“Matthew Kaner is by no means the first composer to wrestle with representing the mystical in music. In his new work for baritone, chorus and orchestra he captures it uncommonly effectively. Pearl is a half-hour journey through grief, setting words by the poet laureate Simon Armitage, who worked with Kaner on a 2018 retelling of Hansel & Gretel. This time the words are from Armitage’s 2016 translation of a 14th-century work thought to be by the writer who brought us Gawain. A Jeweller mourning his “Pearl”, presumably his daughter, dreams that he sees her in paradise. He can’t reach her, but what she says to him is enough that when he wakes his anguish has turned into acceptance.
It begins with music that repeatedly slips through your fingers – distant-sounding muted brass, fiddle-like solo-violin figures that cascade downwards before coming to rest. The first words of the Jeweller are coloured by reinforcement from the choir that vanishes almost as soon as you notice it. It’s quiet, gently glittering stuff, and slow-moving in the expository section, then growing more agitated as the dream-vision begins.
Then come the words spoken by Pearl – and, as sung by the BBC Symphony Chorus, these were spine-tingling. The passage started with slender, innocent lines for the sopranos, then grew to encompass the whole ensemble, overlapping and jostling together as if that one speaking girl had become multitudes. Meanwhile, the orchestra fizzed with static, as though the collision of worlds were sparking electricity. The climb-down to the postlude and brief final Amen could have been anticlimactic, but the tireless performance of Roderick Williams as the Jeweller, supremely communicative as ever, kept the intensity sustained.”
“Kaner’s setting is essentially an extended arioso lamentation by the jeweller, expertly sung by Roderick Williams, with some telling contributions by the chorus. The female choristers “speak” as Pearl in the afterlife, a beautiful moment. The score often shimmered, high strings and tuned percussion representing both the jewels Pearl wears and her iridescent white gown, as well as the dazzling vision of paradise. Kaner’s orchestral imagination and poetic word-setting made his 30-minute piece a fascinating response to this transcendental text.”
For Five Highland Scenes
“The latter duo also premiered Matthew Kaner’s Five Highland Scenes, charmed vignettes embracing sparing impressionism and rhapsodic incantations from which emerge crisper textures and ultimately a soulfulness underpinning lyrical echoes of Vaughan Williams with spiritual harmonies of Messiaen.”
Ken Walton, The Scotsman, 5 July 2021
“At the heart of the programme was a very substantial sonata for violin and piano by young English composer Matthew Kaner. Highland Scenes is a big piece, nearly 20 minutes in length, with an equal share of the spoils to both players in terms of dynamics and range. It was also a world premiere, and proof, if any was needed, that East Neuk Festival is still operating at the cutting edge.”
(5*) Keith Bruce, The Herald, 4 July 2021
On Hansel and Gretel
“Not a sugary dream, but a nightmare in eight scenes: make no bones about poet Simon Armitage’s contemporary retelling of the tale most familiar in the Brothers Grimm version. Hansel and Gretel’s plight becomes that of child refugees, whose parents’ agonising decision is to abandon their offspring to give them their only chance of surviving war. Armitage took his cue from the darkly imaginative illustrations by artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins, who has now translated those original visions into a puppet show with new music by Matthew Kaner. In this premiere performance at the Cheltenham festival, staged by Goldfield Productions, what appeared at first to be a slight, small-scale affair in the end resonated altogether more deeply.
“Kaner’s quintet of players – strings, wind and toy pianos – were arranged on either side of a screen whose animated shadow play featured first the parents and then the ravenous craw of the archaeopteryx-like witch. On the central trestle table were Hansel and Gretel, wooden puppets barely a foot high that were manipulated by Diana Ford and Lizzie Wort. It was the intimacy of tiny gestures offering expressive detail, in turn mirroring Kaner’s musical mood, that spoke volumes. Armitage’s words are the constantly shining white pebbles guiding the piece; his final verbal riff on light and dark will be even better savoured on the published page. Narrator Adey Grummet – twice bursting into sung lines – emphasised the mix of humour and satire with the moments of dystopian horror, making this an all too timely reminder of some children’s living, waking, starving nightmare.”
Rian Evans, The Guardian, 10 July 2018
Evocative and haunting story-telling by @GFEnsemble in a dark reimagining of #HanselandGretel; hypnotic words from Simon Armitage clothed in deft, transparent score by @mattkaner that conjures everything from nursery-rhymes to sugar-rush and birdsong #newmusic pic.twitter.com/JQspWT70dp
— Dan Harding (@modernmusicdan) October 21, 2018
Just been to see @mattkaner ‘s Hansel and Gretel with words by Simon Armitage and glorious puppet staging. Well worth seeing and hearing – a Nightmare in Eight Acts but thoroughly pleasurable to experience – be drawn into music and storytelling.— Alan Davey (@armslengthal) October 12, 2018
Brilliant evening @UoYConcerts watching @GFEnsemble play ‘Hansel and Gretel’ music by @mattkaner and poetry by Simon Armitage – dark, beautiful and disturbing, those sad puppets will stay with me!— Charlotte Taylor (@charliektaylor) October 3, 2018
“There, bang in the middle of what by common consent turned out to be the best Europe Day Concert to date, was the world premiere of a piece which went as deep and as high as anything on the programme: Stranded by Matthew Kaner, in which the solo violinist finally breaks away from the combative orchestra and walks offstage, still playing… I was taken aback by the ravishing beauty of the sound (Matt’s orchestration is a wonder) and the impact of the playing.”
David Nice, I’ll Think of Something Later, 16 May 2017
On Embedded Composer in 3 Residency
“Radio 3’s reach for the most recent quarter was 2.12m – the station’s highest for this quarter in six years. The station also saw its highest reach for Breakfast in this period since 2011: 647,000 listeners, and an increase of 20% year on year. This increase can be attributed to Matthew Kaner’s 70-day residency, during which he created contemporary classical works each week.”
Katy Wright, Classical Music Magazine, 10 February 2017
“Over on Radio 3, Matthew Kaner has had no time to be bored since he took up his post as resident composer in September. Every week since then, Kaner has had to come up with a new work to be premièred on the Monday edition of Breakfast and then repeated through the week.
Over the past few weeks we have heard his pieces for solo clarinet, four baroque violins, the BBC Singers, viola and bass baritone (setting words by Kafka). Yet to come is a magical piece for piano trio, inspired by the Korean composer Unsuk Chin.”
Kate Chisholm, The Spectator, 26 November 2016
“Matthew Kaner is one of a handful of young British composers who have passed through that country’s long list of development opportunities and begun to forge a distinctive musical voice. Like many composers of his generation you can hear idiomatic instrumental writing and finely wrought textures, perhaps inherited from composers like his teacher Julian Anderson. As well as influences from his home country it’s possible to detect influences from further afield; recent pieces cite the influence of the Danish composer Hans Abrahamsen and Frenchman Henri Dutilleux. But there’s also something personal in Kaner’s music – occasionally you can hear a darker, wilder energy which seems to be entirely personal.”
William Cole, HK Interlude, 31 October, 2016
“a forlornly exquisite solo piece… It strikes me that although he smiles and laughs freely, this baleful and languid piece sounds like something written by someone almost with a premature insight into death.”
Antonia Quirke, The New Statesman, 10 November 2016
For Dance Suite
“The two dances as yet making up Matthew Kaner’s Dance Suite are, in his words, ‘very contrasting’, a Mazurka and a Sarabande. I say ‘as yet’, because Kaner plans to add other movements in the future, including ‘a more whimsical and playful Gigue’. Bell effects in the high treble are a remarkable feature of the Mazurka. Rhythmic inflections clearly have some roots in Chopin – how could they not? – but there are hints of other Eastern European composers too, as well as Debussy, without ever quite sounding ‘like’ them. There is – and in Uttley’s performance was – a keen sense of fantasy true both to instrument and genre. The Sarabande is slow, yet moves. Harmonies always intrigued: sometimes familiar, sometimes not. I shall be very keen to hear more! Kaner’s claim of having ‘tried to allow myself to embrace the works from the canon that I feel drawn to, rather than attempting to completely reinvent the medium’ seemed to me spot on.”
Mark Berry, Boulezian, 13 May 2015
“Bookended by works by Bach and Beethoven, the middle part of the concert featured the world premiere of two movements of Matthew Kaner’s ‘Dance Suite’, which Richard commissioned from the composer. The first movement, Mazurka, drew many influences from the traditional Polish dance in its rustic rhythms but also from one of the greatest exponents of the form, Chopin, in its melodic fragments. There were references to Szymanowski too in the more reflective, haunting melodies. The second movement, Sarabande, was a more meditative and lyrical, redolent of the sombre elegance of Bach’s sarabandes which are found in his French and English Suites. Uttley is a keen champion of contemporary music and he seemed completely at home in this repertoire. In the lively ‘Mazurka’ he brought crisp articulation and robust rhythmic vitality, while the ‘Sarabande’ was graceful and sensitively shaped…
As if often the way when contemporary music is programmed alongside more well-known works, the new revealed striking similarities in the Bach, Beethoven and contemporary works, while the old gave the listener a useful jumping off point into the new. I very much look forward to hearing further movements from Matthew Kaner.”
Frances Wilson, The Cross-Eyed Pianist, May 8 2015
For The Calligrapher’s Manuscript
“A new piece, then, from Matthew Kaner that arrived fully-fledged and rejoiced in the fulfillment of beautiful sonorities and a relish of embellishment that aimed to seduce as surely as did Uchida’s Mozart…
The Calligrapher’s Manuscript made music of penmanship and progressed from a first half alive with virtuosic flourishes etched out in piccolo, E-flat clarinet, and steely tuned percussion to an “illuminated” second half comprising myriad siren songs as if the folksy melismas of Canteloube’s Chants d’Auvergne had been reborn in the 21st century. Kaner’s piece exhibited real orchestral craftsmanship and has tweaked my interest in hearing more of what he has to offer.
In between, we heard the premiere of Matthew Kaner’s The Calligrapher’s Manuscript…
Taking its inspiration from the work of the 17th-century Bavarian master calligrapher Johann Hering, the new piece – scored for large forces and lasting just over 10 minutes – opens with an outburst of tinkling high up in the orchestra and chattering winds, everyone in a state of flux and tracing ornamental lines. Kaner’s handling of the orchestra is accomplished from the start, and as the work progresses he stamps an imaginative mark, too: the second half develops quite sensuously as long and sinuous lines emerge from underneath the filigree.
John Allison, Daily Telegraph, 20 Sep 2013
The LSO’s Panufnik Scheme has already commissioned some plums (happily recorded, too, link below) and now has another one in Matthew Kaner’s 12-minute The Calligrapher’s Manuscript inspired by the 17th-century Bavarian, Johann Hering, whose work is personal and experimental. Kaner (born 1986) opens his impressive opus, scored for a standard large orchestra including harp, piano and celesta, in tintinnabulating and shrieking style, suggesting (to this listener) the mysteries of the universe, from piccolo skirls to the deep foundation of a contrabassoon, trumpets sounding a call to attention. The music increases in energy (tom-toms fuelling further incident) until the work’s second half arrives (without interruption) with nocturnal string-writing and delicious woodwind arabesques, Pibroch-like, for something expressive and touching, delicate percussion colours of bells, marimba and glockenspiel adding a further layer of atmosphere. If the LSO plans a second Panufnik Legacies CD (please!), then The Calligrapher’s Manuscript, which is exhilarating and haunting, should certainly be included. This striking piece received an excellent first performance.
Colin Anderson, The Classical Source, 20 Sep 2013
Uchida then joined the audience to listen to the world premiere of The Calligrapher’s Manuscript by Matthew Kaner. Its confident opening immediately grabbed the attention, allowing a strong cinematic quality to emerge. Although this was not merely soundtrack music, it was easy to imagine powerful events unfolding to the accompaniment of Kaner’s large orchestra.
Nick Kimberley, Evening Standard, 20 Sep 2013
Matthew Kaner’s The Calligrapher’s Manuscript, the last and perhaps most imaginative work on the album.
Patrick Castillo, Q2 Music Album of the Week, 28 March 2016