From playlists to virtual drop-in sessions to "Isolation Broadcasts," it was perhaps inevitable that a group that thinks as creatively as the Manchester Collecive would make a virtue out of a crisis. On Friday, September 11, they returned to perform Leeds Town Hall to perform for the first time since March in a magnificently constructed programme of Bach, Ed Finnis (Brother and Sister) and Nicola Matteis Jr. (Alia Fantasia). Meanwhile, on September 4, they released their first EP, Recreation, a melding of music by Bach, Ligeti, Vivaldi and Paul Clark, on the Icelandic record label and collective Bedroom Community, via Bandcamp (link at the end of this article). The music goes on.
Founded in 2016 by Rakhi Singh and Adam Szabo, the Manchester Collective has taken the idea of genres, played with them, juxtaposed them, shredded them. If ever there was a group that thinks outside of the box, this is it. They prefer to play wherever possible "in the round," with the audience around them for a truly immersive experience.
Before we get to that EP, let's take advantage of the internet to hear some of the programme at Leeds. The Town Hall concert closed with the Aria and five selected variations from Bach's Goldberg Variations in the arrangement for String Trio (voilin, viola and cello) by Dmitri Sitkovetsky. Thanks to the magic of YouTube, we can hear the entire piece in a performance with just one change of personnel: while violinist Rakhi Singh and viola player Ruth Gibson remain constant, the cellist in Leeds (Nicholas Trygstad) is replaced in the video by Bartholomew LaFollete. In the video, from Liverpool's Invisible Wind Factory, you can see the closeness of the audience as well as the Collective's preferred lighting strategy:
For the Recreation EP, the recording feels up close and personal, an impression emphasised if one listens through headphones, an extension of that audience immersion idea. The idea of juxtposing one of the best-known pieces of all time (Vivaldi's Four Seasons) with a clear twentieth century masterpiece (the Ligeti) and music by a living composer, Paul Clark, enables us to hear each piece differently, reflected in the light of the others. We begin with the Collective's very indivdual take on Bach's chorale, BWV 300, "Du grosser Schmerzensmann," an otherwordly chorus blending with Paul Clark's Vignette and the first movement of a Vivaldi Violin Concerto (RV 297, "L'Inverno": Winter). It's the kind of heady maelstrom that takes a certain sort of genius to create convincingly; the Manchester Collective effectively takes us by the hand on a walk through territory that is at once familiar and yet strangely recontextualised. The discombobulation is infinitely refreshing - it causes the listener to think, to re-evaluate; and that's what intelligent listening is all about. In conversation the morning after the Leeds concert, Rakhi Singh told me that "so much of music is linked, its a reminder that we're all human, we all share so much suff and we can find the connections between us. If you can find it in the music, you can find it in the people".
... and so the experience continues. Looked at from one angle, Recreation is a terrific musico-intellectual exercise; from another, it's a fun romp through musical history. Both takes are valid. In "First Day of Summer," it is the first movement of Vivaldi's "Summer" Concerto (L'estate) that dominates, while the finale of that Concerto provides the material for the final movement, "Last Day of Summer". In between are the buzzing, otherworldly sounds of Ligeti's mesmeric String Quartet No. 1, "Métamorphoses Nocturnes" (the chordal moments sounding oddly like the Bach Chorale we heard), two excerpts themselves connected via an elusive, beautiful bridging passage by Paul Clark.
Should you purchase the disc - and I strongly encourage you to - it might be useful to refer back to some of the source material. So here is the first movement of Vivaldi's "Winter" played by someone we have met before on Classical Explorer, Elisa Citterio, here with Ensemble Brizia Musicalis:
... and here is the Ligeti First String Quartet played by another youthful group, the Belcea Quartet:
The return of the Vivaldi "Summer" for the final part of the EP results in immersive invogoration in a whirlwind of Vivaldi, giving a beautiful sense of, at once, completion and renewal.
The Vivaldi/Ligeti juxtposition came about through Singh playing Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" with the Camerata in the Town Hall and a train of thought that, when listening to the Ligeti, she heard some Vivaldi in it. "Maybe I should start to mix these two up ..." and a process of experimentation led to the story that this particular journey takes us on (the EP is actually a shortened version of the live performances the group has given). "The first time you present it to an audience, you think, what have I done, what will they think ..." .and then the positive reactions come through.
The recording is priced at four Euros or more - you get to name your own price. Also below, the Spotify playlist created by the Manchester Collective of the pieces played in the Leeds concert.
There is yet another aspect to the recording, a limited edition "Recreation Art Print" by the artist Helenskià Collett created via risograph. Again, it celebrates the justaposition of old and new, "a sort of de- and re-constructed Partheno;, something old and ruinous has been made into something new, the black square on the left a sort of portal," as Rakhi says. You can see it - and buy it - here.
Collaborations seem to explode outwards from the core of the Manchester Collective. The producer and electronic artist "Vessel" (Seb Gainsborough) collaborated with the Collective early in their history as part of their 2018 programme, 100 Demons; Rakhi and Vessel are now launching a new label, "Paplu". So maybe it's not just that the music goes on, but rather that it flourishes ...
Photo of Rakhi Singh and Adam Szabo credit Robin Clewley.
Bandcamp link for purchase of Recreation, with streaming : https://manchestercollective.bandcamp.com/releases