In celebration of John Woolrich’s 70th birthday in 2024, Folkestone New Music will be focusing on the composer as part of Here is My Country: John Woolrich in Context at The Green Room at the Grand from 19-21 July. Key Woolrich collaborators will be joining the composer, who is Artistic Director of Folkestone New Music, to showcase his chamber and ensemble works alongside other music he loves.

The focus begins on 19 July with a piano recital from Huw Watkins, in which he performs Woolrich’s elusive and quicksilver Pianobooks IX and X¸ alongside Oliver Knussen’s Ophelia’s Last Dance. Watkins has been performing Woolrich’s works since the 1980s, performing the premieres of A Presence of Departed Acts, The Street of Crocodiles, and Stendhal’s Observation; in June he performed The Turkish Mouse with Nicholas Daniel in Harrogate and Ulverston.

On 20 July Chamber Domaine showcase five of Woolrich’s works for chamber ensemble. Sestina (1997) for piano quartet is cast in six main sections, behind each of which hovers songs by Debussy, Schubert and Beethoven, a piano piece by Schumann, Stravinsky, and a fragment of a Monteverdi madrigal. Adagissimo (1997), also for piano quartet, is made from numerous tiny inventions. The piece opens with slow, spare gestures; a series of sharply intercut images follow: spindly, toyshop mechanisms, wild folk dances flowering for seconds before being snuffed out. It concludes with a slow, bleached canon.

They also perform A Dramolet (2008) for clarinet, piano, and cello, whose title is taken from Robert Walser, whose dense and microscopic text Woolrich admires as complex and allusive montages. The 5-minute work pivots between piano chorales, lyrical outbursts, and lively hockets.

 In the Mirrors of Asleep (2007) for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and piano, borrows its title from an Anne Stevenson poem: “I suppose it is where we see the faces of the people we have lost”, Woolrich notes. The 8-minute piece “is broken music of whispers, ticking clocks, brooding chords and silences.” A Presence of Departed Acts also takes its title from poetry, this time Emily Dickinson, and which is also concerned with forms of remembrance; eleven clamorous piano chords at the outset are fragmented and elaborated in a constantly-evolving structure, whose mood veers from assertiveness to withdrawn fragility.

They will also perform Tansy Davies’ grind show (unplugged) – a 6-minute work for five players inspired by Goya’s A Pilgrimage to St Isidro – Thomas Adès’ Court Studies from ‘The Tempest’, a 8-minute portrait of six members of the Court of Naples from his 2004 opera for violin, cello, clarinet and piano, and Knussen’s …upon one note, a free realisation of a viol piece by Purcell for the same forces.

On the morning of 21 July, sopranos Sarah Dacey and Sarah Parkin explore Woolrich’s extensive song output with pianist Gamal Khanis, alongside works by Cage and Tansy Davies’ setting of John Clare Destroying Beauty. These include the 8-minute cycle of poems by Alain Fournier, Gerard de Nerval, Adolf Wolfli, Robert Walser and Emily Dickinson Good Morning – Midnight, The Unlit Suburbs – a brittle, jerky set of three songs setting Matthew Sweeney – as well as A Singing Sky, a 8-minute continuously unfolding sequence of various fragments.

The focus concludes with performances of Ending Up and The Voices of Dust, by the Salomé Quartet. The former is a single slow movement of 10 minutes duration, in which the open bars are subjected to meticulous, patient and translucent development, save for a brief, gruff interjections from the lower strings; as the title implies, it glides aloft for its vertiginous conclusion; a film response to the piece was created in 2022 by Chelsey Browne. Michel Faber described The Voices of Dust, lasting six minutes, as “a vintage string piece -- by Purcell, perhaps, or Brahms -- which has collapsed and died of old age. Then, in the 21st century, by some stroke of sorcery, the constituent sounds of the piece wake up from their slumber of death.”

In 2021 the quartet premiered A Door just opened on a street at the Gulbenkian Arts Centre at the University of Kent. There are several films of the quartets that make up A Book of Inventions, including A still tragic dancerecorded at Chatham Dockyards and Villanesca, captured at St Eanswythe's Church in Folkestone.