Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival returns for 46th edition
This year’s bill shoehorns more than 50 events into the space of 10 days. “It is a busy festival,” concedes the Scot, who is also HCMF’s chief executive. “That’s partly because I think that works in terms of the geography of the place.
“We get a lot of visitors from overseas as well as from around the region and other parts of the UK, and I think it’s a festival that’s built its reputation for being a place to immerse yourself in music.
“Of course locals from Huddersfield and nearby will come to a single concert, but I find the majority of people attending the festival are coming for a full day, a couple of days or a weekend. Some come for 10 days, even. So it really has, as I say, built that reputation to immerse yourself in music and to have a great spread of different experiences over the period.
“By the geography, I mean people are able to walk from venue to venue and concert to concert. I programme it so that no events overlap, so it is possible to go to everything. I think that’s very healthy because it then pushes people to go to see things that they don’t necessarily know and take on board new experiences.”
His aims as artistic director are threefold. “If there’s something that you know and it lives up to your expectations, if there’s something that you don’t know but you enjoy it, and if there’s something that you don’t know and you go along and you absolutely hate it but you feel good about yourself for giving it a try – everyone that goes to HCMF should have those three experiences, that is the perfect way to sample the festival.”
Founded in 1978 by Richard Steinitz, a composer and lecturer at what was then Huddersfield Polytechnic, HCMF quickly became a destination of choice for lovers of avant-garde music. Composers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen, Terry Riley, John Cage, Steve Reich and Sir Harrison Birtwistle have all had works performed there. This year’s composer-in-residence is Irishwoman Jennifer Walshe, there’s a celebration of the music of Swiss composer Jürg Frey to mark his 70th birthday, and amid the numerous premieres are works by Rebecca Saunders, Liza Lim and Angharad Davies.
Walshe’s association with HCMF dates back several years. “She’s presented some great experiences,” McKenzie says. “There was a great piece (Everything Is Important) with the Arditti Quartet, which she performed with them and she even got Ardittis to dance as part of the performance. That piece has been incredibly successful – in fact it was on in Strasbourg in September. Another of my favourites projects was an installation with her, which was a history of the Irish avant-garde and it looked at all these different artists and had works by them and some documentation – the twist being that they were all fake and they were all Jenny.
“One of the challenges when I was looking at Jennifer Walshe being composer-in-residence was OK, which Jenny? There are so many facets to her work, and also this thing of taking of taking on fake personalities and pseudonyms and doing works under different names is something she does a lot. Even having four or five concerts of her works at the festival, how do we represent the breadth of her work? The answer was to ask the artist. The opening concert is a big piece with the Oslo Sinfonietta with soloist Andreas Borregaard as soloist all tne way through to an intriguing trio – Jenny working with the Baltimore-based electronic duo Matmos.”
There’s also a day dedicated to the Swiss composer Jurg Frey to mark his 70th birthday. Back in 2015, when Frey was HCMF composer-in-residence and was “very much associated with Wandelweiser movement, this quiet durational music”, McKenzie recalls a Guardian journalist asking who had heard of him. “Now I’d say that Jurg Frey is one of the big names in contemporary music around Europe,” he says. “I see that very much as HCMF’s job: who are the artists that are going to be those big names in a few years’ time?
“I think Jurg would agree there was such an interest in his music in 2015 that that was almost a platform for him to move into a different phase of his music and his artistic practice.”
HCMF runs from Friday November 17-Sunday November 26. https://hcmf.co.uk/