

Elizabeth Silbury, The Advertiser

A memorable program included a new work by Andrew Ford who, on his way home from his father's funeral in England, mulled over 'To be a Pilgrim', the only hymn sung at the service. In fragments, the melody is cunningly woven into the work, which falls most pleasingly on the ear. There is nothing maudlin about the work; it is in no sense a dirge. Much of it, in fact, glows with positive energy, with a deal of it rhythmically dance-like. It's frankly fascinating, at times quasi-folksy fare but not without moments of introspection. I'd like to listen to it again.

Neville Cohn, The West Australian

 

String Quartet No 4

Although Andrew Ford’s String Quartet No. 4 demonstrates a maturity beyond that of his Composed Noise compositional colleagues, he evokes in this work his teenage fascination with Stockhausen’s meditational works that use verbal instructions rather than music notation. The result is for the most part a serene slowly-changing texture of closely-voiced harmonies imbued with subtle dynamic, timbral, pitch inflection and rhythmic variation. The flamboyant musical trajectories in the last section of the work are no less effective.

Michael Hannan, The Music Trust

 

 

String Quartet No 3

[Andrew Ford's String Quartet No.3 is] a new work commissioned last year for the Brodsky’s 40th anniversary. In four movements, the first emerges with the wonder and glee of [Jacqueline] Thomas and [Ian] Belton’s childhood explorations, leading to the second movement, 'Cradle Song', dedicated to the memory of young Brisbane violinist Richard Pollett. The quartet’s pent up energy spills into a vibrant and intense high-end pitch shift led by [Daniel] Rowland’s mesmerising and very physical performance style before a fitting reference to their Northumbria home is inserted into the slowest movement in the form of the traditional 'Maa Bonny Lad'

Tyler McLoughlan, themusic.com.au

Blitz

Blitz is a half-hour-long piece for orchestra, pre-recorded voices and chorus, on the subject of World War II bombing raids on England and Germany, the voices being those of now elderly survivors from both sides. The music is atmospherically dramatic, with frequent use of high harmonics on strings and a large percussion battery giving a 'shiny' effect akin to the flashes of exploding bombs. Players and singers, under the precise direction of chief conductor [Marko] Letonja, delivered a committed, moving performance.

Peter Donnelly, Hobart Mercury

 

The Rising

Andrew Ford’s sound picture, The Rising, inspired by Australian bush fire destruction and rebirth, provided an intriguing interlude. Seemingly simple at its outset following a single spark of destructive power, it became increasingly complex and layered as the green shoots of undergrowth recovery soon provided the fuel for yet another conflagration to come.

Iwan Fox, 4barsrest.com

 

Nine Fantasies about Brahms

Andrew Ford's Nine Fantasies about Brahms put Brahms's Piano Concerto No. 1 under an aural microscope. Fragments from the first movement, some recognisable, some reduced to such a quintessence that they began to lose their identity, were passed around the trio, examined, picked apart and reassembled.

Harriet Cunningham, Sydney Morning Herald

Ford's intelligent and entertaining work . . .

Steve Moffatt, The Manly Daily

 

A Dream of Drowning

Under the baton of principal conductor Paul Daniel, the West Australian Symphony Orchestra opened its 2010 season with the premiere of Andrew Ford's orchestral song A Dream of Drowning, a setting of a short passage from Tim Winton's novel Breath. Ford describes the passage as a post-traumatic dream, but in the novel it is also a premonition of danger for the central character, Bruce Pike. Ford deftly captures its sense of quiet menace. Ford's Icarus Drowning (1998) was scored for strings, celesta, harp, percussion and clarinet. Apart from the switch from clarinet to baritone, this new 'drowning' piece is for similar forces.

The work opens with an evocation of slow breathing, before the vibraphone marks the transition to sleep and the start of the dream. Here the vocal line, sung with great intensity by Teddy Tahu Rhodes, is strongly etched against a wash of string colour. In a powerful wordless conclusion, the vibraphone assumes the leading role, hammering out an increasingly desperate warning. If I have a criticism of the work, it is that its taut and tense six-minute span feels very much like an episode in a larger drama. Perhaps - hopefully - Ford will find a place for it in a longer cycle. Fittingly, Ford brought Winton with him to the stage to acknowledge the applause.

Paul Hopwood, The Australian

From Tim Winton's novel Breath, Ford has taken a section of text describing the sensation of drowning and set it for baritone, strings, vibraphone, harmonium, celesta and harp. The contrast between the strings and the variegated colours of the other instruments evokes the darkness and multiple hues of the ocean depths, while the writing, which includes such devices as overlapping ascending scales and tightly-controlled crescendos, perfectly complements the poetry of the text. New Zealand baritone Teddy Tahu Rhodes was as always a commanding presence, his baritone rich and resonant . . . [T]his was a wholly satisfying listening experience, and when Ford and Winton came on stage to take their bows the audience showed its appreciation in no uncertain terms.

William Yeoman, The West Australian

Willow Songs

Willow Songs was commissioned by Halcyon, with financial support from Barbara Blackman. It was a good investment. As the composer Andrew Ford says, Anne Stevenson's 'Willow Song' is a ballad waiting to be sung, and Ford finds a gentle lyricism to illuminate the words, enriched by extremes of timbre from piccolo and bass clarinet. This work is an intimate engagement with sensuality, from a woman's point of view, and Ford's music treads carefully, serving the words well without making overly grand gestures of his own. I particularly liked the tough, worldly-wise voices of 'Eros' and the 'Cold Woman', spiked with percussive textures. 'Fools Gold' was an excruciating mixture of fun and folly, and 'Epigraph' hung in the air, pregnant with meaning.

Harriet Cunningham, Sydney Morning Herald

Andrew Ford’s Willow Songs is a through-composed setting of five poems by British poet Anne Stevenson, with an additional ‘Epigraph’ at the beginning and repeated just before the final song . . . The poems, which cover aspects of life and death, are wryly amusing, somewhat cynical and occasionally bleak. Overall, their mood is unsettling and Ford’s interpretation reflects well the emotional content. His music is both striking and most enjoyable. The opening is angular and stark, as he describes ‘The way that wintry woman/ Walked into the sea’, changing to insistent, nagging rhythms as he paints the picture of a less-than-perfect lover. A lively, jazzy section depicts two young girls out on the town, ‘midriffs agape’, to the poet’s warning that ‘bared flesh is fool’s gold’. In a contrasting, quiet passage we glimpse a skinny 12 year-old girl in front of a mirror, with ‘nowhere to go, nothing to do’ – this, presumably, is before she gets to the bared midriff stage of the previous song. The final Willow Song is a lament, evocative of the famous Millais painting of Ophelia as she drifts down a willow-lined stream, clasping a bunch of flowers. It is strophic, folksong-like, beautiful, a sombre lullaby and truly enchanting.

Gwen Bennett, The Music Trust

 

On Winter's Traces

The sparse textures of Andrew Ford's melancholy On Winter's Traces, the most substantial of the seven miniatures, transported the audience to a different world altogether. Ford also used the full forces of the ensemble, but with much finely nuanced orchestration, particularly the wan sound of the piccolo in its low register. However, in this work the distinctive timbre of the viola was the star of the show, and the performance featured some wonderfully heartfelt solo playing from the work's dedicatee, Irina Morozova. This was the longest and most serious of the seven miniatures and I was left wanting more.

Geoffrey Gartner, Resonate

The viola solo (Irina Morozova) in Andrew Ford's On Winter's Traces became increasingly dark with spare notes of accompaniment.

Peter McCallum, Sydney Morning Herald

Lullaby and Fire Dance

The two movements of Andrew Ford's Lullaby and Fire Dance were composed four years apart, written for his violinist friend Tor Frømyhr. The lullaby scraped delicately yet confidently into being, its generous intentions made quite clear from the outset. Speaking in one voice, the violins were tethered by a shared purpose, echoing the sweeping lines. Traces of folk music lent the piece a more sonorous than somnolent feel, the lilting quality to the opening giving way to a vibrant, verdant middle, before a slower final passage finally turning in for night, embracing gentle slumber.In stark contrast, Fire Dance blazed straight out of the blocks, jigging and burning with irrepressible energy. There was a sense at times of duelling fiddles, closing out cheekily with a handful of slides down the strings, flaring and dispersing in a flash.

Benjamin Millar, Resonate

The Past

The central attraction was the premiere of a major work by Andrew Ford, the [Australian Festival of Chamber Music]'s composer-in-residence. The Past sets a poem of Oodgeroo Noonuccal against James Cook's entries in the Endeavour's log exactly two hundred years earlier. A countertenor (Russell Harcourt) sings both texts, the unearthly quality of that voice-type making them both equally remote, and he is accompanied by string orchestra (the Camerata of St John's), flute and didgeridoo. It is a powerful, atmospheric work, swirling and thundery, and was very well received.

Malcolm Tattersall, Music Forum

 

Rembrandt's Wife


Roxane Hislop as Geergje Dircx in Rembrand'ts Wife
Image © Jeff Busby

***** The Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rijn may seem an unlikely subject for a new Australian Opera. Yet in this one-act work commissioned by Victorian opera, the drama of his personal life is as crisply and compellingly presented as one of Dominic Dunne's Vanity Fair stories chronicling the rise and fall of a contemporary American A-lister. First-time librettist Sue Smith, a television screenwriter, has a valuable talent for reducing action and feeling to concrete language. From the opening bars of Andrew Ford's score, Smith plunges us into a scene of domestic disaster . . . Ford's score skillfully suggests the disturbances and dynamics of human conscience. Violently percussive and appealingly lyrical by turns . . . it simply but elegantly serves a fine study of human psychology.

Sybil Nolan, Herald Sun

 

After the manner of Oscar Hammerstein II and Richard Rodgers' musicals, Smith's words came first and Ford's music followed. Their collaboration fitted like a glove . . . Smith prepared an eloquent, classical dialogue that Ford's Britten-esque score addressed with beauty and seriousness. The marriage of libretto and music seemed so right, and this success allowed the cadence and clarity of the 75-minute piece to flow along free of longueurs while the cast continuously delivered impressively comprehensible diction.

Peter Burch, The Australian


Victorian Opera's Rembrandt's Wife (2009)
Image © Jeff Busby

 

Rembrandt's art is at once rich and comfortable, like a well-prepared casserole. But which Rembrandt is being depicted in this world premiere of Andrew Ford's new opera with libretto by Sue Smith? The work proves to be as much about the three women central to the artist's life as it is about his character . . . Ford's score is [ . . . ] successful at suggesting the threads of love, sensuality, conflict and angst. Immediately it sets up distinctive rhythms in the nine-piece ensemble conducted by Richard Gill that allows the coloration of the instrumentation to bloom. While its dialogue exchanges hang on a simple recitative line, its arias are accessible, romantic and rich in references . . .

John Slavin, The Age

 

The score is unashamedly accessible throughout, though tightly crafted and compositionally engaging. A nine-piece mixed ensemble was used and distinctive melodic and rhythmic interest was generated early on and continued through the performance. The colouristic scope of the music also did much to move the emotional layering of the characters forward, and there were moments of rich lyricism – particularly between Rembrandt and Saskia – that left a resonating impact. Of note were ‘The girl in the summer hat’ and the quartet ‘Death is walking in my shadow’. Near the opera’s end, his fall from grace complete, Rembrandt sings [that] ‘his ox-life was big as the sky’ – a poignantly sad but beautiful moment. It has been some time since I have been able to distinctly remember melodic sections of music from a contemporary opera following its performance . . . New opera is rarely an easy beast, yet this first production of Rembrandt’s Wife offers much. The libretto and music in particular present a rich tapestry of emotions and themes whose threads have been carefully woven together . . . What results is a memorable and lyrical new work, worthy of future performances.

Anthony Lyons, Resonate

Ford’s music is lyrical and accessible, providing the singers with meaty roles . . . Another winner for VO’s commissions – bravo team.

Paul Williamson, The Fool and the Opera

Bright Shiners

Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto directed the Australian Chamber Orchestra on Monday night in a surprise-packed program of music by Sibelius and Bach, preceded by a bagatelle from Andrew Ford, to celebrate Richard Tognetti's 20-year stand as the ensemble's presiding genius. As things turned out, Ford's Bright Shiners contributed the evening's most novel sounds, its textural interplay making a successful bookend to a night that concluded in another world premiere, Timo Alakotila's ... Sketches from Folkscenes.

Clive O'Connell, The Age

With its imaginative writing Bright Shiners might well have a future in the repertoire of string orchestras. It initially has an eerie, faint and fragile quality with, later, charming suggestions of twittering birdsong in response to what sounded like the mournful cry of some disconsolate fowl.

Neville Cohn, West Australian

Bright Shiners by Andrew Ford, a new commission, was an enjoyable piece with vivid textures and effective, flattering string writing. Its duration suited its musical concept perfectly.

Anna McAlister, Herald Sun

 

Headlong

Receiving its premiere, Headlong, by Andrew Ford . . . progressed in its eight-minute span from an opening where the musical ideas were scattered around the orchestra, diffuse and ungraspable, through a warmer, more collected slow section to a close of increasing resolve, ending on a blazing major chord. In terms of its overall shape it reminded me of Sibelius's last symphony, where things progress with teleological inevitability towards an emphatic point. As with much of Ford's recent music, the scoring was assured, colourful and subtle.

Peter McCallum, The Sydney Morning Herald

Ford says that the work is concerned with lyricism; it has an unstoppable melodic line running through it . . . The musical line fizzes and zigzags around the orchestra, as Ford imaginatively employs sudden dynamic changes and striking colouristic juxtapositions.

Murray Black, The Australian

 

Oma kodu

Estonia has a truly global musical identity and a population about the size of the Sydney North Shore (about 1.3 million). Andrew Ford's Oma kodu for clarinet and string quartet tapped into that identity with a haunting meditation on a folk song from the Setu region, a culture with a nine-millennia history. Ford fragmented and isolated the song's ideas, laying them out in the opening section almost note by note, like precious garments being taken from a chest - a single note, an ornament, an interval of a fifth, a haunting phrase. It is not his style to preserve old melodies in aspic, but in this piece there was only one point where the harmonies were allowed to became smeared, creating an edgy moment and, in the modern world, perhaps a moment of reality. Ford has a capacity to explore old traditions and bring out their simplicity and interest as creative objects without getting unduly sentimental or over-reverent.

Peter McCallum,The Sydney Morning Herald

A Reel, a Fling and a Ghostly Galliard (String Quartet No 2)

Andrew Ford's A Reel, a Fling and a Ghostly Galliard was a perfect opener. His writing for strings is confident and even comforting but what stood out, for me, was the deft sense of drama. The music is the story, and a thrilling one it is - full of character and a good dose of suspense. This is a really useful piece for the new ensemble.

Harriet Cunningham, The Sydney Morning Herald

Since A Reel, a Fling and a Ghostly Galliard was to be the first piece played in public by the [Grainger Quartet], Ford wanted to give the opening flourishes an air of mystery, and he succeeded. The rest of this terse work was an inventive, attractive mix of complex textures and vibrant rhythms, and the quartet's brilliantly sustained, slightly abrasive harmonics in the ghostly galliard brought the piece to a haunting, unsettling close.

Murray Black, The Australian

A fluid construct, it lived up to its [title] . . . and communicated a brand of fretful frivolity, the dancing restrained from outright abandonment but with a warm suggestiveness that sustained the pervading atmosphere of celebration.

Clive O’Connell, The Age

Snatches of Old Lauds

Snatches of Old Lauds takes its title from a description of Ophelia's last moments of sadly deranged singing but is essentially a piece of bagpipe music for bass clarinet (Catherine McCorkill) and string drone in which the leading instrument's heavy breathing and bitten-off accents (Scotch snaps) have a wonderfully ominous effect.

Roger Covell, The Sydney Morning Herald

Tales of the Supernatural

This cycle of folk songs turned out to be a cleverly integrated work, with suitably spectral interludes linking imaginative settings coloured by propulsive ostinato rhythms, unsettling tremolos, throbbing pizzicatos and bagpipe-like droning . . .

Edwards's voice was uniformly warm and subtly coloured. She appreciated the individual character of these haunting songs and her heartfelt singing was aided by the [Brodsky] quartet's sensitive, well-blended accompaniments.

This is one of Ford's finest and most appealing compositions.

Murray Black, The Australian


Andrew Ford's cycle Tales Of The Supernatural made a major impact. These songs are melodically fairly straightforward . . . but are punctuated by striking instrumental interludes, often the sort of music you wouldn't like to hear alone in a forest on a dark night. This is a compelling work; a recording is desirable.

Fred Blanks, North Shore Times (Sydney)


The low range of the vocal part (written with Robyn Archer's voice in mind) meant that some amplification is necessary. This had the benefit of freeing the singer from the need to project: these are ghost stories, to be sung in a hushed voice around the dying fire. Edwards and the [Brodsky] quartet were master storytellers, drawing the audience in with deliciously covert artistry.

Harriet Cunnigham, The Sydney Morning Herald

Andrew Ford's new folksong cycle, Tales of the Supernatural, performed by soprano Jane Edwards with the Australian String Quartet, stood out strikingly. Beguilingly simple in melody but replete with wonderfully inventive string writing, it had one's ears sharply pricked throughout.

Graham Strahle, The Australian

 

An die Musik

Andrew Ford's An die Musik made an illustrious debut in the warmly welcoming ambience of Adelaide's St Peters Cathedral just two weeks before Christmas Day. Commissioners Carl Crossin and his Adelaide Chamber Singers gave their most recent gesture of confidence in Australian composers poll position, immediately after interval, in their 20th anniversary concert . . . The refinement and security of its premiere performance were tributes both to the composer's intrinsic understanding of how voices work and to the huge amount of very intense practice and study by the conductor and singers that went into its preparation . . .

Ford's ear for a settable text sits alongside Britten's, and the poems by Australians David Malouf, Thomas Shapcott ('Brahms', a graceful musical as well as verbal tribute) and Gwen Harwood, plus one each from [Malay], Pueblo Indian and Finnish sources, morphed into songs as if taking the next step in their evolving lives. The music, although looking complex on the page, was wondrously easy to listen to, given that the complete text was printed in the programme.

The perfect match between verbal and musical moods was a constant a delight; a tiny dig at Webern's sparseness, whimsy to match David Malouf's 'inner lives of pumpkins' and 'Bruckner coaxes the zucchinis', the all too topical Pueblo lines 'I heard the cry of an ancient people, "We who die await the dawn"' set with plangent emphasis. In the main an ensemble piece, An die Musik's occasional solos from Emma Horwood's exquisitely tuned and toned soprano sounded as though custom written.

Elizabeth Silsbury, Opera-Opera

 

The Armed Man

[A] limiting factor for many of the instruments in the "pots and pans" department is pitch, or lack of it - out goes melody as a compositional device. But, as Edwardes demonstrated in a world premiere performance of Andrew Ford's The Armed Man, rhythm, dynamics and textures can be equally satisfying. Ford's work, the dreaded drum-kit solo, cleverly avoided boom-tish cliches, concentrating instead on the dry menace of the snare drum, kicked along by a bass drum. It was a brilliant performance.  

Harriet Cunnigham, The Sydney Morning Herald

The Crantock Gulls

The Crantock Gulls, named after the small Cornish village, were prey to polymetre squawking seagulls according to Ford and if his music successfully conveys it – and I’ve not misunderstood it – it was also raining like crazy... The arresting tattoos are increasingly and uncomfortably fractious.

Jonathan Woolf, Musicweb International

The gulls are noisy, the sea is rough, the drumming drives hard.

Glyn Pursglove, Musicweb International

Learning to Howl

Ford's tender touch is evident in both his choice of texts and his uncluttered scoring - never a note too many . . . Ford's perspicacious selection of poetry is matched by his ingrained respect for the natural rhtyhms of the English language.

Elizabeth Silsbury, Music Forum

Learning to Howl is rightly on the A-List of Australian music. . .  The poems that make up the song cycle vary from Sappho through the work of Queen Elizabeth I to Ann Timoney Jenkin and Elizabeth Smart. With his flair and careful choices, Ford created a series of imaginative atmospheres for soprano, saxophone, clarinets, harp and percussion.

Joel Crotty, The Age

The title [Learning to Howl] comes from a passage in the novel Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? by American author Lorrie Moore, in which the narrator describes how as a child she "wanted to make chords" with her voice, how she "wanted to howl".

Starting with this image, Ford builds a picture of a life journey from childhood to old age. The rest of the lyrics are taken from disparate sources, including a Finnish folk song, an Emily Dickinson lyric, and a Christina Rossetti love poem.

Such variety of textual material risks making the cycle disjointed, but the recurrence of fragments from Sappho provides a loose structure.
The music is quite typical of Ford's compositional style, which tends to look forward and back at the same time.

Martin Ball, The Australian

The Waltz Book

Waltzes invite repetition of phrases; modernist 20th century styles shun them. Ford teased music of textural simplicity and gestural complexity from this paradox . . . Like Beethoven in his monumental set of variations of a waltz by Diabelli, Ford grouped his waltzes to make larger structural units . . . a set of five derived from a Finnish folk song builds up a progressively intriguing texture of drones, rattles and ornaments.

Peter McCallum, The Sydney Morning Herald

The [Stuart & Sons piano] was most impressive in Andrew Ford's The Waltz Book, 60 gems, all of them precious, all lasting just one minute and all titled for people and events close to the composer. The clarity and brilliance of the tone ensured that separate voices were heard distinctly and superclean damping let the light shine through Ford's purposeful rests. Stuart's big bass gave extra weight to the [five] 'Whole World' waltzes; 'Monsieur Satie Scratches His Head' satirised music's arch satirist; and 'Anni's Waltz' (for Mrs Ford) was a sweet mix of tenderness and exasperation. Complete, the witty, pithy, always entertaining and often very funny Waltz Book would make a lunch-hour concert on its own.

Elizabeth Silsbury, The Advertiser

It's easy to get bogged down by the gravity of classical music. The idea of an hour-long solo piano work, for example, made up of 60 fragments each a minute long with a coherent but elusive structure running through it is potentially daunting. But as it turns out, Andrew Ford's The Waltz Book is something of an antidote to serious concert music. The 60 waltzes - some fragmentary, some miniature symphonies - form an album of personal snapshots, full of humour and humanity . . . Ford's musings take us, like a series of Leunig cartoons, through the gamut of emotions, via gentle laughter, humdrum ho-hums and moments of real beauty.

Harriet Cunningham, The Sydney Morning Herald

The Waltz Book began the evening with a journey though extremes of emotion. Ian Munro once again proved the consummate pianist, artfully navigating the virtuosic work and managing to translate what was an intensely personal journey into an experience the audience could share. He moved easily from frenetic aggression to lilting calm.

Elizabeth Bailes, Hobart Mercury

[The Waltz Book is] delightfully inventive and resourceful . . . displaying a robust virtuosity.

Stephen Pedersen, Halifax Chronicle Herald, Nova Scotia

Vyacheslav Novikov played a selection of waltzes ranging from the simple and reflective to the sturdy and virtuosic. Ford's invention works. Continually new entities can be created from small individual parts.

Juhani Koivisto, Kainuun Sanomat, Finland

This music may sound simpler and more naive than it is; in fact it reflects back on itself like someone who looks at his image in a mirror, wondering who he is.

Mikael Kosk, Hufvudstadsbladet, Finland

Chamber Concerto No 4

The first movement [of Chamber Concerto No 4 taps] Ford's English roots with a Chacony, evoking Purcell and Britten. Starting with a simple minor cello chord, reminiscent of English lute music and quietly spreading to the rest of the ensemble, it slowly became more manic before a sudden return. The second movement (untitled except for its metronome speed) explored the grooves of more recent dance styles with unison melodies striding the full pitch range of the ensemble with attitudinal angularity. This movement also rose to a manic climax before ending quietly with a single plucked cello note which (rather like Liszt's piano sonata) says it all.

Peter McCallum, The Sydney Morning Herald

The elaborate Chamber Concerto No 4 for flute, clarinet, string quartet . . . makes use of strict composing techniques in its two movements, the first of which, 'Chacony', is full of atmosphere, as though inspired by the habit of contemplating immense - and, for us, exotic - natural landscapes.

Fulvia Conter, Giornale di Brescia, Italy

Tattoo

Tattoo subverts, in part, the notion of the military tattoo with its pomp, circumstance and relentless drumming. Instead there is as much silence, initially, as there is sound: muffled drums individually lament (and fragment) the standard patterns of a military tattoo. It is a lyrical work, and the addition of four pianos, firstly using only the sustaining pedal to increase resonance, take on a melodic function as they outline the pitches of the drums. A fierce climax is dispersed by arpeggiated piano chords, and the tattoo fades imperceptibly into silence. This premiere performance warrants another . . .

David Vance, The Sydney Morning Herald

I was reminded of the inexpressible sadness I felt encountering a lone piper leading a funeral in Scotland.

Murray Robertson, Bravo!

The Unquiet Grave

On Saturday the strongest impression was made by Andrew Ford’s Unquiet Grave for viola and chamber orchestra (1997-98), a contemporary recasting of a Scottish border ballad that filters strands of folk music through a lyrical, sweeping and dissonant sound language. Jocelin Pan played the solo part with great sensitivity to texture.

Zachary Woolfe, The New York Times

Andrew Ford has called his viola concerto The Unquiet Grave but it is not very unquiet, even for a grave. The work evokes a transparent world of soft reminiscences, which become clearer and calmer. It is based on a folk song of the same name, fragments of which appear throughout and in full at the end in a beautiful passage, where the solo viola plays the tune, delicately ornamented against calmly descending lines from the strings. The idea is comparable to that used in Richard Strauss's late work Metamorphosen, where the funeral march from Beethoven's Third Symphony makes an unvarnished appearance at the end, but the effect taps more into English mysticism than the German soul. . .
The work's appeal comes from the gentle translucency of its string and single-wind scoring, with gong and bells penetrating the texture like highlighted threads.

Peter McCallum, The Sydney Morning Herald

The Unquiet Grave [is] a compact viola concerto in one movement. The piece takes its title from an English folk song, which Ford deconstructs note by note, phrase by phrase, in a series of quasi-variations. The theme is hinted at throughout, amid the dissonances and fleeting tonality, and something of its modal flavour lingers constantly in the background, like a ghostly presence. It is only in the final bars, though, that the viola states the theme in full. Although Ford's idiom is quite distinct, this “variations and, only then, theme” approach to an old song reminded me of another work for solo viola – Britten's Lachrymae on Dowland's galliard of the same name. An unconscious reference, perhaps? Ford makes fascinating use of harmonics to generate much of the disquieting atmosphere of The Unquiet Grave. Though the orchestral forces are small – a bare minimum compliment of strings and a skeleton staff of winds and brass – Ford employs a large battery of percussion instruments, asking his sole percussionist to flit from tubular bells to tam-tam, from vibraphone to crotales, from bass drum to marimba. Each percussion instrument is allowed to ring out, with the harmonics emerging from the percussion and from the harp taken up by the strings to produce an eerie mist of sound. Roger Benedict, the Sydney Symphony's principal viola, navigated the fragmented solo part with skill. His warm, dark tone suited the uneasy questioning of Ford's writing and his intense concentration was especially impressive in the hushed cadenza at the very end of the piece. It was the aural equivalent of watching a single guttering candle in a pitch black room. Only after this did the theme of the folk song emerge, a fragile statement, before the music was allowed to die on Benedict's bow. That is how the concert ended

Tim Perry, MusicWeb International

It was, however, not [James] MacMillan but Andrew Ford and Patricia Pollett who brought the house down at Sunday's Biennial finale, with the premiere of Ford's The Unquiet Grave for viola and chamber ensemble . . . Here was a work specifically tailored to the strengths of the performer. And Pollett's strengths were everywhere apparent, from the snarling opening motives, through the fantastic, ultra-soft tremblings of her cadenza, to the poignancy of the concluding English folk song, 'Cold blows the wind to my true love', which had inspired Ford's work. Ford's writing was throughout expressive, varied, subtle and supple: a beautifully crafted score.

Malcolm Gillies, The Australian

Icarus drowning

Icarus drowning is an astonishingly hypnotic piece, the high tessitura of the strings melded to the high strains of the clarinet, the harp echoing Grecian antiquity, the whole suspending the mind in thought; a brilliant performance of a brilliant piece.

David Alker, Musical Opinion [London]

Icarus drowning, most strikingly of all, takes Brueghel's painting 'The Fall of Icarus' as a starting point (in which all that can be seen of him are his two feet disappearing into the water) and in music of extreme slowness and growing intensity charts his descent through the water, recalling his ascent and flight as it does so. The poetic coda, with distant gongs and bells, was suggested by the site of first performance . . . and sounds both final—it refers back to the opening of the violin piece [Like Icarus ascending]—and like a tolling lament. It is the most impressive piece in the [Icarus] cycle.

Michael Oliver, Gramophone

Dance Maze

Encountering Dance Maze by Andrew Ford was certainly a highlight of the concert . . . His music is compelling on its own terms. Using some easily recalled melodic motifs, Ford creates a wonderful variety of vibrant music, brilliantly colored. Ford's conducting of his own music was a reminder that composers are underrated as performers.

Mark Kanny, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Great Memory

. . . the important thing about Ford's critique of symphonic production is that he works from within traditional structures . . . His writing is uncompromisingly progressive, but the notation is perfectly standard, eschewing the minefields of new complexity manuscripts . . . [The Great Memory] is decidedly dense, full of tropes and ironic rhetorical moves. At the same time, it revels in the self-reflexive devices which are a feature of postmodern texts; listening to it is a bit like reading Eco. Yet notwithstanding this slight epistemological tension, the consequent symphonic effects are stunning both aurally and spatially.

Martin Ball, siglo

Memorial

Andrew Ford’s Memorial refers to the handing back of ‘Uluru’ (Ayers Rock) to its traditional guardians (the [CD] booklet says ‘owners’, but that’s another debate). Ford wrestled with his reluctance to engage with Aboriginal culture, but ultimately, seeing Uluru’s physical presence as a kind of memorial, almost a cenotaph in the middle of Australia, expressed this partly as a lament, partly as a celebration of the strength and endurance of the Aboriginal people. The cello is treated with a delay which in fact makes it sound as if it is placed in a vast acoustic. The echoes come to us as if from the inside of caverns measureless to man, and to me very movingly express the loneliness and incredible hugeness of the Australian outback.

Dominy Clements, Musicweb International

 

Casanova Confined

The ingenuity of Ford's score [for Casanova Confined] owes much to the innate rhythmic flow of the unaffected text created by Morgan from Casanova's memoirs . . . This piece has everything a contemporary music theatre piece should have--a fabulous but credible story, a strictly modern and superbly crafted score with not a single superfluous word or note, or noise of any kind, and a performer of outstanding excellence.

Elizabeth Silsbury, The Advertiser

[Casanova Confined is a] tour de force, and one for regular revival I'd say.

Tristram Cary, The Australian

In somnia

A major event . . . was the first performance of Andrew Ford's cantata for solo tenor, chorus and orchestra, In somnia: not a musical recipe for keeping listeners awake, as it might be if its title were printed as one word, but a work designed to draw its hearers into the world of sleep and dreams. The writing for strings, wind, piano, harp and percussion is ingeniously detailed, the word-setting sensitive, the score as a whole haunting in its recurring treatment of sleep, dreams and the life of amorous imagination. I look forward to hearing another performance . . .

Roger Covell, The Sydney Morning Herald

... les débris d'un rêve


Ford's . . . les débris d'un rêve, for piccolo and electronic reverb, found its expressive power in suggesting the fleeting and the elusive. The work, which was written for Kathleen Gallagher, is witty, clever and rather like Leunig in sound

David Vance, The Sydney Morning Herald

Ford is at his best in this kind of piece [. . . les débris d'un rêve], worrying away at obsessive patterns, exploring the potentialities of an instrument in minute detail; in this case strongly suggesting that the dream of the title had something to do with the motions of a hyperactive insect.

Roger Covell, The Sydney Morning Herald

Harbour

Outstanding in the originality of its concept and the force of its realisation was Ford's Harbour, settings of collaborative poems by Margaret Morgan. By turns gritty, stringent, reassuring and threatening in words and music, Harbour, like home, is both sanctuary and grave.

Elizabeth Silsbury, The Advertiser

[In Harbour] the salient mood of a desire for solace in something like extinction came through well enough. To some passages of genuinely lyrical as well as declamatory vocal setting, Ford adds a striking array of textures and patterns for the strings: whiplashing successions of accents and attacks racing across the ensemble, complex and inventive accumulations of sonorities.

Roger Covell, The Sydney Morning Herald

The Laughter of Mermaids

[The Laughter of Mermaids has a] diverse set of musical gestures, pitching in at many different rhetorical levels-party babble, poetic speech, conversation, laughter and varying degrees of musical delivery. Although the composer, in his program note, mentioned a quotation from Purcell's masterpiece 'When I am laid in earth' as a unifying element, for me unity was achieved through a rather satisfying sense of understatement (sometimes violated) and an elliptical sense of progression. Capitalising on his imaginative feel for language and gesture, it seemed to me one of Ford's most successful works to date.

Peter McCallum, The Sydney Morning Herald

Tuba mirum

Ford sets the two [bass trombone] protagonists stalking each other with wonderful snorts and rumbles and swellings and contractions of dynamics; so baleful in their combined effect at times that they made Wagner's Fafner sound in comparison like a toy monster . . . Resourceful, varied and striking in its effect, Ford's Tuba Mirum is an outstanding achievement, a piece with a truly commanding presence.

Roger Covell, The Sydney Morning Herald

Chamber Concerto No 3: In constant flight

Andrew Ford's Chamber Concerto [No.3] . . . has the right stuff to it.

Will Crutchfield, The New York Times

A Kumquat for John Keats

In A Kumquat for John Keats, Andrew Ford has paid Lisa Moore . . . a tribute by including passages of such frightening difficulty that they seemed to verge upon the physically dangerous . . . Moore's performance of it was dazzling.

Martin Long, The Australian

Poe

With an excellent libretto by Graham Devlin, Ford's Poe provided the most satisfying marriage of text, music, stagecraft and action . . . Poe is grand guignol, high camp and a jolly good time, like whirling along in the ghost train.

Vincent Plush, Arts Illustrated, ABC Radio

Boatsong

[Boatsong] is of exceptionally high quality. The atmosphere created by the repeated marimba notes reached its climax in the alto saxophone's lament. The fascinating beauty of this work was justly reflected in the audience's loud applause.

Gert van Veen, Het Parool

Portraits

[Portraits are] short, but fiercely demanding, decidedly interesting pieces.

Desmond Shawe-Taylor, The Sunday Times

Concerto for Orchestra

Andrew Ford makes strong and memorable ideas.

Stephen Walsh, The Observer

[Ford's Concerto for Orchestra is] an effective and finely crafted addition to the repertory . . . [There is] no doubt of his command of the material; cohesive both in its overall design and in its smaller episodes, and uncommonly sure in its working out of larger gestures from complex textures. The final climax, relentlessly prepared, had flashes of real Xenakis-like elemental energy.

Dominic Gill, The Financial Times

His Concerto for Orchestra is bursting with ideas.

Martin Dreyer, The Musical Times

 

 
         
         
         
 
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