Last night I made my way down to Camberwell to attend a concert as part of the St. Giles Concert Series. A functioning church across the way from the important South London Gallery, the church is another stop on the strip that works it way down to the increasingly celebrated Peckham Car Park, an unlikely but successful performance venue. With the recent launch of the Camberwell Composers' Collective - some of whose music was being performed - it's clear that the area has acquired its own artistic significance in London.
I had come to hear my friends and colleagues Juice, an all-female vocal trio who have been performing new and experimental music together for ten years. I'd heard the group in the past but only as part of larger events. This was also an opportunity to hear some of the music from their recent, well-received album Songspin.
There are plenty of benefits to any live performance that playing the album cannot give the listener. The group's in-built sense of theatre is foremost among them and this is how they started, with the ululations of Suzanne Rosenberg's Herding Call coming from the sanctuary and transepts of the church. A lot of Juice's material explores the hinterland beyond the identifiably sung; in the first of the music written by the performers themselves, Kerry Andrew's own Lunacy uses techniques suggested by the work of the great American vocal inconoclast Meredith Monk to extend Rosenberg's opening palette of sonorities. It also introduced the acoustic of the space (surprisingly clear and present, despite the background traffic noise) and Andrew's own effective, bassoon-timbred contralto sound, as physical a texture as it was audible.
More conventional music and singing came with Emerald and Saphire [sic], music by Piers Hellawell originally for the Hilliard Ensemble). The group work extremely hard to make their text communicable, paring the sung sound right down so that vowels are not distended in a trade off with projection or volume. This was most plain in one of the most successful sets of the evening, a quartet of love songs: Roxanna Panufnik's Faint Praise, a setting of a naughty Wendy Cope text (there is clearly a distinction between poems to be read alone and to be performed!) was followed by Anna Meredith's Heal You. A highlight of the evening, this laid back work with its well-judged glissandi took on the character of a central American slide guitar ballad. Dai Fujikura's Away We Play was certainly a contrast with neurotic, consonant led ensemble-stitching before the calm was revisited in Jim Moray's folksong setting.
Alongside the clarity of the performance, Juice maintain a welcome sense of informality in their performance by talking about the music between sets, just as well as the preparation of props for Laurence Roman's Hilaire Belloc settings was fraught. Still, the theatricality of the trio brought the narrative of these fables into relief. Rather more sober in narrative was Anna Snow's own Seven Star Girls. A complicated rhythmic introduction gives way to a lovely barcarolle-in-alt, as the text and music together pull us through mountain-top mist. To complete the native compositions Sarah Dacey's arrangement Cruel Mother is a harmonically febrile work relying on tuning as focused as anywhere else in the programme.
To finish, the group gave a polished rendition of their CD opener, Paul Robinson's Triadic Riddles of Water, music of Reichian clarity and complexity (but more succinct!) that brought us back to the spatial antiphony and play of the opening. A notably high-quality concert for the Concert Series to have secured the event was well-attended and received, to the extent that that inevitable CDs-available-at-the-back actually sold out. The artistic stock of the Camberwell-Peckham axis continues to climb.