Conference Report: Zoomposium: The Music of John Metcalf

The Zoomposium – The Music of John Metcalf was organised by the School of Music, Drama and Performance at Bangor University (in collaboration with the Bangor Music Festival, Tŷ Cerdd, The Welsh Government and the RMA) on Friday the 12th March 2021.

Due to the restrictions resulting to the current pandemic the majority of the event was held online through Zoom, with a total of 72 attending over the course of the whole day. The atmosphere was warm and generally relaxed, with Metcalf’s presence adding to the importance of the occasion. Guto Pryderi Puw (School of Music, Drama and Performance, Bangor University) was the host and offered a warm welcome to all delegates and attendees before handing over to the five key speakers in turn.  

Rian Evans (music critic for The Guardian) placed Metcalf’s importance within the musical life in the context of his involvement with the award-winning Vale of Glamorgan Festival, his contribution to the orchestral repertoire and the change in his style from the chromatic language of his early career to the current pan diatonic style in more recent years. The Harp Scrapbook was commissioned by harpist Elinor Bennett soon after Metcalf’s return to Wales in the early 1990s following a residency at the Banff Centre, Canada, which formed the basis of her engaging presentation, before an overview of his most recent music that featured the harp.   

The talk by Wyn Davies (Freelance Conductor/Opera Director) and Keith Turnbull (Freelance Opera Producer) concentrated on Metcalf’s journey of exploration with the medium that included removing the hierarchical levels of the more traditional operatic tradition within his most recent chamber operas. Guto Pryderi Puw’s (BU) analysis of a selection of Metcalf’s choral works included the composer’s approaches to setting the text and speculations on his techniques in relation to harmony and his ‘intuitive’ minimalist style. Steph Power (composer and music critic for The Guardian and Wales Arts Review) introduced a fascinating insight to the chamber music, especially Metcalf’s recent use of palindromes and speculating on other key compositional techniques.

The event was further enhanced by two pre-recorded concerts broadcast on the same day and a pre-concert talk where Rhiannon Mathias (School of Music, Drama and Performance, Bangor University) engaged with John Metcalf’s musical background, influences and thoughts. The 1st concert was a video recording of Mared Emlyn’s performance of Metcalf’s iconic Harp Scrapbook in Mathias Hall at the School of Music, Drama and Performance at Bangor University. The second concert included a preview performance by the Solem Quartet of a new string quartet by Metcalf, under the title Winter Journal. Two of the six movements were performed (1. Journey’ & 2. ‘Can i Ystrad Fflur’), which demonstrated the composer’s current preoccupation with a constant ‘pulse’ within his music.

Both concerts were produced by the Bangor Music Festival and can be accessed online on the AM Cymru platform: http://www.bangormusicfestival.org.uk/llyfrlloffionydelyn/concerts/  

Unfortunately, due to the pandemic restrictions, the third concert featuring the song recital scheduled on the 13th March 2021 had to be postponed until July (recording) and August (broadcast), with the exact dates to be confirmed in due course. The broadcast will tie in with Metcalf’s 75th birthday in August. (The RMA’s contribution will be acknowledged in the video broadcast as before.)

The general reaction to the Zoomposium has been extremely positive, since this was the first ever academic event that was exclusively dedicated to Metcalf’s music, style, compositional approaches and his invaluable contribution to the Welsh musical life. Future plans include approaching various publishing companies to publish the papers to further increase the event’s impact and to widen knowledge and audiences. The provisional date of publication is in early 2022.

Biographies:

Elinor Bennett studied the harp with Osian Ellis at the Royal Academy of Music, London and pursued a successful professional performing career, commissioning many prominent composers and releasing several CD recordings ranging from 20th century classics to Welsh traditional music.  

Wyn Davies was the Director of Music of New Zealand Opera from 2005 to 2019 and during his distinguished career has conducted with the English National Opera, Scottish Opera, Opera North, English Touring Opera, Opera Northern Ireland and Carl Rosa Opera.

Rian Evans has been a music critic for more than 20 years, primarily writing for The Guardian and Opera magazine while being able to write across cultural boundaries with her monograph of Kyffin Williams and being the editor of Collected Poems of her late father, John Ormond.

Steph Power is a composer, writer, a critic and is the current Chair of the Board of Trustees at Tŷ Cerdd, Music Centre Wales.

Guto Pryderi Puw is currently the Head of Composition at the School of Music, Drama Performance at Bangor University and was the inaugural ‘Resident Composer’ with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales between 2006-10 while being the Artistic Director of the Bangor Music Festival since its founding in 2000. 

Keith Turnbull is a director, dramaturge, and producer committed to contemporary and new work in theatre and opera while being the artistic director of the Manitoba Theatre Centre; of Second Stage, Neptune Theatre; and founding artistic director of the NDWT Co., a First Nations theatre company from which emerged many of Canada’s most noted native performers and writers.

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