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Roxanna Panufnik’s prom night

Roxanna Panufnik’s prom night – the best new music

Plus, songs from the Seven Sisters Road and other musical notes

Plus, songs from the Seven Sisters Road and other musical notes

December/January 2018

As 50th birthday presents go, it’s hard to beat a commission for the last night of the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Watched by millions around the world, classical music’s legendary knees-up is a high-profile showcase. And though the pressure on her is intense, Roxanna Panufnik, the composer (above), says the hardest thing was keeping the commission a secret: “I knew for a year. It was agony not being able to tell anyone!”

It’s a birthday bonus that is richly deserved. Panufnik, whose father was a leading Polish composer, is one of Britain’s most prolific and popular contemporary-music writers. Her oeuvre includes opera, ballet, musicals, choral and chamber compositions as well as film soundtracks. In this milestone year she is busier than ever. A new album, “Celestial Bird”, descends in September; in November she will unveil a mass celebrating 100 years since Poland regained independence. Each will showcase her ability to weave powerful emotion through simple, elegant harmonies.

Panufnik marks another centenary in her Proms commission: the 1918 armistice at the end of the first world war. This plays to her talent for writing for big forces (in this case, double choir and symphony orchestra). Songs of Darkness, Dreams of Light incorporates words from two poems. They are Isaac Rosenberg’s “In The Underworld” (1913) – “very dark but very beautiful,” Panufnik says – and Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet” (1923). The piece is the ideal canvas for Panufnik’s trademark fascination with the way different faiths and cultures use music. “I have ended up using influences from all three Abrahamic faiths: beautiful Jewish prayer, Maronite Syriac chant and zikr (“the remembrance of God”) from Sufi Islam. It starts quite dark and anxious, but looks optimistically to the future. It ends, quite literally, on a high note.” ~ CLEMENCY BURTON-HILL
Last Night of the Proms Royal Albert Hall, London, September 8th
 

A perfect blending
Get past the throwaway joke of their name, and you’ll find that The Internet (above) has honed one of the most singular styles in R&B, at once earthy and ethereal, swampy and spacey. The Los Angeles-based American group was formed by two members of Odd Future, an offbeat rap collective, as a side project. But Hive Mind, their fourth LP, sheds that provisional identity without losing any playfulness. Their songs reveal themselves slowly. Dense clouds of vocal harmonies float over fuzzy bass and warm, chorus-laden guitar lines. Sounds from the 1970s – a Fender Rhodes electric piano, flashes of brass – mesh with taut, skittering drum patterns. Syd Bennett and Steve Lacy, who split singing duties, share an understated intimacy that is perfectly suited to their lyrics, which seldom leave the bedroom (or its digital equivalent, the WhatsApp conversation). The combined effect is woozy and sun-stoned, like a cassette tape left too long on the dashboard. Or maybe it’s as Lacy has described it in his curveball way: “Plaid is my genre,” he says. “A lot going on, but it doesn’t clash at all...it all goes together to be one pattern.” ~ DAN PIEPENBRING
Hive Mind out now

Streets ahead
You can scour the world and still discover that the thing you are looking for is right under your nose. So it is with Seven Sisters, a record title that indicates both the number of musicians involved – though most are men – and the name of the area that spawned it. In the side-streets off the Seven Sisters Road in north-east London, behind the roar of the traffic, communities from all round the Mediterranean make different kinds of music.

The Don Kipper ensemble was born when violinist Andrew Gorman and clarinettist Daniel Gouly – both klezmer fanatics – met at a jam session at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies and decided to form a band. Some of the musicians are conservatoire-trained, others play by ear or learned their songs from Greek grandmothers. Lead singer Dunja Botic hails from Athens but has mastered many southern-European styles. Percussionist Timmy Doyle, who plays everything from the Egyptian darabuka drum to the humble spoons, and accordionist Josh Middleton, whose musical collaborations span the globe, are comparable multi-taskers. But there’s nothing factitious about this musical fusion. As the focus moves from country to country, the mood shifts from melancholy to wild exuberance. A truly lovely hour. ~ MICHAEL CHURCH
Seven Sisters out now