New Music Biennial 2017 – Gavin Bryars’ ‘Winestead’

Commissioned and produced by Opera North in association with Hull City of Culture 2017, Gavin Bryars’ intensely contemplative Winestead, is a twenty-minute work setting two poems by 17th century poet Andrew Marvell to music for electric guitar, viola, cello, tenor and harmonium.

There is a beautiful fragility to Bryars’ writing, a sound that draws the listener closer and closer in. It’s effect is beguiling. Sometimes it shows us something painful dark, at other times joyous.

John Potter’s solid tenor line binds restless ostinatos in the strings and guitar, creating an ethereal effect. The harmonium resides underneath, quiet sustained chords contributing an air of humility to proceedings.

I found this a deeply moving piece. Incredibly personal, but not aloof. I adored the obvious fascination Bryars has combining a small number of instruments with the tenor voice.

Potter’s voice often blended with the ensemble, making his words and voice sometimes indecipherable, melding music and words into one emotional state.

Similarly, the range of sounds produced by James Woodrow on electric guitar were fascinating – the opening ostinato in ‘Damon the Mower’, and the glass-like sounds in ‘The Mower to the Glow Worm’.

The tension sustained throughout the first poem was replaced with a sense of elegance in the second. Equilibrium restored. Stillness.

The New Music Biennial 2017, supported by PRS Foundation, runs until Sunday 9 July. All events are free, some require tickets from the box office.

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