Not all festivals involve tents, mud, and year spent saving to afford the tickets. How do you fancy a weekend pushing musical boundaries with some of the finest emerging composers and music creators, all at one city-centre venue, and all without having to spend a single penny?
It may sound too good to be true, but on 5 - 7 July the critically acclaimed New Music Biennial returns to Southbank Centre to make it a reality. Presented in association with the PRS for Music, and offering a unique snapshot of contemporary music in the UK, the festival showcases 20 pieces of new music across a spectrum including classical, world music, jazz, folk, electronic, even ice-cream vans.
Here’s your guide to what’s happening across Southbank Centre, during three thronging days of fantastic music. And yes, every single performance listed below is free to attend.
Two compelling sound installations take residency at Southbank Centre during New Music Biennial. In Royal Festival Hall’s Exhibition Space, Iraqi multi-instrumentalist and composer, Khyam Allami, creates an immersive oud-based sound installation using the Arabic maqam tonal system. (Requiem for the 21st Century, daily, 10am - 10pm).
And on Saturday and Sunday Dan Jones floods our outdoor spaces with the nostalgic sound of ice-cream vans creating different clustered sounds and a shared soundscape for unsuspecting audiences (Music for Seven Ice Cream Vans, 12 noon - 6pm).
Beyond his installation, Kyam Allami also gets New Music Biennial’s performance programme underway with his new solo work for electroacoustic oud (Kawalees: Part I, Queen Elizabeth Hall Foyer, 1pm - 2pm). And a few hours later there’s the chance to adventure into the world of avant-garde electronic duo Numb Mob (Friday Tonic, Queen Elizabeth Hall Foyer, 5.15pm - 6.15pm).
Into the evening, Claire M Singer, a performer whose debut albums was dubbed ‘genuinely magical’ by The Quietus, performs a new composition for organ (gleann ciùin, Queen Elizabeth Hall, 6.30pm - 7.30pm). Singer is followed by a new drama with dance from South London musician Klein in which boys encounter ballet for the first time (Osanle, Purcell Room, 8pm - 9pm).
Forest Swords and Immix Ensemble are next to perform, with a new commission that investigates what music will become in our rapidly changing cities? (Trespassing, Queen Elizabeth Hall, 9pm - 10pm). Before Forest Swords wrap up the opening day of the festival with a free summertime club night of genre-bending electronic sounds (Shimmering Forms, Queen Elizabeth Hall Foyer, 10pm - midnight).
On Saturday the festival begins with the trio of folk fiddle player Aidan O’Rourke, jazz composer and pianist Kit Downes, and author James Robertson performing a collaborative piece which weaves together the words of the latter with music (365, Purcell Room, 12noon - 1pm). Turntable artist Shiva Feshareki is next to perform as she samples an orchestra live in a work she describes as a ‘sonic sculpture between electronic and acoustic sound’ (Dialogue, Queen Elizabeth Hall, 1.30pm - 2.30pm).
Arun Ghosh takes things outside, as the clarinetist and composer’s site-specific piece invites you to hear the sound of new music from across the river (AMBHAS, Riverside Terrace, 2.30pm - 3.30pm). Then it’s back inside for a melding of genres as two innovative musicians – Gazelle Twin and Max de Wardener – perform with the BBC Concert Orchestra (Gazelle Twin and Max de Wardener, Queen Elizabeth Hall, 3.30pm - 4.30pm). Completing the afternoon’s performances is Edmund Finnis’ piece for string ensemble which brings the composer’s exquisite sonic language together with exciting young ensemble Manchester Collective (The Centre is Everywhere, Purcell Room, 4.30pm - 5.30pm).
On Saturday evening envelop yourself in jazz inspired by the ideas of poet Langston Hughes, presented by pianist and composer Sarah Tandy (The Dream Without a Name, Queen Elizabeth Hall Foyer, 7pm – 8pm). And then uncover the mysterious and oddly beautiful side of Hull in an audiovisual piece by the avant-garde electronic duo, Numb Mob (Where to Build in Stone, Queen Elizabeth Hall, 8pm - 9pm).
Welsh-language band 9Bach, and drummer Andy Gangadeen, present an atmospheric piece exploring miscommunication, voiced in English by actress Maxine Peake (Yn dy Lais – In Your Voice, Queen Elizabeth Hall, 9pm - 10pm). And closing out the second day we’ve a special set from Sarah Tandy, one of the most in-demand pianists from the new UK jazz generation (Sarah Tandy, Queen Elizabeth Hall Foyer, 10pm - 10.45pm).
Sunday begins with Psappha performing a work by David Fennesy in which the cimbalom governs the string ensemble and each beat triggers a ripple (Panopticon, Purcell Room, 11am - 12noon). There’s the chance to see Northern Ireland’s capital afresh through music, installation and spoken text courtesy of the Belfast Ensemble and founder-composer Conor Mitchell (Lunaria, Queen Elizabeth Hall, 12 noon - 1pm). And you also have the opportunity to peer into radical Jewish culture through a British lens in Sam Eastwood’s new commission for big band, performed by the Spike Orchestra (Brit-Ish, Purcell Room, 1.30pm - 2.30pm).
Composer Rolf Hind takes over the Queen Elizabeth Hall, almost literally, with his work for Javanese gamelan percussion orchestra, two prepared pianos and solo percussion, which evokes the hike to an eponymous Bhutan monastery on a cliff (Tiger’s Nest, Queen Elizabeth Hall, 3.30pm - 4.30pm). And that’s followed by a new piece about humanity, connectivity and female power for the National Youth Choir by the BAFTA-winning composer, Jessica Curry (She Who, Queen Elizabeth Hall Foyer, 4.30pm - 5.30pm).
On into the final evening and a performance from kora virtuoso Sona Jobarteh who has written music at the meeting point of the Western and African classical traditions, unfolding the ancient stories of Manding history (Innovation Through Preservation, Purcell Room, 6.30pm - 7.30pm). And concluding three days of innovative new music Chineke! Orchestra presents a significant new work for their jazz-inspired programme for voice and orchestra by Roderick Williams, who also performs as a soloist (Three Songs from Ethiopia Boy, Queen Elizabeth Hall, 7.30pm - 8.30pm).
As well as the free live music performances, the New Music Biennial festival programme also includes a number of free talks, discussions and workshops covering everything from commissioning new music to the art of theatre composition.