Quizz: who’s a talended up-and-coming English composer starting with an A? Chances are, connoisseurs in contemporary music asked this question will answer: “Thomas Adès”. And sure Adès (born 1973) is much into the limelight. But it’s unfair to Richard Ayres, slightly his elder, and a very original composer worth following. Not that I mean to disparage Adès, I’ve enjoyed his music, but, as beautifully written as it i, it’s much “safer” and possibly even “academic” than Ayres’.
Although trained with Morton Feldman and Dutch minimalist Louis Andriessen, there’s nothing in his music that I’ve heard that recalls the minimalism of either. As the liner notes of one CD put it, “in the mid-1990s Ayres began what he described as a ‘gradual opening-up’ of his musical language. As he said at the time, ‘I want to use consonance, dissonance, melody, texture, elephants, clouds, snowballls, anything, from any time and whenever it is needed – bound only by the borders of my limited imagination’”. Ayres here is excessively modest: his imagination is large. Rowdy, evoking at times Ivesian cacophonies, demented circus music, his music is often dissonant and aggressive but always with a sense of glee and never Varesian grimness, sometimes consonant and beautiful, “modern” certainly but not in the uncompromising and forbidding manner of the serialists, modern in its willingness to embrace all and any kinds of musical languages, with no taboos. And is, in its very rowdiness, immensely fun, you can sense in Ayres the spirit of the kid banging on cans.
I’ve heard and reviewed:
NONcertos and others (No. 37b for Orchestra, No. 36 NONcerto for Horn, No. 31 NONcerto for Trumpet). Various, Roland Kluttig. NMC D162 (2010)
No. 31 1998, No. 8 Piano Solo 1991, No. 35 Overture 2000, No. 9 MacGowan 1991, No. 5 Untitled 1991, No. 24 NONcerto 1995. MusikFabrik, Roland Kluttig. Composer’s Voice Portrait CV 138 (2003)
No. 20: two short arrangements of tunes from my past, in “Working on Time” (with works of Geert van Keulen, Gilius van Bergeijk, Martijn Padding, Henk van der Meulen, Maarten Altena, Alison Isadora). Maarten Altena Ensemble. NM Classics 92063 (1996)
More info about Ayes and his works on the website of his publisher, Schott, including a .pdf document with a short curriculum and his catalog of works (the link will open it in a new tab).