Adámek Karakuri (2011)
De Saram Music for Kandyan Drum, String Sextet and Percussion (2022) (BCMG Sound Investment commission: World premiere)
Adámek Whence Comes the Voice? (2022) (BCMG Sound Investment commission: World premiere)
Kamrul The Story of Maya (2021-2)
Shigeko Hata, Neel Kamrul (voices), Rohan de Saram (Kandyan drum), Suren de Saram (drums), Birmingham Contemporary Music Group / Ondřej Adámek
CBSO Centre, Birmingham, Sunday 4 September 2022
by Richard Whitehouse
An early start for the new season of the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group saw a varied programme culturally and stylistically, most of it directed by Ondřej Adámek and featuring Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan musicians for what resulted in a thought-provoking dialogue.
The decade or more since he wrote Karakuri has seen Adámek emerge at the forefront of European new music, and with this piece an engaging statement of intent. It channels the mechanized Japanese puppetry of that name towards music-theatre in which the figurine is envisaged then gradually brought to life and fine-tuned; subsequently to wreak havoc on its own terms. Shigeto Hata conveyed this whole process with unnerving precision, while the intricately detailed instrumental component was ably rendered by the members of BCMG.
Although he remains best known as one of the most wide-ranging cellists of his generation, Rohan de Saram has long been an exponent of the Kandyan drum from his native Sri Lanka. His new commission is precisely what the title says – an abstract though evocative piece in which the drum is partnered by percussion and string sextet for a series of interactions that, while it promised more than it delivered, held the attention on its own terms. With de Saram providing the steady rhythmic undertow, Suren de Saram contributed an enticing overlay of percussion with the BCMG players adding a harmonic backdrop that changed incrementally according to the prevailing rhythmic intensity. There was likely a concept here that could be further developed and refined, but what was heard this afternoon did not lack for potential.
Following the interval – Adámek’s Whence Comes the Voice? brought European and Indian, composed and traditional music into deft juxtaposition. Taking its inspiration from Qawwali singing, and using a scale derived from the Raga Todi, the piece unfolded via tempos which rose progressively across its 20-minute course. Formally self-contained and even inscrutable, it took on a whole range of expressive nuance through its vocal contributions – Neel Kamrul an appealing presence through his eloquent and mellifluous cantilena; Shigeko Hata adding a rhythmic but no less lyrical element that, between them, made more of this fusion than might otherwise have been possible. A ‘dialogue’ that says much for those improvisation sessions held prior to the Covid pandemic, and from out of which Adámek derived the present work.
A degree of perspective was then afforded when Neel Kamrul took the stage for The Story of Maya, unfolding a perspective on the musical landscape of Bangladesh enhanced by wooden flutes and ankle percussion (with subtle piano and percussive contribution from Adámek and Julian Warburton), before accompanying himself on a Bangla banjo towards the culmination of his narrative. As an understated yet affecting conclusion to the afternoon’s music-making, this could not have been more appropriate: Kamrul holding the stage with due effortlessness. Special thanks, too, to those who provided the range of Bangladeshi samosas and deserts that were gratefully consumed during the interval and after the concert. Whether or not these had any bearing on the music that was heard, they were an added attraction to this event overall.