Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival Huddersfield, 19th-28th November
Huddersfield, the sturdy Yorkshire mill town best known for being the birthplace of rugby league, might seem the last place that you would find one of the world’s leading new music festivals. Yet the roster of great names who have visited the event since it was founded in 1978 is starry indeed, including Olivier Messiaen, John Cage, Pierre Boulez and Iannis Xenakis.
Scottish curator Graham McKenzie took over as artistic director in 2006 and caused alarm when he announced a shift towards improvisation, multimedia works and sound installations. But there was no need to worry—mainstream contemporary music continues to flourish alongside more left-field forms. The combination this year is richer than ever. Berlin-based Briton Rebecca Saunders is a featured composer and her piece, Chroma, for 20 sources of sound including gramophones and music-boxes, is the highlight of the final weekend. Opening the festival is a similarly large-scale piece by Enno Poppe, which explores the nature of urban identity in music, poetry and images. In between comes a tribute to Argentinian absurdist composer Mauricio Kagel, a John Cage “happening” at dawn in Yorkshire Sculpture Park, a feast of Nordic music, and a surprise event on a trans-Pennine railway train.