The Great Northern Piano Session VII

My Personal Experience as an Audience Member

I was at Gosforth Civic Theatre this evening for the 7th in the series of Great Northern Piano Sessions, run by Steve Luck as part of his Atmospherica composer concert series. An audience of around 60 was treated to 3 sets of contemporary piano music, presented by 3 independent composers with very distinct musical styles.

As Steve reminded us (the audience) this evening, we really “make” the music ourselves because we receive the “vibrating air molecules” aurally and our brains interpret what we hear. In that spirit, I’m writing this short piece to reflect on my own feelings and appreciation of a well-spent evening.

We kicked off with Steve playing a set of his own music. I “discovered” him four or five years ago, so Steve’s music is very familiar to me now – to the extent that I even have favourites! To my ears, each of his musical compositions is built on a clearly identifiable riff which is expanded to create a melodic line that is supported by a fairly “light touch” left hand harmony. Let me be clear here – I’m confident that I’m oversimplifying but this is about my perception as a listener rather than his reality as a composer! I find Steve’s compositions to be easily “digestible” and often quite catchy and memorable, which makes the listening all the more enjoyable.

This evening, Steve treated us to a selection that included tracks called Sway, Be Curious, Cheviot and Oscillation. he dedicated Small Song of Hope to all Ukranians and he finished with Blue Dot which he told me was inspired by Carl Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot”. He also told us that this was a World Premiere as he’d reworked the whole piece recently.

After a short interval, Steve introduced Oliver Brouwer who had travelled from Bristol to play for us. Oliver is an impressive, charming and rather shy young man whose confidence seems to me to have grown since I watched him play at the first Great Northern Piano Session almost exactly 4 years ago. To my ears, Oliver’s melodic style was much lighter touch than Steve’s; his music feels almost hesitant which, for me, has the effect of stretching time so that any random thoughts in my head are pushed away and I focus solely on the music that’s washing over me.

Oliver played two pieces from his early albums called VI (six) and XV (fifteen). He told us that his earliest compositions had only numbers and no names. He then played Isolate and Memory which he had composed in 2020 during lockdown followed by Return and Spin from an album put together in 2021. Finally he played two pieces from his upcoming album. I missed the titles of these tracks.

Oliver has introduced an interesting innovation to some of his tracks – including two of those he played this evening – by adding his voice to the composition. Since, strictly speaking, this is stepping outside the genre of contemporary piano music, his singing could so easily have shattered the atmosphere but he sang beautifully and, to my ears, in a manner which complemented his piano composition. I particularly enjoyed his final piece of the set.

The final set of the evening was played by Fiona Brice. She had just come from playing violin in support of Elbow at Glastonbury but she remarked that this evening could be more stressful for her! Fiona presented a selection of compositions from her 2006 “Postcards From” album interwoven with several of the ten preludes that she composed during lockdown.

To my ears, Fiona’s music was harmonically rich; that is, to be clear what I mean, she was often playing more notes at a time than Steve or Oliver! I particularly enjoyed her postcards and can recall that she first played Postcard from Denton, a town in Texas where she used to live there but seemed happy to have now left behind! I see that Denton’s on the northern edge of Dallas and Fort Worth. Fiona also played Postcard from Paris which I enjoyed very much and, I felt, the audience reaction was quite strong to that piece too.

I really enjoyed the evening and the contrasting styles of the composers. It was great to be in the room while these three piano devotees played their own compositions as opposed to watching on Zoom or listening on Spotify. It’s rather like the difference between listening to a good drama on the radio and watching it live in a theatre.

I commend Steve Luck on his choice of composers for the evening and wish him continued success with his Atmospherica Concert Series about which you can find out much more at http://atmospherica.co.uk/. You can connect with Oliver at http://linktr.ee/oliverbrouwer and you can connect with Fiona at http://fionabrice.com.

My thanks go also to Gosforth Civic Theatre for hosting this concert. The theatre is an arts venue, cafe and community hub tucked into a corner of Gosforth adjacent to the Regent Centre metro station. For more details, go to https://www.gosforthcivictheatre.co.uk/.