NEW MUSIC: Anthony Pither – Concentus

5 February 2005   Anthony Pither – Concentus (2005)

Concentus was written at the request of Helix to mark the friendship and mutual support between the Ensemble and the University of Leicester.  Their concerts have been held in Leicester each year – all but one at the Fraser Noble Hall – since the Helix Ensemble was formed in 1992.

The composer writes: ‘as the harmonious title implies, this ten-minute work, although serious, has an air of optimism.  Being specially composed for the occasion, I took the opportunity of involving all the players: their instruments range from flutes to double bass while taking in a tuba and, as part of a one-woman percussion section, xylophone, triangle and a single drum (timpanum).’

Concentus has as a subtitle – ‘Concerto’, though the listener will only be aware of intermittent solo flourishes. Indeed, it is even more difficult than usual to predict what the effect of the work will be since, at the time of writing, the notes remain on the page and have not reached the reality of the ensemble sound.  What I can share is the plan and my intentions.  But as with most extended pieces, from time to time in the act of creating, the music itself took hold and ‘guided’ the hand of the composer – and the best-laid plans changed.

First, the slow introduction – stabbing primary chords and, rising from the tuba’s notes, a dotted rhythm that will become the prominent triplet dance pattern in the main fast sections.  As an intermittent contrast, there is an easily recognisable chorale-style sequence of chords that, for all its simplicity, I could not use or get out my head in a recent composition.  These elements are revisited with ever-changing orchestration.

Probably, the most immediate aspects of the piece are its ever-shifting bar lengths and its strongly tonal framework: opening in E minor, the work appears to be concluding happily in C major, when a quiet E minor chord is left suspended.  But there is no conscious programme, no story being retold.’

ANTHONY PITHER has had a long association with Helix.  Over ten years, the ensemble has enjoyed his support in the roles of concert promoter, player and composer.

Since February 1995, when Anthony first invited Helix to Leicester to give a concert in the Fraser Noble Building, the ensemble has made annual visits under the auspices of the University of Leicester concert season.  The players have always enjoyed a warm welcome from Anthony and his colleagues, as well as playing in the fine acoustics of the venue that are ideally suited to the size and repertoire of the ensemble.

The Helix Ensemble’s concert at the Fraser Noble on 20 March 1999 was a very special occasion, as it included the first performance of a new work that Anthony had composed for Helix the previous summer: Pater Noster.

Anthony wrote,

“This work has two starting points, both called Pater Noster.  One is Stravinsky’s short choral prayer; the other, the continuous moving boxes that provide an alternative to the lift, and which take me to the dizzy heights of the eighteenth floor of the Attenborough Building – the home of Leicester University Music Department.  The wooden boxes…assist one in reaching the state of nirvana.  As one slowly ascends, the views of Leicester subtly change.  I did not set out to create an image of heaven, though one hopes that the experience is therapeutic.”

Anthony undoubtedly enjoyed his work at the University!  Certainly the Helix players benefited with a fine and elegant work written especially for them.

Anthony’s interest in composition also lent Helix tremendous support for its most ambitious project to date: Composers of the 21st Century.  With funding from the Millennium Festival Awards for All scheme, Helix worked with a number of Leicestershire sixth formers and their music teachers, with input from the acclaimed composer Michael Finnissy.   The outcome was a performance, again in the Fraser Noble Building, that included works by several local young composers interspersed with works written at the turn of the previous three centuries.  A wonderful event and a unique creative opportunity for young composers.

One of the most memorable concerts in Helix’s twelve-year history was a performance in Leicester’s New Walk Museum & Art Gallery as part of Holocaust Memorial Day January 2002.  Invited by the Council of Faiths to participate, Helix performed a haunting programme of works by Jewish composers.  The culmination of the concert was Anthony’s simple and beautiful arrangement, of Schumann’s Traumerei, the work that was often played by the camp orchestras in the Jewish ghetto of Terezin, and Auschwitz, as a symbol of hope for the future.

In recent years, Anthony has joined Helix on several occasions as a continuo player, most notably In Bach’s third Brandenburg Concerto at the 10th Anniversary Concert in Loughborough on 15 June 2002.  He has also been known to undertake the occasional glockenspiel part.

The history and success of Helix has been intertwined with Anthony’s involvement and support over the years. Tonight, we are delighted to acknowledge this by performing a third premiere of his music.  We wish him a happy retirement and hope that his association with Helix will continue in the future.

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