KLANG: Durham’s playful and challenging new art music festival

Performing contemporary art music can pose unique challenges to musicians. Since 2006, the DurhamKLANG festival has seen performers making beautiful and challenging sounds in a host of unusual ways. Recent highlights include electronic music coded live on stage by an ensemble of laptops, and the delicate sounds of breakfast cereals being dropped, shaken and crushed in a variety of intricate patterns that transfixed audiences in 2015.


This years festival, which gets underway on Wednesday, features one new piece performed in a tent, and another based on bomb craters in North Korea. But as the composer of the Korea-inspired work and festival head Dr Eric Egan points out, DurhamKLANG is not just about unconventional and playful ideas, “all the music we feature at KLANG is rooted in the desire to present the listener with uniquely challenging and/or satisfying experiences”. From new and exploratory concepts to starkly beautiful musical landscapes, musical risk and innovation, virtuosity and startling effects are central to KLANG’s agenda.

‘North Korea’ – The graphic score of Eric Egan’s “North Korea,” to be performed on 7 June

The festival’s pedigree is undeniable. KLANG takes its name from the German word for timbre, or the ‘colour of sound’, and is part of a tradition of experimental music that emerged in the second half of the twentieth century in the hands of masters like John Cage, Philip Glass and Karlheinz Stockhausen. This spirit of innovation continues in the festival’s presentation of work created by composers, performers and students at Durham University’s music department, alongside some of the most interesting and thought-provoking recent music from elsewhere in the UK and around the world.


DurhamKLANG is also about bringing contemporary art music to a wider audience and changing perceptions. Under Egan’s tenure, the festival has focused on giving audiences “a unique opportunity to hear music unlike any other they’ll come across in the region.” In fact, KLANG is the only regular forum dedicated to contemporary art music in the North East.

‘Klang 2016’ – The third ever performance of Terry Riley’s “Olson iii” during the 2016 festival

And Egan’s ambitions for the festival shines through: “we at the music department are fortunate enough to be visited regularly by some of the most talented and ground-breaking performers in the country as well as from all over the world,” he explains. In 2018, KLANG will expand to running a concert series as well as theregular festival, with a high-class programme of events soon to be released.


Over three days this June, though, Durham audiences will be basking in a programme that revels in a mix of the irreverent and the profound. Performers in Durham’s NAME ensemble show off the skateboarding skills learned specifically for their performance on Thursday, while internationally-acclaimed pianist John Snijders’ gives the concert premiere of a new piece by leading British composer Laurence Crane on Friday. Snijders revisits an interpretation soon to be released on CD, The Guardian praised the “uncluttered graciousness” of his recent performance of Crane’s music with the Ives Ensemble.


All concerts in DurhamKLANG are free and take place in the Concert Room of the music department at Durham University, Palace Green, DH1 3RL. There are concerts at 19:00pm on  the 7th and 9th of June, plus a 13:00pm lunchtime performance on the 8th of June.


Visit Music Durham for full information: https://www.musicdurham.org/event/klang-2/

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