On 3 May the Orchestre national d'Auvergne conducted by Jean Déroyer give the French premiere of Oliver Leith’s Honey Siren at the Festival Musiques Démesurées.

Leith writes that Honey Siren should be “dripping, hazy, globular, oozing”. The 17-minute piece, cast in three movements, expresses Leith’s fascination with unconventional tunings and evocative sonorities. Its bending, veering pitches, Leith says, “are not notes ‘in-between’ but the same pitches with a curved/sharper edge, like sniffing vinegar or a cannonball on a tight trampoline.”

The work imagines the wailing sirens that pass into and out of earshot in the urban landscape; Leith transforms their see-sawing into melodic figures and textures that are by turns joyful and disconcerting. Twisting pitch and harmony through a carefully calibrated microtonal blur, it is music both entrancing and enticing as well as sticky and claustrophobic.

As with many of Leith’s works, it explores the boundary of quotidian non-musical and musical sound. Honey Siren contains many of the hallmarks of Leith’s writing for strings, which would appear again in his chamber opera Last Days (2022) and will o wisp, co-commissioned by Manchester Collective and the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra in 2022. It has been recorded by 12 Ensemble, who premiered it in 2019; in August 2023 its middle movement ‘Full like drips’ received its Japanese premiere from Musike at the BUoY Arts Center, Tokyo.

On 7 September at Bold Tendencies in London the Philharmonia Orchestra will also perform Honey Siren as part of an orchestral portrait concert conducted by Naomi Woo. The programme, curated by Leith, also features Pearly, goldy, woody, bloody, or, Abundance and Cartoon Sun, his latest large-scale work that premiered in April 2024 with Thomas Adès and the Hallé. This summer, on 28 June, 12 Ensemble are joined by Sean Shibe and GBSR Duo for the premiere of Doom and the Dooms for guitar and strings at Wigmore Hall – the same day sees the release of the world premiere recording of Leith’s chamber opera Last Days on Platoon, performed by the same forces.