As a statement of continuing intent, it speaks volumes for Uproar – Wales’s new music ensemble launched in 2018 by conductor Michael Rafferty – that in the group’s current tour, he is taking them into repertory championed by elite groups such as France’s Ensemble Intercontemporain and USA’s International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE).
Chinese, New York-based Du Yun was a co-founder of ICE. Her musical imagination crisscrosses the boundaries of cultural expression, and Uproar’s performance of her piece Impeccable Quake, with its shades of jazz and the wah-wah of electric guitar, reflected well Du Yun’s irrepressible vibrancy.
Uproar’s current tour takes its title, Scenes from the Street, from the theme of Unsuk Chin’s Gougalon, prompted by memories of street theatre in her native South Korea. In the Dora Stoutzker Hall’s fine acoustic, Chin’s brilliant instrumental textures with the infinite variety of percussion instruments emerged with such clarity as to dazzle the ear. A special shout here for percussionists Julian Warburton and James Harrison, meticulous throughout, who got their limelight moment in Episode Between Bottles and Cans, their mallets hitting the colourful array of actual bottles and cans of varying pitches.
But a large part of Uproar’s raison d’être is commissioning work from composers who are Welsh or working in Wales. There were three such new pieces here, already premiered in Bangor’s New Music festival, and using roughly the same personnel as the Chin and Du Yun: 17 to 19 instruments. Joseph Davies’s Collider references both the Cern Hadron particle accelerator and the absence of the everyday collisions of busy people going about their lives. Strings lamented for the latter, but it was the motoric drive, with its striking bustle and rhythmic pulsing which carried the piece to its upbeat conclusion. Carlijn Metselaar’s Forest Bathing was a gentle foil to this, inspired by the Japanese practice of shinrin yoku, finding wellbeing by being among trees. Quietly unhurried and atmospheric, the piece’s use of low instruments – cello, bass clarinet, contrabassoon and double-bass – to carry the darkly meandering melodic lines added a strong feeling of groundedness.
Guto Pryderi Puw’s apparently lighthearted Popping Candy disguised a serious engagement with qualities of sound. Exploring the pops and fizz that ensue when the carbonated candy of the title (also known as Space Dust or Pop Rocks) collides with moisture in the mouth, the piece toyed enticingly with brittle cracks and skittering phrases. In its final phase, players used the sweet packets as micro maracas, then tossed the contents into their mouths to create almost imperceptible tiny explosions, while changing their pitches by moving and contorting their facial muscles. Wow!