On 29 April Birmingham Contemporary Music Group performed two works by Lisa Illean at the CBSO Centre. Kazuki Yamada, the CBSO’s new chief conductor, directed the ensemble in Illean’s Januaries for 12 players. BCMG Next performed Illean’s février, a 2019 trio for clarinet, cello, and piano.
The 11-minute piece was premiered by members of the Philharmonia Orchestra and Patrick Bailey in 2017. Januaries is especially shaped by Illean’s recollections of the Australian landscape as a child, especially her holidays in Queensland with her grandmother, its dedicatee. Illean recalls a quotation from Simon Leys, the Belgian-Australian writer, essayist and literary critic, translator, and art historian:
Australian scenery is of inexpressible beauty, it is true, but it is also utterly inconspicuous and non-spectacular—and impossible to capture with a camera: this worn-down immensity, with its half-erased profiles constitutes a magic space entirely devoid of focal point; like ghosts, mirages, and supernatural visions, it escapes the photographer, it does not leave any impression on film.
février is a “a winter piece, introspective”. Illean tried to remove obvious signs of musical expression when composing the 13-minute work, pinpointing the characteristics of the sounds themselves. As with her 2022 chamber work ever-weaver for cello and piano, Illean calls on subtle and unusual tunings in the piece from both clarinet and cello: “to my imagination these are like cracks of muted light between the suspended piano chords.” février was premiered by Trio Catch at Festival Présences; it has also received performances from Explore Ensemble, who gave the UK premiere of the work, and Meitar Ensemble, who gave the Israeli premiere of the work in 2021.
These concerts continued Illean’s association with BCMG, who performed her Cantor for voice and ensemble in Birmingham and at Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie, in 2019. The group were also involved in the creation of the pre-recorded elements in A through-grown earth, Illean’s 2018 work for Juliet Fraser.