Contemporaries: Roger Redgate
The first piece of Roger’s that I heard was the gripping oboe solo Ausgangspunkte, written for his brother Chris. Although composed twenty years ago, it has all the hallmarks of his mature style, and still sounds as striking today, featured in the recent Bmic Cutting Edge series. It is a classic of the ‘new complexity’ genre that Redgate helped to forge, along with such composers as Michael Finnissy and Richard Barrett, his co-director of the groundbreaking Ensemble Exposé. Like the music of Brian Ferneyhough, with whom he studied in Germany, the piece makes huge demands on the skill and endurance of the performer, but the element of sheer display is tempered by a strong sense of direction and control – and even, paradoxically, of restraint. It opens up a line in his career towards such exhilarating solos as +R for clarinet, written ten years later.
En route came Pas au-delà for piano which, despite its undoubted rigour of construction and its purely modernist aesthetic, has something of the natural, exuberant virtuosity of the best improvisation (reflecting perhaps his interest in the music of Anthony Braxton and Ornette Coleman) – even unleashing the unashamed ‘big climax’ of register and dynamics that such music often seems to call for.
Incorporating this flowing, intense and personal language into ensemble music seems to have taken a little longer. Although his String Quartet No 1 (1983) has a subtle and elusive quality that is characteristic of him, the initial impression is of a very Webern-like use of the angular yet lyrical phrases, carefully spaced and with persistent fluctuations of tempo. Only towards the end, a long accelerando leads to a climax which looks and sounds more like Ferneyhough, the piece’s dedicatee; there then follows an even longer slowing and disintegration into complex, sparse and novel string textures that are completely his own. The journey of the piece seems to parallel the distillation of a new, refined personal language from more generalised historical antecedents.
Vers-Glas for 14 amplified voices (1990) seems more assured, consisting of very beautiful, hovering harmonies that alternately coalesce and disperse in an almost exhaustive array of vocal sounds, sometimes gelling into a unity of line, only to burst away in fragmented groupings. It is music that is meditative in the true sense: never sloppily dreamy, but intense, taut and rich in detail.
Pierrot on the Stage of Desire (1998) for chamber ensemble has a dramatic energy that shows another side of the composer. The instruments speak as individual, often conflicting characters in a Commedia dell’Arte play – the almost diabolical perversity of spirit seems to pay tribute to Pierrot Lunaire by way of Le Marteau. It has the intricate energy of a long piece condensed down in some alchemical reduction in which the elements dance and spin together.
Roger Redgate’s music may be highly refined and ‘musicianly’, but it is far from abstract or detached, engaging as it does with the art, writing and philosophy of today and the recent past in a manner more commonly associated with composers in continental Europe. His range extends to music for film and television, collaborations with experimental rock and performance art, and he is in demand as a conductor as well as teaching composition and writing about music. Although not yet exactly high profile or at least highly fashionable in Britain, his pieces are already quietly establishing themselves internationally as a group of works that repay many hearings. When the dust settles, it is composers such as this who will emerge as having something lasting to say.
Ross Lorraine 2000
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