The Guardian, UK
"Perhaps the most accomplished opera in the series to date....Fitkin's sophisticated minimalist score evolves organically, never relaxing its hold on the audience's attention. ”
The Telegraph, UK
"Not only innovative and accomplised, but enjoyable too .... Fitkin's melismatic music and Jasmin Vardimon's choreography both gather intensity relentlessly and the performers are admirably assured.” Rupert Christiansen
The Stage, UK
"Fitkin manages to work a sense of form and development into his typically punchy score - his amplified band, sneeringly noir at the climax, is pungently shot through with trumpet, soprano saxophones and hectically strumming guitar and harp .”
Classical Source, UK
"Deftly conceived piece on the supposed certainty and real fragility of bricks and mortar, our shelter from the marauding world outside. Fitkin's music builds to an impressive barrage of menace (with some wild writing for trumpet and saxophones, the video animation delivered superbly malignant shadows emanating from the fireplace, with the room becoming smothered in brambles and creepers, and the detailed choreography caught every nuance of ever more defensive gestures of possession. Home is effective and ferocious.”
22 Oct 2010
Graham Fitkin has an endearing habit of announcing a piece of music’s duration along with its title. In cases like the two minute-long soprano saxophone elegy Jim & Pam & Pam & Jim, this can seem like a kindly dentist reassuring a patient that the treatment won’t hurt a bit while the introduction of Bait, at ten minutes a comparative marathon, suggested a pilot warning of imminent but not flight-long turbulence.
Neither pain nor mid-air collywobbles resulted, though. Fitkin’s music, especially for the nine-piece ensemble he presented here, is habitually gripping, often building simple motifs and call and response lines into a robust, exacting musical mechanism. These interlocking parts follow in the minimalist tradition of Terry Riley and in their development can call to mind prog rock groups such as Egg and King Crimson.
Fitkin, however, has his own signature sound, helped by his use of instruments including bass clarinet, the bray harp, with its sitar-like buzz, and the berimbau, the one-string musical bow that its greatest exponent, Brazilian sorcerer Nana Vasconcelos always refers to as his Steinway. Fitkin’s idea of a Steinway is more conventional and his romping keyboard boogaloo drove the opening piece, Totti, with magnificent momentum, introducing staccato brass and lever harp lines that converged with tuned percussion, bass and guitar to mesmerising effect.
If Danse Real and Estampe combined haunting horn chorales with bray harp to create a decidedly medieval courtly elegance, the urgent Vamp brought us right back up to date on a wave of what appeared to be percussion instruments purloined from the kitchen and made the promised five minutes seem like no time at all.
The Lemon Tree, Aberdeen
21 October 2010
Graham Fitkin always manages to maintain his own distinctive style of composing even when he embraces an amazingly eclectic range of influences. Jazz, Latin American, early music, classical piano and electro-acoustics all had their part to play in Fitkin’s dazzling cavalcade of musical thrills in the Lemon Tree on Thursday. His all-star Ensemble thrilled the audience with a performance that brought wonderful new sounds to more traditional forms. In the opening piece Totti, (not Tutti but rather a tribute to the Italian football star Francesco Totti) big band jazz textures were given an unusual spicing with the strings of Ruth Wall’s harp for instance. Tuned percussion extended the sound palette still more enticingly.
In Bait, Latin American rhythms and repetitions were given a special electric charge by the exotic sounds of the Brazilian semi-percussion instrument the berimbau. This is the first time I have heard this instrument played. When I worked in a music shop some years ago we took delivery of one of these instruments in a job lot of percussion and it nearly got thrown out with the rubbish because it looked just like the branch of a tree with a bit of fence wire attached! On Thursday however, Joby Burgess really showed us how to make it sing.
Fifty was a piano solo played by Fitkin himself. Its charm, delightful quirky turns and slightly wistful qualities recalled something of Eric Satie. Danse Real on the other hand had its roots back in medieval times. The buzzing tones of the bray harp played by the wonderful Ruth Wall backed a sinuous interplay of saxophones – just one example of how Graham Fitkin is able to derive a performance that encapsulates the spirit of medieval music using some unlikely instrumentation. Here is a composer who understands the essence of sound itself regardless of its provenances. This was especially true of the piece which employed electro-acoustics to broaden the musical palette just before the piece entitled Mistaken Identity where the wind players got their chance to show what they could really do.
There was another marvellous example of electro-acoustic magic in the second half with Ruth Wall creating a whole landscape of sound with her harp. And what a second half it was too with another nod in the direction of early music in Estampie or Vamp which fairly jangled along with its rip-roaring sense of good humour. The piece that really blew me away however was South. For me this was the best piece of locomotive music ever written. It sped me along on the most thrilling train ride of a lifetime.
Last year at the opening concert of the Sound Festival given by Piano Circus they played a piece by Graham Fitkin the pounding rhythms of which nearly had one young lad in the audience take off for the ceiling of the Beach Ballroom. Well, with South, the roof of the Lemon Tree was definitely in danger too.
QEH, Southbank, London
24 March 2011
Seen and Heard - Music Web International
When Graham Fitkin unveiled his new band - I had the pleasure to review its third performance at King's Place, a little over a year ago - it was obvious that here he had a slick ensemble ready, willing and very able to do his every bidding and bring his brilliant and colourful music vividly to life. Tonight we heard a band which has grown and matured through the experience of performance - and it was cooking!
Totti is always welcome as the opening item for it is irresistibly rhythmic and bright. The title refers to the Italian footballer, Francesco Totti, by the way. Bait was new to me and it seems to have brought a new aggression to Fitkin's music which brought to mind, in feel only, not sound, Don Ellis's Electric Bath and his music for William Friedkin's The French Connection. This was a powerful and forceful performance of music of a similar nature. It found a perfect foil in the archaisms of Danse Real and the simply perfect, and hypnotic sound world of Powder Trap, a beautiful realization by Andrew Gorman for the harp of Ruth Wall and seven harpists from Trinity Laban. After South and the excellent funkiness of Mistaken Identity, Torn Edge again brought a more angular and uncompromising music, more fully developed than much of Fitkin's music. This was music which promised much and that opened the door to what was to come.
That Fitkin's music just gets better and better, whilst expanding and growing, was obvious from the two new works which ended the show. Scored for his band with a chorus and orchestra (saxophones, brass and strings) of students, 3n + 1 was positively symphonic in its outlook; it has a broad sweep, is built in bold strokes and has all the contrast necessary to make such a structure work successfully - although I doubt that Fitkin has pretensions to large scale symphonic thought this music bodes well for his creating bigger concert pieces. Hotpo was the lighter, and more approachable, younger brother which made a super close to a show which was a fine showcase for Fitkin's music.
Daily Telegraph (Ivan Hewett)
"Fitkin's way of keeping us in suspense can yield pathos as well as wit. At the beginning Yo-Yo Ma sustained just one note for what seemed an eternity, while giant string chords wheeled around him. Then little by little, the cello found its voice and its energy, an awakening which Yo-Yo Ma projected brilliantly. Line turned into leaping dance, with the orchestra under David Robertson's agile direction in hot pursuit."
Musical America (Keith Clarke)
"It is Fitkin's great achievement here to write predominantly slow, quiet music that is far from static, his sure sense of shape and feel for orchestral color providing a first-class addition to the repertoire for cello and orchestra. The piece is much more conversational than many concertos, the orchestra not so much accompanying or providing a backdrop but constantly engaging in a musical discourse. It is immensely subtle, unshowy and was perfectly judged in this first performance."
Bachtrack (Nahoko Gotoh)
"It is always exciting to witness the birth of a new piece of composition, all the more so when the soloist is the inimitable Yo-Yo Ma. Graham Fitkin’s new Cello Concerto, a BBC commission, was perfectly tailored for this amazing cellist: Fitkin explained prior to the concert how he collaborated closely with Ma and how sometimes the cellist would make creative suggestions which would be reflected in the work. The resulting work, as Fitkin himself admits, is darker and bleaker than his usual works, and less rhythm-driven in order to highlight the lyrical qualities of Yo-Yo Ma’s playing.
In one continuous movement, the concerto begins atmospherically with a long sustained B-flat note on the cello, seeming to suggest a lone character keeping a distance from the world around him. The orchestra makes their statement, but it is clearly at odds with the cello and this emotional discord runs throughout the concerto. At times the cello and the orchestra move closer, but they come to a head in the middle section and ultimately the work concludes as it began on a sustained cello note. There were some interesting orchestral sonorities from muted trumpets, harps and vibraphones. I could sense that Fitkin was being very cautious – perhaps too cautious – about his orchestral writing not overwhelming the soloist, and overall it was successful although it will perhaps work better performed in a less grand space. Yo-Yo Ma performed with total commitment and his trademark finesse and the orchestra, under the astute conducting of David Robertson, responded with fine playing all around."
Classical Source (Richard Whitehouse)
"While not a newcomer to the Proms, Graham Fitkin has not been represented by anything so substantial as the Cello Concerto written for Yo-Yo Ma – its 30-minute span pitting its soloist against sizable but, for the most part, sparingly used forces. The austere opening bars build tension gradually, arriving at a rocking motion which admits of greater emotion en route to the initial climax whose impetus holds good through an intensification of this section – culminating in a climax of rhythmic unisons hammered out by the orchestra against the imploring soloist. From here, tension subsides to a recall of the rocking motion, now suffused with greater melodic directness as the music returns to its introspective origins and a sense of finality not so much tragic as fatalistic in import. All very coherent and considered in its drawing on aspects of the post-minimalist idiom associated with Fitkin, while opening-out its expressive range with discreetly applied rhetoric. By turns thoughtful and incisive, Ma was in his element throughout and this is one new concerto he should certainly consider adding to his repertoire."
Evening Standard (Barry Millington)
"Writing a concerto for Yo-Yo Ma is not to be undertaken lightly. Commissioned by the BBC to provide a work for the American cellist, Graham Fitkin sized up his soloist's salient qualities: a rich tonal palette and the ability to spin long, high-lying lines.
The result was a single-movement concerto that eschews the traditional antithesis of soloist and orchestra, and the displays of virtuosity that go with it. It's also a far cry from the kind of driving, slightly jazzy but often alienating style with which he made his name. This was a more reflective Fitkin, relishing the subtle tonal gradations that an accomplished player such as Ma could achieve, drawing sparingly on minimalist gestures to build tension between extended passages of rapt meditation. Ma proved an ideally sentient soloist, intimating a readiness to sustain his final soaring line to infinity."
Accidental Notes (Alexandra Coghlan)
"The slow development of the opening of Graham Fitkin’s Cello Concerto is oddly expressive in its simplicity, the long sustained notes of the cello supported by the close harmony of the orchestra, creating a very bleak sound. As we progress through, there are bursts of fraught emotional tension from both the orchestra and the cello, a struggle in which neither seems to win, and ultimately the cello seems resolute to return to its sorrowful opening lines.
Fitkin has clearly understood his intended soloist well, playing to Yo Yo Ma’s ease in manipulating the tone that a single note of the cello can produce. Ma is hypnotic to watch, the passion and attention given to the long sustained notes of the opening is the same as that given to the more frenzied, and makes for a very affecting performance."
The Arts Desk (Alexandra Coghlan)
"Fitkin’s work develops like a series of textural variations, showcasing Ma’s range of tone colours and testing their relationship with different orchestral shades. The long, held notes that dominate the opening solo line are marked “warm”, “colder”, undermining the supremacy of pitch and placing the focus instead on quality of sound. It’s an approach that demands a different listening process. The unfolding cantilena of the solo line stresses the melodic, the horizontal, but against the stillness of the cello it is the vertical harmonic arrival points, the junctions at which glassy cello harmonics encounter high wind cluster chords that draw the ear, forcing it to reinterpret the unchanging solo cello as contexts shift around it."
Yet among all this minimalist restraint and abstraction, some hints of Fitkin’s humour and humanity still remain. The first theme in the cello is bittersweet and folky, unmistakably English in character, while the central plucked section is a syncopated rhythmic scrum of a scherzo – a fight Ma gamely flung himself into, the filmy gestures of the opening long forgotten. If this sweet-tempered musical meditation is an anti-concerto, then its rebellion approaches with a smile and a minimalist hint of a wink."
The Independent (Michael Church)
"It began with a long low breath from both orchestra and soloist, followed by an even lower one, and then another, as though we were riding on a gentle groundswell. Over a sustained note on the cello the strings then quietly descanted, and the piece began to open up: with extreme economy, but also expressively, suggestive of a slowly-turning sculpture, it was clear this work had integrity."
Classic CD, UK
"Fitkin's majesterial debut simply has no equal."
"Flak is bursting with great ideas, enthralling moments and imagination. Fitkin is unafraid both of basslines that could come straight from Holland-Dozier-Holland and the pentatonic energy of modern jazzmen like Corea."
"It’s engaging, memorable and unpretentious music."
Classic CD, UK
"A fresh faced composer on a fresh new label is something to welcome. When Tony Wilson declared some years ago that new classical music was to be the future direction of the pop-orientated Factory Communications many were indeed shocked. Amidst a swathe of releases, featuring early music, Satie and sluggish choral works, Fitkin’s majesterial debut simply has no equal."
"Vox’s record rating system demands that ten out of ten be considered perfect. Well, nothing is ever perfect (except sex-sometimes) so this gets nine - and some. Graham Fitkin has to be one of the most promising composers I have heard to date. His collection on this disc is entirely for piano, sometimes four pianos are used and the resulting eight hands provide a wonderful tapestry of colourful rhythms. Fitkin scores in a highly skilful manner, occasionally adopting classical themes yet retaining a highly modern overall feel to the music. It is exciting music too, quickly attracting one’s attention and managing to hold it throughout. There are some quite outstanding solo pieces played by Fitkin himself with immense attention to detail and time domain.
I refuse to predict anything that I may have cause to regret but I will simply suggest that if Graham Fitkin continues to develop his composing for the piano in the direction indicated by his recording then watch out for him. On this showing at least, he is obviously beguiling as both a pianist and composer. As for the disc - almost perfect."
"Probably the best of the recent batch of Factory Classical releases, Fitkin’s album shows a composer unafraid of the here and now, filling his work with an urgency and colour usually found in the best rock music. Born in Cornwall in 1963, Fitkin is a pianist/composer whose interest,like jazz great Keith Jarrett’s lies in abstraction - but although Fitkin’s music sounds improvised it is composed. The pieces require many pianos or even many players at a single keyboard. And cracking tracks they are too, mingling Steve Reich with Scott Joplin and fresh as spring heather. Slow pieces for solo piano, like The Cone Gatherers, recall the Indian tonations of La Monte Young’s work but Fitkin’s sense of drama never lets anything become mere ambience. This debut immediately establishes him as a visionary like Jarrett and possibly England’s first great modern pianist. Impressive."
The Independent On Sunday, UK
"Some of the most memorable, mesmerising and addictive new music to emerge in 1990."
BBC Music Magazine, UK
"Immaculate. As close as a disc can get to being an out and out collaboration. The harp lends itself extraordinarily well to this kind of music, providing a scintillating contrast to the electronica.”
The Guardian, UK
"The cinematic Warm Area and Powder Trap are like virtuosic mini-concertos”
Resident Music, UK
"This astonishing album should appeal to fans of Philip Glass and Steve Reich, as much as Goldfrapp or Zero 7.”
"The combination works lyrical wonders. It’s a music of reverie, one that moves like vapour, thickening and clearing, never staying still or returning to the same place twice”
"Still Warm is an album of consistent beauty"
Il Giornale Della Musica, Italia
"..e uno dei compositori Inglesi piu interessanti della nuova generazione."
Classic CD, UK on FLAK
“Fitkin’s majesterial debut simply has no equal"
De Volkskrant. Nederland on LOG
"The real discovery of this year’s festival."
Daily Telegraph, UK on HENRY
"strong rhythmic shapes, sharp melodic profiles, lush orchestral overtones and rich harmonic underpinning.”
The Independent, UK on AGNOSTIC
“one of the most important pieces of the age, achingly romantic, British pastoral updated to an edgy, utterly contemporary, urban landscape"
The Guardian, UK on LOUD
"a delight that defied all fashionable labels and simply conjured its own whirlygig of ideas with such spontaneity and control.”
BBC Music Magazine, UK on STILL WARM
American Record Guide, USA on CIRCUIT
"fascinating piano music"
Gramophone, UK on SLOW
"When one considers those British composers with a national, and often international, reputation who are waiting for the chance to get their music recorded on disc, one sometimes wonders how the record companies decide their patronage."
The Guardian, UK on STILL WARM
"the cinematic Warm Area and Powder Trap are like virtuosic mini-concertos”
The Seattle Times, USA on Aract
" surging, syncopated score by composer Graham Fitkin."
The Independent, UK on Granite
"Granite is a tour de force."
Daily Telegraph, UK on Henry
"A homage to Purcell, maintains a familiar directional dynamicism but moves more slowly, using strong rhythmic shapes, sharp melodic profiles, lush orchestral overtones and rich harmonic underpinning. There is no sense of compromise here."
The Washington Herald, USA on Fervent
"the suspenseful, Hitchcockian score by Graham Fitkin"
The Independent, UK on Agnostic
"Nothing could have prepared you for the world premiere of Graham Fitkin’s clarinet concerto AGNOSTIC. Though Fitkin has been producing really interesting and engaging work for some time now this was, by any standards, a quantum leap forward. Opening with a long, Mahler-like breath of strings, the soloist David Campbell - who played superbly - was forced through a deeply moving progression of increasingly querulous and turned-in-on-themselves harmonic loops, while the strings set a sinister background of brutally stark Psycho-like stabs. The resolution was almost achingly romantic, British pastoral updated to an edgy, utterly contemporary, urban landscape.
Though to say so sounds suspiciously like over-kill, this may tirn out to be one of the most important pieces of the age, and it demands to be heard again soon."
Ritmo, Espana on Huoah
"musica para accompanar una escena de Burger King.”
The Times, UK on Mindset (for ballet As One)
"a ballet blessed with a wondrous new score by Graham Fitkin"
Financial Times, UK on Mindset (for ballet As One)
"a vivid score from Fitkin inviting movement"
The Spectator, UK on Mindset (for ballet As One)
"Fitkin's superbly provocative score"
The Independent, UK on Mindset (for ballet As One)
"bright energetic and spiky"
Ballet Magazine, UK on Mindset (for ballet As One)
"set to an irresistable Graham Fitkin score"
The Observer, UK on Mindset (for ballet As One)
"confidently broad-scale, Fitkin's music is adult and challenging"
Seattle Post, USA on FERVENT
"a superb ballet score. It has ripeness and rigor,structure and a seeming lack of it."
Washington Herald, USA on ARACT
“driven by the suspenseful Hitchockian score"
Ritmo, Espana on HUOAH
"musica para accompanar una escena de Burger King."