Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival

Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (HCMF) is the UK's largest international festival of new and experimental music. The festival attracts leading composers and performers from around the world for 10 days of events, concerts, talks and film, with an aim to introduce new audiences to the world of cutting edge experimental music. In addition to this, the Learning and Participation Programme plays a vital role in forging and developing relationships with a wide variety of local communities and seeks to break down barriers and perceptions surrounding new music.

The British Council works in partnership with the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival to host international delegations to UK showcases. These visits enable overseas festival directors, promoters, producers and programmers to make connections with and meet their UK counterparts, see a wide range of innovative UK work, and provide the opportunity for networking.

We supported David Chisholm, the founder and director of Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music, to attend the Festival in November 2015.

David tells us about his experience at HCMF below. 

Q1. Where did your interest in experimental music begin?

I studied Music composition at University, so since 17 my formation as a practitioner exposed me to and encouraged my interest in all things new. 

Q2. Who are your favourite artists?

Such a tough question: I’m listening to a lot of Fado at present for a project I am doing in India in 2017, and within that genre Misia is incredible. I’m also listening to a lot of recordings by Maria João Pires, amongst which Mozart features highly. And at the same time listening to lots of French composer Clara Maida and Italian composer Lara Morciano, Polish composer Zbigniew Karkowski and I’m exploring the work of young British composer Tansy Davies: these latter two are actually discoveries for me from Huddersfield.

Q3. Tell us about some of the connections that you made and the people you met during your time in the UK?

I was delighted to meet so many colleagues I knew of but had never actually met including composers Mauricio Pauly and Pedro Alvarez. It was also terrific to meet Liam Flenady and Hannah Reardon-Smith - ironically both Australians, currently based in Bruxelles, who I had not yet met in person.  Having time to really hang out with the amazing Liza Lim was very special to connect with the amazing creative producer Beate Schuler, Michael Ellison Co-director Hezarfen Ensemble and Stanisław Suchora from Sonora Music was beyond professional; it was really the development of some friendships and shared collegiate interests.

It was also a delight to reconnect with Susanna Eastburn from Sound and Music, whom I had the pleasure of spending time with in Rotterdam and Paris earlier in the year and to meet British Council’s Cathy Graham – some super dynamic and passionate people. Even though he was completely busy the whole time running the event, Graham McKenzie is a remarkable host and you always felt looked after by the Huddersfield team. 

Q4. Can you tell us some highlights about your time at hcmf//?

The Melodic Version (1984) of The Second Dream of The High-Tension Line Stepdown Transformer from The Four Dreams of China (1962) by La Monte Young was mesmerizing, although as an audience member I committed a faux-pas (I wasn’t the only one fortunately). I deliberately don’t read programme notes before a concert because I honestly prefer to experience the music with a sense of its immediacy, rather than to pre-frame my response. At what was clearly the close of an amazing 70 minutes, a few of us began to applaud, only to be shut down. Turns out there is a tradition of not applauding at the end. Oops. It’s very 60’s. A woman behind me in very cross tongue told me “Oh shut up!” I simply replied saying “It’s a ritual: I’ll do what I want”. It seemed counter-intuitive to me in a contemporary music festival – it felt like reverence was being given to an outmoded conceit of the composer. I thought the musicians were amazing. I wanted to respond. So I did.  I hate obedient audiences and I hate snobs. Anyways, the piece was amazing, and yes, my bad: I applauded….shame!

Another highlight was Alex Gabry’s and Daniel Buess’ Karkowski/Xenakis recital: extraordinary, also very edgy and completely ritualistic.  Ensemble Interface played exceptionally well – although some of their programme choice was not always on point.  But I’m being very hardline about this – the playing standard across the festival was very high but I’m personally a little over the whole Wandelwesier thing. Thank God for the Poles who brought power and intensity.  It’s important to remember though this is precisely what a festival SHOULD provide and Huddersfield delivered big time. People were very, very engaged and discussions were always interesting. And not just music nerds either: I was struck by local engagement too – people from Yorkshire who have, perhaps because of the festival, a developed sense of the new and challenging. It’s a great mix of local audience, and national and international visitors. 

Q5. How has your experience in the UK shaped your understanding of this particular genre and what have you learned that you feel you can bring to Australia?

It has very much reaffirmed that BIFEM has a kindred soul to HCMF. And it exposed me to some composers I had not had the experience of in concert. I’ve learned too, that BIFEM is in fact doing pretty well, and above all else I bring back a renewed sense that although we are geographically so far from the UK and Europe, Australia’s colonial cultural ties are very deep in fact – and that many provocations around culture and place will inevitably emerge from the experience. Like every day I continue to work in this sector, I was incredibly grateful for the experience and of course the British Council Australia’s support in helping me get there.