Comprising Héloïse Werner (soprano), Oliver Pashley (clarinet), Marianne Schofield (double bass) and Anne Denholm (harp), and co-directed by Hanna Grzeskiewicz and Héloïse, The Hermes Experiment celebrates its fifth anniversary this month. The group met whilst at university and, united by a passion for contemporary music, set out to overcome the restrictions placed on them by their unique combination of instruments – primarily the issue of a total lack of repertoire. It was up to them to commission new works from contemporary composers; they have since built up a library of over 50 pieces in a variety of styles. ‘You have to think outside the box,’ says Schofield. ‘What works for the London Sinfonietta isn’t going to work for us. The composers we have commissioned have become more inventive because of the limitations set by the unusual nature of the ensemble.’

Their fifth birthday concert, held on 11 January at London’s Crypt on the Green, is an opportunity both to reflect on and to celebrate connections with composers. As well as some perennial favourites, pieces which ‘represent what we’ve been doing for the last five years’, the group will perform two world premieres. The first, gun gun gun by Erollyn Wallen, is set to a text by American poet Terese Svoboda. The second is a new work by Oliver Leith. The concert will be split into three sets, each separated by a DJ set by Nick Luscombe of BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction.

What’s in store for the next five years? They have a ‘wishlist’ of composers that they’d like to collaborate with (this is under wraps for the time being), and there’s a concert at Kings Place as part of Venus Unwrapped. They also have plans to make a recording, now that a substantial repertoire has been established, and are looking to continue their significant outreach work: as ensemble-in-residence in schools across Wales they work with students on their A-level and GCSE compositions, and lead composition workshops in schools and conservatoires around London. Remarkable in their ambition, dedication, and energy, the young ensemble are working hard to change the landscape and appreciation of contemporary music. As Werner concludes: ‘I think that if you’re really passionate and you want to make it work, it will work.’


Errollyn Wallen, gun gun gun; Oliver Leith, New work (The Hermes Experiment, Crypt on the Green, London, 7.30pm)


Ik zeg: NU translates from Dutch as ‘I say: NOW’. The title, Richard Causton explains, comes from a book of the same name by his relative Sal van Son, which tells the story of [van Son’s] Jewish family over several centuries and describes his time in hiding from the Nazis. Van Son’s young nephew, when asked how he understood history, replied: ‘I say now now, and a moment later it is already history.’ ‘That struck me as a wonderful metaphor for how we experience music,’ says Causton (pictured). ‘But actually, all of life is like that – nothing stays the same and we can never grasp the present, never hold on to it. It’s always slipping through our fingers.’

How are these ideas captured musically? There are two kinds of music throughout the piece, explains Causton. ‘On the one hand, extremely fast music played by a hyperactive, zany “menagerie” of instrumental trios (the phrase I had in mind when writing this was “joyfully wonky, anarchic”). On the other hand, there are extremely slow, repetitive patterns which shift almost imperceptibly over long stretches of time. This music is grave and implacable, often dominated by the relentless tolling of bells. It forces us into a very slow, almost hypnotic pace of listening. By contrast, the fast music is whimsical, light and graceful and, a bit like birdsong, it darts around too fast to grasp properly – this is also the ‘now’ that is constantly slipping through our fingers. And when these two musics collide, the ear is pulled in very different directions and the ‘now’ gets stretched.’

Causton intends the piece in part as a homage to Sal van Son’s experiences hiding from the Nazis – an important story to retell, he agrees, given the current political climate. ‘It’s no coincidence that this intolerance and populism is re-emerging precisely as the generation that experienced the wartime horrors of fascism is gradually dying out,’ he says. ‘And it’s no coincidence that someone like Lord Dubs, who is now speaking up so brilliantly for child refugees, was himself saved from the Nazis in the Kindertransport.

‘Reading Sal van Son’s account of his experiences, I was shocked by their immediacy: he describes how he felt at being on the other side of a thin partition with German soldiers banging on the wall and shouting, suspecting that there might be people hidden inside. We forget this recent history at our peril. Facing and remembering the unimaginable horror of fascism is absolutely vital if we are to have any hope of avoiding a new wave of racism and hate.’


Richard Causton Ik zeg: Nú (I say: Now) (BBC Symphony Orchestra, Sakari Oramo, conductor, Barbican, 7.30pm)


(c) Brad Kratchovil
(c) Brad Kratchovil

‘The one aspect I’m very sure of was the sensation of being on another planet,’ says Laura Bowler of her recent visit to Antarctica. ‘It seems so alien because of the uniqueness of the landscape and its distance from the populated world.’ It was a commission for Manchester Camerata that saw Bowler (pictured) making the journey to Antarctica with the aim of recording sounds and footage. The resulting work offers an immersive experience based around the soundscapes of the continent, while exploring society’s destructive relationship with the planet.

For such a seemingly empty continent, there was a lot to hear: Bowler describes ‘elephant seals roaring, penguin colonies chattering with seemingly never variety, Weddell seals offering up sweeping descending glissandi, many different bird species and their calls, humpback whales, Hourglass and Dusky dolphin calls.’ But the ice itself offered sounds of its own: ‘The ominous boom of ice collapsing and then splashing into the sea, brash ice crackling on the ocean surface and the popping of ice underneath the surface heard via a hydrophone and crunching of ice and snow underneath my boots on land. These are the sounds that truly captured the landscape of Antarctica for me.’

The sounds are being incorporated into the music both in their raw form and manipulated to create new textures. Bowler explains: ‘The brutality and fragility of some of the raw sounds provoke a listener to consider the nature of our impact on Antarctica’s climate as well as the rest of our planet, and this is something that I find particularly stimulating.’

As well as being a homage to the landscape, Antarctica is also inspired by Bowler’s composition teacher Peter Maxwell-Davies, who she describes as ‘generous, kind, provocative, fierce and full of vitality.’ She continues: ‘The violence and enhanced physicality in his approach to writing for the voice, and in turn the human body, is something I am still fascinated with as a composer and performer and is something that will be explored in my Antarctica work through both the instrumental and vocal writing to express the human race’s relationship to our environment. There may also be some sneaky references in there to Max’s own Antarctica Symphony.’

Bowler’s research into climate change (she read 30 books about the subject to understand different aspects of the discussion) has convinced her of the need to ‘challenge audiences to look outwards from themselves in order to question their responsibility.’ She explains: ‘Climate change is an extremely difficult area to communicate in this context – it’s a seemingly intangible and ethereal thing that is hard to grasp because of its overwhelming and vast nature, thus making it quite tricky for people to feel a personal attachment to the problem.’ But she has worked ensure that the work isn’t ‘pious’. She concludes: ‘I hope that I will find a way to communicate something that is challenging but not preaching.’


Laura Bowler Antarctica (Manchester Camerata, HOME, Manchester, 8pm)




Dai Fujikura harahara European prem (Nobuaki Fukukawa, French horn, Eriko Takezawa, piano, Wigmore Hall, 1pm)


Errollyn Wallen, gun gun gun; Oliver Leith New work (The Hermes Experiment, Crypt on the Green, London, 7.30pm)


David Fennessy New work; Simon Steen-Andersen Piano Concerto, UK prem (BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Thomas Dausgaard, conductor, Glasgow City Halls, 8pm)


Louis Andriesson Agamemnon Erkki-Sven Tüür Piccolo concerto ‘Solastalgia’ UK prems Arne Gieshoff Burr Helen Grime Percussion concerto Anders Hillborg Concerto for orchestra (London Philharmonic Orchestra

Benjamin Graves New work (The Hermes Experiment, Purcell Room, London)


James Dillon Tanz/haus London prem (London Sinfonietta, Queen Elizabeth Hall, 7.30pm)

Anahita Abbasi New work UK prem Sunleif Rasmussen Quadroforone (Mahan Esfahani, harpsichord,  Guildhall Electronic Musicians, Milton Court, Barbican, 7.30pm)

Laura Snowden New work (Matthew Wadsworth, lute, theorbo, Julia Doyle, soprano, Symphony Hall, Birmingham, 7.30pm)


Du Yun Where we lost our shadows (Aurora Orchestra, Nicholas Collon, conductor, Queen Elizabeth Hall, 4pm)

Dai Fujikura Concerto for flute and ensemble UK prem (Claire Chase, flute, Philharmonia Orchestra players, Dalia Stasevska, conductor, Purcell Room, Queen Elizabeth Hall, 6pm)

Geoffrey Gordon Prometheus: concerto for bass clarinet and orchestra London prem (Laurent Ben Slimane, bass clarinet, Philharmonia Orchestra, Martyn Brabbins, conductor, Royal Festival Hall, London, 3pm)


Richard Causton Ik zeg: Nú (I say: Now) (BBC Symphony Orchestra, Sakari Oramo, conductor, Barbican, 7.30pm)


Amelia Clarkson Beacon of Hope (Pro Youth Philharmonia, Blackheath Halls, London, 7.30pm)


Kenneth Hesketh Uncoiling the River (Clare Hammond, piano, BBC National Orchestra of  Wales, Martyn Brabbins, conductor, Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff, 7.30pm)

Alex Ho New piece (Tangram, LSO St Luke’s, 7.30pm)


Laura Bowler Antarctica (Manchester Camerata, HOME, Manchester, 8pm)