Thursday 15 May 2014

Our Nonesuch Selection

This weekend Britten Sinfonia performs as part of the Barbican’s celebrations of 50 years of Nonesuch Records.  Founded as a budget classical label in 1964 in New York, Nonesuch went on to transform not only the classical landscape, but also jazz, world music, folk and rock. Having taken a look at Nonesuch’s extensive discography we realised that lots of us in the Britten Sinfonia office had Nonesuch albums without even knowing it. Here’s some of our favourites;

Lisa, Marketing Assistant
Inside Llewyn Davis, written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, has to be one of my favourite films this year, mostly due to this soundtrack, which combines original collaborations with traditional folk songs. Performed by Oscar Isaac in the lead role as Llewyn Davies, and with performances from Carey Mulligan, Stark Sands and surprisingly Justin Timberlake, this record works in its own right as a collection of folk songs taken from the 1960s folk revival in New York City.

I am also particularly mesmerised every time I hear the music of guitarist Ali Farka Touré and kora player, Toumani Diabaté. The album, Ali and Toumani is a wonderful collaborative effort between two African musicians whose respective string melodies collide and interweave, shimmering and glowing.

Natalie, Creative Learning Director
My choice is Bjork’s Biophilia. It’s full of incredible textures and colours – both sublime and brutal. Featuring her brilliantly versatile voice there is an awesome mixture of acoustic instruments and digital sounds. Ambitious and epic, as you would expect from Bjork..!

Will, Development Director
I’ve got Amadou & Miriam Dimanche a Bamako. (Had no idea it was Nonesuch!) It’s a brilliant record, and one that never fails to lift the spirits. It’s unlike anything else I have in my collection, and you can really hear the infectious enthusiasm of the players. That enthusiasm and upbeat outlook was highlighted when I heard Amadou & Miriam at the Cambridge Folk Festival in 2013.

Amongst the other Nonesuch gems, I heard a track from Natalie Merchant’s new album the other day. What a brilliant voice. Can’t wait to hear more.

Claire, Marketing Director

I was incredibly lucky to see the London premiere of Three Tales by Steve Reich and Beryl Korot at the Barbican Theatre years ago and when I realised that there was a DVD/CD package available of it rushed out to buy it. Three Tales is a three-part digital documentary video opera (!) about technological breakthroughs in the 20th century (the Hindenburg explosion, the atomic experiments on Bikini atoll, and the cloning of Dolly the sheep). In my mind the work is unique and extraordinary. You can listen to the soundtrack separately but to appreciate this staggering work of art the full multimedia experience is required – I don’t often find the time to do this but on the occasions I have sat down and watched (even just one of the Tales) it has been haunting and powerful.

My other choice is Metheny/Mehldau a collaboration between guitarist Pat Metheny and pianist Brad Mehldau. It’s a chill-out album for me – perfect for unwinding with a glass of wine after a long day– full of beautiful moments and impeccable playing.

Elizabeth, Development Assistant
My top choice is Nickel Creek – A Dotted Line. After being on hiatus since 2007 (but by no means missing from my iPod playlists) fans such as myself were pleased to see this album appear in April. It’s difficult to choose just one of Nickel Creek’s albums as a talking point (not in the least because they all tend to be shuffled on my iPod) but this latest, fresh and more grown-up collection of their typical bluegrass sounds and beautiful harmonies, with the added maturity and experience gained from band members ‘going solo’ for the past seven years, makes A Dotted Line a new favourite.

It is difficult too, to separate Nickel Creek (Chris Thile, Sara Watkins and Sean Watkins) from its amazing mandolin player, Chris Thile, who has many a solo album including his latest project Bach: Sonata No. 1 in G Minor / Partita No. 1 in B Minor [LP], released last year – which you really must listen to because you have to hear it to believe it (and the album cover is rather nice!). And I had the pleasure of hearing him play at LSO St Lukes before Christmas, firmly placing him on my must-see-live-again list, not only for his musicianship but his generally fantastic personality, humour and stage presence; who’d have thought one guy on a mandolin could captivate an audience so... he has even written a song about playing songs on a mandolin! And you can’t talk about Chris Thile without mentioning Punch Brothers, particularly Antifogmatic (2010) and their latest Ahoy! (2012).

So, Nickel Creek, Punch Brothers, Chris Thile and Sara Watkins are all firm favourites of mine, and I don’ think you can be a fan of one, and not another. Start with Nickel Creek, and then let yourself wander through the wonderful musical world of contemporary bluegrass, and lots of incredible mandolin playing.

Find out more about the Barbican's celebrations "Exploratons: The Sound of Nonesuch Records" here. Full details of Britten Sinfonia's concert featuring music by Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Timo Andres and Brad Mehldau click here

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