Press and Comment
" The Nose
, a cartoon film based on Nikolai Gogol’s story of an official whose nose goes missing and develops a life of its own with a score by Ed Hughes. Although made in 1963 the film makers Alexandre Alexeieff and Claire Parker had created a work in black and white film which was reminiscent of the early days of cinema. Transparent harmonies matched the shimmering patterns of life in the film, while the piano adopted a more percussive stance in the more grotesque and humorous moments. Clare Hammond’s piano playing throughout was superlative. Link
Roger Jones, Seen and Heard International17 July 2016 on The Nose (Cheltenham Festival)
" Clare Hammond offered a programme of five works, all of which married musical invention with the evocation of strange imaginary worlds. Ed Hughes’s The Nose [was] written to accompany a 1963 animated version of Gogol’s satirical short story "
Ivan Hewett, The Telegraph12 July 2016 on The Nose
" Beware: this opera may take you hostage with its ability to get under your skin and its willingness to use any technological means to do so... Loosely based on Jean Cocteau's history of heartbreak, opium addiction and impaired creativity, Hughes's Poet protagonist is faced with a choice... as with any good opera, this one convincingly creates its own logic... Roger Morris's libretto gains much of its entrancing quality through the leeway of ambiguity plus provocative discussions about the moral implications of bringing people back to life. The 12-member ensemble reveals much effective compositional strategy with motivic repetition, nagglingly obsessive long-held notes in the winds and just plain alchemy...Purely electronic interludes are full of oblique commentary... "
David Patrick Stearns, Gramophone1 May 2014 on When the Flame Dies (review of Metier CD/DVD release)
" Ed Hughes's When the Flame Dies
... manages to pack considerable dramatic punch... Hughes's music fizzes with invention, deriving maximum colour from his small band... There's also a striking electronic interlude, crackling into life through radio static to represent Cocteau's 'Zone', the liminal space between dream and reality, inspiration and banality. "
Leo Chadburn, Tempo (Vol 68, Issue 268, April 2014), pp 105-10720 March 2014 on When the Flame Dies (review of Metier CD/DVD release)
" Following on from ‘Dark Formations’, the wide-ranging conspectus of his ensemble and instrumental music (reviewed in January 2013), Metier continues its coverage of Ed Hughes with his chamber opera When the Flame Dies. Originally a project for the now seemingly defunct Opera Genesis programme at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury studio, this was subsequently presented at the 2012 Canterbury Festival in association with Sounds New (whose tireless promotion of new music and younger composers is well worth reiterating) and can rank among the more successful such works to have come and gone with some frequency at a time when the quantity of new operas has hardly been marked by their quality.
The present piece has its basis in the life and work of Jean Cocteau – specifically the tragically young death of his muse (and probably lover) Raymond Radiguet, whose passing was both commemorated and transcended in the play Orphee – as well as more indirectly several plays and films. From this, Roger Morris has derived a libretto that, written mainly in rhyming couplets, has its moments of over-literal and prosaic albeit without succumbing to the inhibitions that have shackled comparable texts from the recent past. It certainly makes for a plausible means of relating such a fanciful though by no means contrived narrative, one whose basic premise of art triumphing over life has long been a potent operatic source.
While not overwritten as such, Morris’s libretto is extensive and often intricate in content, thereby placing a premium on the composer’s ability to convey dramatic meaning at the same time as sustaining a convincing theatrical continuity. This Hughes achieves admirably for the most part, whether in terms of maintaining a satisfactory balance between voices and instruments or of enriching the vocal lines with writing which sustains an intrinsic musical interest. Only occasionally is there a blurring of means or confusion of intent, while the composer’s constant resourcefulness is evident from the two interludes that are inserted roughly a third and two-thirds of the way through the score: the first of these solely for electronics (whose presence is discreetly pervasive across the work as a whole), and the second a brief though limpid passage for ensemble that points up the sensitivity of Hughes’s scoring. As with the music on that previous release, his idiom is broadly that of a post-war modernism which is personal enough to resonate with the listener.
The cast here is a persuasive one – dominated by Edward Grint’s emotive and increasingly self-regarding Poet, and the sensuous yet calculating appeal of Lucy Williams’s Princess. Julian Podger makes a vivid impression as Orpheus, whose unflinching honesty throws the Poet’s ostensible soul-searching into telling relief, while Emily Phillips is touching in the brief role of Eurydice. Andrew Radley seizes the moment in his climactic appearance as Raymond, the departed lover whose desired return is only fleetingly preordained. The dozen-strong New Music Players prove more than equal to their task, not least with Carlos del Cueto’s assured direction to guide it through the demands of Hughes’s score.
The present set comprises the same performance in both audio and visual incarnations. The sound for the former has an almost ideal balance between voices and ensemble so that the text is nearly always intelligible, while the latter is simply and unfussily rendered with minimal camerawork suitable for concert presentation-the provisos being that the ample ambience of Augustine Hall does rather affect the clarity of the sung component, and that the subtitles are far too small to be read at more than a few inches distance. The DVD does, however, include a brief though intriguing film by Sheryl Jenkins which draws on Hughes’s Chamber Concerto (featured on the previous Metier set) as the worthwhile bonus. The booklet includes the libretto with a detailed synopsis as well as readable essays on the significance of Cocteau and the Orpheus myth. Hopefully Hughes’s piece will soon secure a full staging: in the meantime, this release enables one to get to grips with one of the more arresting and distinctive chamber operas to have emerged in the UK over recent years. "
Richard Whitehouse, International Record Review1 March 2014
" Chaconne for Jonathan Harvey
by Ed Hughes (University of York Music Press) is another London Festival of Contemporary Church Music commission. It's a welcome contribution... with Hughes's craftsmanship evident in every bar; the control of tension and release within the structure is particularly admirable. Rhythmic patterns here need careful work, and an efficient manual technique is absolutely essential, but players with a serious interest in contemporary music should explore this work. "
Stephen Farr, Choir & Organ1 January 2014 on Chaconne for Jonathan Harvey
" An intriguing Cocteau-esque opera "
Barry Forshaw, Classical CD Choice14 November 2013 on When the Flame Dies
" An absorbing piece and an exciting introduction to Ed Hughes' music "
Rick Jones, Words and Music14 November 2013 on When the Flame Dies CD/DVD release
" ...Orchids is a sequence of six pieces for solo piano which evolved between 1990 and 2002. In each movement the floral patterns of the title are reflected in gradual transformations in the music. The most delicate of the series, the fourth, is followed by a strenuous moto perpetuo and the set concludes with a sharply dissonant piece that resolves calmly. Considering each piece was written for, and dedicated to, a different pianist, Orchids makes a remarkably unified and coherent entity whose scope and diversity add up to one of the composer’s most ambitious achievements.
This selection of Hughes’s oeuvre concludes with arguably his most directly affecting work, the vocal piece A Buried Flame, commissioned by Bath Camerata. Scored for either solo voices or chorus, it sets texts drawn from a collection of poems written in extremis by detainees at Guantanamo Bay and extracts from Psalm 69; a reminder that suffering, oppression and imprisonment have been part of the human experience throughout the ages. The raw emotional power of the poems is matched by the intensity of Hughes’s motet-like treatment, and their characteristic polyphonic textures resonate and evolve to compelling effect in a passionately committed performance that makes a fitting conclusion to an inspiring, thoughtfully compiled programme.
Ed Hughes lays down considerable challenges to performers in each of his scores and they are met here with virtuosity and imagination by the New Music Players, the New Music Vocal Ensemble and pianist Richard Casey in ideal readings, polished and alert, which it is difficult to imagine being surpassed. Though the recordings cover a time span of more than a decade, such diversity in no way vitiates Metier’s consistently fine recorded sound. This is a valuable survey of a composer whose unorthodox and resourceful music deserves to be better known; his reputation has unquestionably been enhanced by this release. "
Paul Conway, Tempo1 August 2013 on Dark Formations CD [Metier msv28530]
" This is an original, audacious work, whose premiere I had the good fortune to attend. Its clear compositional and dramaturgical structure provides a strong framework for striking visuals, while the combination of impressive vocal and orchestral work, with electronic and pre-recorded found sounds, creates an appropriately haunting 'echo chamber' of music and visuals. Hughes has turned Cocteau's anguished requiem for Radiguet into a moving, inspiring creation. "
Sally Jane Norman, Professor of Performance Technologies, Director of the Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts, 26 June 2013 on When the Flame Dies
" Ed Hughes’s Orchid No 5 received its world premiere (Clare Hammond, solo piano, Brighton Festival, 22 May 2013). Its melody has echoes of plainsong and its beautiful style recalls Debussy, though with more muscular rhythms. "
James Simister, The Argus 24 May 2013 on Orchid No. 5
" Norman’s ability to bring out the contrasting characters and voices of his instrument came through most clearly in Hughes’ Summer Light (2012), a collection of four short studies that moved between a contemplative space created by a steady, but not quite predictable, flow of arpeggiated major harmonies and an energetic, agitated soundworld with rapid blurs of notes rushing into thick, dissonant strumming. Norman makes the guitar sing out Hughes’ rich harmonic colours, and it is alternately bright and mellow, beckoning and undulating, shimmering and violent. [full concert review]
Melissa Hok Cee Wong, bachtrack.com14 January 2013 on Summer Light
" Ed Hughes has been a diverting presence since the BBC broadcast of his orchestral piece Crimson Flames marked him out as a name to watch some two decades ago.
Since then he has assembled a sizeable as well as diverse body of work across the broad range of genres, one which reveals a notable awareness of the evolution of Western music not just over the last century but also over what might be termed the ‘humanist’ tradition stretching back to the Renaissance.
Although his music is not new to disc, the present release features a much greater range than has hitherto been available.
The first disc focuses on chamber and ensemble pieces as performed by the New Music Players, which Hughes founded (as the Cambridge NMP) in 1990. A judicious miscellany begins with the tensile compression of the Quartet (1997) and its intensive interplay of four highly distinct ideas, then to the Chamber Concerto (2010) whose four movements outline a nominally classical trajectory that is continually undercut by the deft superimposition of oblique harmonies and textures. Dark Formations (2010) introduces a major facet of Hughes’s composing in recent years: music written to be juxtaposed with a visual component, in this case photographs taken of Allied bombing raids in the summer of 1943, which doubtless determined its ominous and often menacing demeanour. Two other pieces emerged in relation to famous films from the silent era: Strike! (2006) is the study for a full-length score to Sergey Eisenstein’s 1925 agitprop and also a breviary of its febrile content, while Light Cuts Through Dark Skies (2001) accompanies Joris Iven’s 1929 naturalistic fantasy over six sections which unfold as a constantly changing interplay of duos and trios whose underlying tenor offers a productive contrast with Eisler’s more literal score. Placed between these, the Sextet (1999) is an inherently abstract statement, yet its three movements take in allusions to other music over their unpredictable and eventful course.
The second disc features notable cycles for solo piano and unaccompanied voices respectively. Evolving between 1990 and 2002, Orchids constitutes a sequence that, while written individually and with six different pianists in mind, affords a convincing overview of Hughes’s development – moving from contrapuntal lucidity, through harmonic astringency and lyrical polyphony, then inward speculation and combative energy, to quixotic evocation. This latter’s allusions to most of the earlier pieces underlines the cogency of the collection as a whole. Heard in these terms there have been few, if any, recent British piano works to compare with this in expressive scope, which is hardly less true in vocal terms of A Buried Flame (2010). This four-part sequence juxtaposes Psalm 69 with poems by former and ongoing detainees at Guantanamo Bay in powerful yet never histrionic investigation of physical incarceration and spiritual alienation. It is a measure, too, of Hughes’s sensitivity that the texts never draw attention to themselves outside of their musical context.
Throughout both of these discs, performances are as committed and attentive to the music’s frequently understated demands as might be expected from ensembles of the calibre of the New Music Players and New Music Vocal Ensemble. Special mention must be made of Richard Casey, who, besides writing most of the detailed and informative booklet notes, proves no less adept and sympathetic as a pianist. The recordings, though made over more than a decade, fully convey this music’s clarity and intricacy, making for a release that can be warmly recommended for its persuasive overview of a composer for whom a wider reputation ought not be long in coming. "
Richard Whitehouse, International Record Review1 January 2013 on Dark Formations CD [Metier msv28530]
" [Ed Hughes] is able to move seamlessly from what sounds completely atonal to triadic harmony that allows for accessible expression. This mobility is apparent in all of the pieces on the album, though perhaps mostly in Orchids for piano, the high point of the record, showing the composer’s abilities. Sensitive and sincere performances by Richard Casey, a long-time friend and collaborator, help to accentuate the sometimes subtle differences between each ‘orchid’, bringing the collected work to life. They are haunting, and yet somehow a certain optimism manages to shine through, full of organic complexity and natural beauty, like the flower of the title.
The chamber concerto and sextet are purely instrumental works... Hughes also is able to put on display his strong orchestrational talents. The ensembles sound cohesive, which is owing to the fine performances by New Music Players as well as the composer’s skills. Hughes’s affinity for complex rhythmic textures can emerge further with chamber works, as there are more musicians involved than the two hands on a piano. The changing patterns give the music several distinct layers, which are constantly shifting, and that is both engaging and demanding for the listener... this two-disc set makes it easy to acquire a variety of music by a British composer from whom we can surely expect more high quality work to come.
Adams, American Record Guide1 December 2012 on Dark Formations [CD]
" Working with Ed Hughes on the BFI’s ongoing Ozu Collection has been a fantastic experience. His scores are of a consistently high standard, making these rarely-seen silent works accessible to modern audiences and film scholars alike. Not only that, but his compositions are meeting with the approval of the Japanese licensors, thereby transcending cultural difference and functioning on an international stage. "
Sam Dunn, Head of Video Publishing, BFI, 1 November 2012 on scores for the Ozu Collection
" A student of Robin Holloway and Alexander Goehr (while at Cambridge University) and Michael Finnissy (at Southampton University), Ed Hughes is a composer with an individual voice and a concise way of saying what he has to say. His music is compelling.
Ed Hughes formed The New Music Players in 1990. They give a sterling account of the first piece, a quartet, for clarinet, cello, violin, and piano. The weeping descending lines, which descend like a sonic representation of raindrops on a windowpane, fall at different rates. As a technique it is not complex, but the result is mightily effective, and indeed the technique itself turns out to be a Hughes characteristic.
The Chamber Concerto started out for 13 instruments before finally coalescing into a seven-player version, and it is this slimmed-down score we hear here. This is very different, with some jazzy, syncopated passages opening the music out to the possibility of lighter pastures. There are constants, though, especially the use of polyphonic layering (which the composer states is the rea¬son that there is no clear closure at the end of movements: strata co-exist, and then the music ends). Pianist Richard Casey (heard on the second disc as solo pianist) also contributes the eloquent book¬let notes. He is clearly immersed in Hughes's music, and has no problems making easy references to Hughes's film scores. The performance is remarkably assured.
It is the idea of war that created the starting point of Dark Formations, a collaboration between the composer and David Chandler, professor of photography at the University of Plymouth. Indeed, one of the photos, that of a Lancaster bombing Hamburg in 1943, is reproduced on the booklet cover. Casey accurately describes Hughes's piece as "static and monumental," a fascinating study in shades of gray that is nevertheless somehow mutely scintillating. Oxymoron though that sounds, it remains fascinatingly true. The hushed performance of Dark Formations here is remarkable in its glowering intensity. The Dark Formations project is ongoing, incidentally.
The piece titled Strike! (2006) was in fact a study for the scoring of Eisenstein's film of that name. Again scored for small ensemble, it inhabits a very different world from Dark Formations. Full of magical instrumentation, it includes some passages that can only be described as quirky and, like so much of the music on this release, it draws in those listeners of insatiably curious nature. The Sextet is scored for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, marimba/vibraphone, and piano. The first movement is inspired by the alto line chant from John Taverner's Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas. Once one has grasped the reference, it adds a new dimension (the swirling overlapping descending lines will have become quite familiar by now). There is a fine compositional technique on display here. The use of Minimalism, albeit not in its purest form, comes as a small but pleasant surprise for the second movement (Minimalism is after all the logical extension of the overlapping, layering methodology), while it is the ground that inspires the finale. Over the slow-moving bass, a flute pipes most enthu¬siastically (the flutist here, Rowland Sutherland, plays stunningly)....
The vocal piece A Buried Flame is for either solo voices (SSAATBarB) or chorus, drawing its texts from the Psalms (No. 69) and the poetry collection Guantanamo (University of Iowa Press, a collection of poems by former or current detainees at Guantanamo Bay)... It is difficult to put across the sheer devotion of this recording. It seems to convey all of the inner pain and, at base level, humanitarianism that the composer feels. It also demonstrates remarkably fine scoring. The performance is simply outstanding...it remains a powerful statement and one that reverberates long after the music finishes. From that standpoint, it is the perfect way to end a most stimulating release. I do urge you to hear this.
Colin Clarke, Fanfare Magazine1 November 2012 on Dark Formations CD
" In Quartet, the use of the materials was so clear and simple - and made so fascinating by the rhythmic and of course modal diversions...I was very struck by the economy of the work, and its fascinating complexity - a delightful piece that should be played often. In the darkness and poetics of Dark Formations...I was drawn to the timbres, the ambiguities of the bass clarinet and piano writing; I was very impressed by the approach - a powerful meditation. "
Jonathan Harvey, composer, 1 August 2012 on Quartet and 'Dark Formations'
" This is modern music for listeners 'with two ears' who enjoy contrapuntal music from Purcell to Bach to late Beethoven. Ed Hughes (b. 1968) is a contemporary British contrapuntalist of unique originality and instrumental flair...it is all given with consummate security and audibility, with rhythms "simultaneously complex and simple, distinctive, original and yet approachable" [Richard Casey]...I find the ensemble music irresistible. "
Peter Grahame Woolf, Musical Pointers17 July 2012 on Dark Formations CD
" ...the best sounding film in this collection is the silent film Woman of Tokyo, because alongside the option to watch the film in total silence, you also have the choice of an accompanying film score composed by Ed Hughes and presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. Having the advantage of being a contemporary recording, it unsurprisingly sounds very dynamic with solid bass and smooth treble. The score itself reminded me a little in places of the work of Thomas Newman...it’s a very welcome addition. "
Noel Megahey, The Digital Fix | Film [online publication]18 June 2012 on Woman of Tokyo in 'Three Melodramas' from the BFI's Ozu Collection
" The 16-minute concerto has contrasting fast and slow movements. The first, and longest, movement includes an occasional nod to Schoenberg with the doubling of lines...In the second there is a focus on the rhythmic process and the layering of the chromatic and diatonic, but with the harmony being quite static. The third and fourth movements reflect Hughes's love of the motet with isorhythmic repeating cycles in different instrumental groups... The fourth movement also harks back to 'strange eches of 19th century salon music and sonatas'. "
Susan Nickalls, Classical Music11 September 2010 on Chamber Concerto
" A fascinating juxtaposition of sound worlds and cultures, as well as a new work that has a particular relevance for the fractured times in which we find ourselves. "
David Wordsworth, Choir & Organ1 March 2010 on A Buried Flame
" I congratulate Ed on that score. "
Michael Nyman, De La Warr Pavilion, public panel7 March 2009 on Strike (original score to Eisenstein film)
" Hughes’s score is by far the highlight "
Sight & Sound1 November 2007 on Battleship Potemkin score
" A very effective score by Ed Hughes "
Sight & Sound1 November 2007 on Strike score
" In Hughes’s music...there is a perfect fit with the films, with incidental sounds such as the factory whistle in Strike skilfully incorporated into the musical line. Potemkin was first shown with Hughes’ music at an unforgettable performance in 2005 in the machine hall of the Brighton Engineerium, which provided a uniquely suitable site for it. A similarly happy match between film and music runs through these two superb scores "
Laura Marcus, Professor of English (Film), University of Edinburgh , 1 November 2007 on Strike & Battleship Potemkin scores
" The dynamic editing and epic drama of Sergei Eisenstein's silent films have long proved enticing for composers. The latest to take on the challenge is British musician Ed Hughes, whose scores for 'Battleship Potemkin' and 'Strike' appear on the new 'Sergei Eisenstein Vol. 1' DVD set from Tartan Video. It was the high value the director gave to music that first attracted Hughes, as he explains: 'Eisenstein's theoretical writings on music and film are extraordinary. I was interested in trying to realise what he calls 'the syncopation of accents between music and picture': the idea of contrasting moments when the two come together powerfully, and also stages of gradual intensification when the music and picture are counterpoints. Eisenstein saw that music could give the spatial qualities of his images the illusion of more depth, and it was exciting to use modern technology like surround sound to attempt to put his ideas into practice.' Hughes will present his score for 'Strike' live at a number of UK screenings this autumn. "
Sight & Sound1 October 2007 on Strike and Battleship Potemkin - new scores
" Pure magic...A rip-roaring vital spectacle...a show of terrific vitality and verve "
Independent1 July 2005 on The Birds
" truly emotional...an atmosphere of deeper resonances "
Robert Thicknesse, The Times1 July 2005 on The Birds
" A fine example of the hidden gems the Brighton Festival can produce "
Brighton Evening Argus12 May 2004 on Memory of Colour
" The New Music Players’s stylish late-night Guildhall (Bath Festival) concert incorporated two showings of Joris Ivens’s poetic 1929 film Rain, first with Hanns Eisler’s music, then with a new and fetching score by Ed Hughes "
Paul Driver, The Sunday Times10 June 2001 on Light Cuts Through Dark Skies
" In a rare joint airing of Eisler’s Fourteen Ways and Joris Ivens’s documentary film Regen (1929), Eisler’s clouded musical reflections on these watery images were atmospheric and ultimately moving. Ed Hughes’s no less artful new take Light Cuts Through Dark Skies accompanied the same black and white projections on our second outing to wet Amsterdam "
Lynne Walker, The Independent6 June 2001
" This setting, for mezzo and mixed ensemble, of eight short monologues for the visionary priestess of Apollo, is big and bold, responding to the scholar and poet Tom Lowenstein’s gritty and economical text with music unafraid of a direct emotional response... "
Keith Potter, The Independent23 May 2001 on The Sibyl of Cumae
" In Sextet, Hughes demonstrates a good ear for economical orchestration, drawing broad and dramatic textures from two strings, two woodwind, vibes and piano... Hughes’s Quartet is darker, more intense and episodic, for clarinet, piano, violin and cello. "
John L Walters, The Guardian13 October 2000
" complex...and benefits from its boldness of utterance, deploying sometimes familiar materials to dramatically telling ends "
Keith Potter, The Independent23 May 2000 on Sextet
" Sun New Moon and Women Shouting by Ed Hughes ...is a moving, quite unusual, virtuoso celebration by the Inuits of the rising sun after its winter sleep. "
Peter Davies, Newbury Weekly News20 May 1999 on Sun, New Moon and Women Shouting
" turbulent, scintillating lyricism "
John Allison, The Times18 May 1999
" a vivid expose of effects of light amid a continuous network of polyphony "
Jill Barlow, St Albans and District Observer7 November 1997
" A richly sonorous music "
Sunday Times 13 April 1997 on Chroma
" The best work, like Ed Hughes's 'Orchid' ... gave the sense of progression through material, of deepening analysis as it progressed. "
Philip Hensher, Daily Telegraph22 February 1997 on Orchid 1
" [Aureola] has a rich, dense, polychromatic radiance "
Andrew Porter, The Observer14 May 1995 on Aureola
" The three 'Orchids' are dense, feverish with explorations: 'sections' of petals really do fold into one another to create overlapping whorls of sound. "
The Musical Times1 February 1995 on Orchids 1-3
" Stephen Gutman also introduced a highly distinctive festival commission, Hughes's 'Third Orchid', in which each section of a single movement folds into the next, like waves or petals, disturbing the work's cunningly crafted surface polyphony. "
Hilary Finch, The Times25 May 1994 on Third Orchid
" ...many pieces stayed in the memory. Elise Lorraine's recital, for instance, included... Hughes's technically complex, but directly evocative, beautifully conceived new cycle 'The Desolate Field' "
Stephen Pettitt, The Times23 May 1989 on The Desolate Field