Blog: Graham McKenzie

The artistic director of Huddersfield Comtemporary Music Festival on celebrating the event's 40th year

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Being the artistic director of the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival is an honour at any given time but especially this year, which marks the 40th edition of the annual celebration of contemporary and new music.

Back in 1978, I was working full time with homeless people in a shelter in Glasgow. Meanwhile, in a small West Yorkshire town plans were being finalised for the inaugural festival. I doubt any of us could have seen the course of events that have taken place since – a meandering journey that has ultimately led me to take the helm of what has become one of the leading new music festivals in Europe. The festival draws in international musicians and brings many of the great modern composers – including Stockhausen, Cage, Boulez and Messiaen – to Huddersfield.

The world is a much-changed place since that first edition took place. Tastes change, records are re-evaluated and developments such as digital technology have altered the way we get our cultural fix.

In recent years, the festival has expanded its brief to include an ever-wider definition of new music and the related arts, from notated music to electro-acoustic music, improvisation, noise and multimedia sound art.

We’re delighted to be continuing on this path with a programme that looks back across the history of HCMF but also, vitally, demands we look to the future.

We are presenting the 32 world premieres, nine of which are commissioned or co-commissioned by HCMF, alongside 105 UK premieres. Setting the scene, the opening weekend sees the world premiere of a major work by James Dillon given by leading Scottish ensemble Red Note, the UK premiere of a suite of new pieces by Brian Ferneyhough, performed by the Arditti Quartet and Germany’s Ensemble Modern, and a new work by pianist and composer Rolf Hind.

In its 50th year, the London Sinfonietta brings together commissions by Xenakis, Birtwistle and Colin Matthews with the UK premiere of a new work by Mexican composer Hilda Paredes, featuring Irvine Arditti as soloist. We also celebrate 60 years of the influential Polish Radio Experimental Studio (PRES) with an exhibition and a series of events in association with the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, including an HCMF debut for the Polish Radio Choir featuring a world premiere by Dai Fujikura.

An international programme includes a focus on works by two remarkable American figures – the late Pauline Oliveros and Toronto-based composer Linda Catlin Smith – plus ensembles, soloists and composers from Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Russia, the USA and Mexico.

Emerging composers are at the heart of the closing weekend, with world premieres from five young British composers – Laura Bowler, Laura Cannell, Kit Downes, Lauren Sarah Hayes and Laurence Osborn. Elsewhere, Zeitkratzer, Ensemble 2e2m, Kobe Van Cauwenberghe, Nikel and Alexander Schubert revisit classic rock scores by Lou Reed, Kraftwerk and Brian Eno and explore club culture. There’s a Huddersfield debut for experimental American folk artist Sam Amidon.

We’ll welcome back regular attendees, widen our reach across the airwaves through recorded concerts in partnership with BBC Radio 3 and welcome new audiences – offering a chance to dip into events through our annual free Monday. The 40th edition of HCMF shares the same beating heart as its first did back in 1978. Times may have changed but that core remains constant.

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