What others have said:
Review from Presto Classical, June 2020 PRIMA FACIE PFCD123
Marc Yeats of course is an established figure of some distinction in our contemporary music, but this particular disc had to be crowdfunded – and we are in the debt of those investors. It is the first CD collection of his solo piano works and all these works are first recordings. In the composer’s own notes the disc “includes pieces deemed by many pianists to be too challenging to play”. It should be said at once they are all in some degree also challenging to listen to. I do not use “challenging” as a euphemism here – to challenge is one of the aims of art, and to respond to the challenge one source of art’s rewards. So it is here. Lend a few concentrated hearings to this powerful and intense music and you enter a world few other composers even attempt to explore.
At the very least we should be intrigued by these titles. Enûma Eliš references the Babylonian creation myth, Ouroboros is the ancient symbol of the tale-devouring snake, while Professsor Wingards’s Nameless Force was a (bogus) naval weapon, and an expression found long after the composition of the work to which it is now attached. The Anatomy of Melancholy is the most straightforward, being presumably a reference to Burton’s 17th century magnum opus. The titles appear to vary in the degree to which they are intended to illuminate the character or progress of the music, but at least demonstrate the breadth of Yeats’ interests – and perhaps the extent of his whimsy. (That he can be delightfully whimsical is shown by his lockdown YouTube video, playing his recorder along to Brandenburg No.2 – worth a look).
The Anatomy of Melancholy is the most substantial work here and the title track, so let’s take that as the exemplar of the style. It plays for nearly eighteen minutes, though Yeats’ note rather hopefully refers to “fifteen minutes’ duration”. It also calls the piece “obsessive and highly driven”, which indeed it is, and compellingly so. At the start an obsessive figure in the high treble nags way over a rumbling bass, while an insistent theme prowls in the middle register. This section plays for more than the first third of the piece (six and a half minutes). This could all be an image of a disturbing melancholia, “proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain”. More animation follows, and some lyricism arrives (08:30), bringing balm. This cannot last one feels, and the final part ascends the keyboard until some repeated loud bass chords usher in a snowstorm of notes at the very top of the instrument – and then the piece evaporates as much as finishes.
At least I think that is what happens in the piece in first acquaintance. But each of these works has its own inner logic it seems to me, even if you need a few hearings for the shape to become clear. Certainly it all sounds original. So what can you expect of Yeats’ piano music? Well, there is often a frenetic activity, a high density of musical incident. There is too a high norm of dissonance, but nothing that should greatly alarm someone who knows the opening of Ravel’s Valses Nobles et Sentimentales. There is Prokofievian diablerie and percussive passages, some keyboard twitterings that might suggest the natural world of Messiaen, and occasionally the haunted stillness of Bartok’s night music. Yet Yeats does not actually sound like any of these composers, and if they were ever influences they have been completely absorbed. Yes it is bracingly and at times bitingly avant-garde, but so once was Bartok – and Beethoven.
As for the playing of Ian Pace, well it is best here to quote the composer again;
“Across the years due to a number of factors, mainly around the music’s enormous challenges only a tiny handful of the pieces (often the least frightening and shortest of them) have been performed live…. In this amazing collaboration with Ian, for the first time, I have found a pianist who not only enjoys and can meet these musical challenges but is a pianist who actually wants to perform this work because of the very nature of the writing itself.”
Which is exactly how it sounds. Pace’s skill in negotiating the demands of such contemporary keyboard works will be familiar to those who know his important recording of Finnissy’s History of Photography in Sound. The very opening here of The Viciousness of Circles shows Pace’s bravura brilliance, able to command the notes even when required to leap up and down the whole range of the keyboard in fast music with much metrical dislocation. Yet he takes care of the sound and never crosses the line to the pugilistic . There is also a lyrical sensitivity when a storm yields to a quieter episode, and the quite frequent ruminative passages in these works always move subtly forward, and are not allowed to stagnate – there are more difficulties here than technical ones. This is playing of high commitment, abundant passion, and no little excitement.
There is a good realistic piano sound, with a reasonable amount of ambience – neither too close up nor too distant, and no discernible difference between the two recording locations used. Notes are by the composer, who might also have provided the attractive abstract cover painting (Yeats is also a visual artist). This is a disc which can be recommended to admirers of the composer of course, or of his exceptional interpreter. But it is also one for explorers of contemporary keyboard music, who have to hear this, and whose curiosity will be richly recompensed. Richard Burton’s “The Anatomy of Melancholy” includes in its introduction a note to “The reader who employs his leisure ill”. Yeats’ disc will enable receptive listeners to employ their leisure well.
Review in PAN 360 here.
Marc Yeats is a composer and visual artist who enjoys great recognition in the U.K. Here he entrusts to the excellent pianist Ian Pace the task of performing his works for piano, which are reputed to be very difficult – even unplayable. The pianist takes up the challenge with aplomb, skillfully coaxing out of the chaos the different voices that populate these dense scores, which are in line with the work of Ferneyhough and Ligeti (The Viciousness of Circles recalls the famous Etude No. 13 The Devil’s Staircase). Although not devoid of sensuality, Yeats’ music consistently combines a complex relationship to time, extreme virtuosity, and obsessive manipulation of the material.
· by Marie-Pierre Brasset
Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, composer
Marc Yeats’ musical voice is quite unlike anything else; the music is challenging to both performers and audiences, and very communicative. He produces extraordinary compositions that not only look and sound good but demonstrate a very high level of academic learning, while being breathtakingly original.
Piers Helliwell, composer
Yeats’ instrumental roles are demanding, pushing every player to extremes of agility. The intensities of expression are not empty extravagances, however, but the comment of an expressionist drama that exudes the passion and life-energy of their creator.
Lynne Walker, The Independent
Refreshingly unfettered in concept – it’s something of a tour de force [on The Round and Square Art of Memory].
He uses his orchestra resourcefully; fresh and intriguing colours, but he uses his musical time even more resourcefully, never allowing the ear to lose track of the changing and evolving ideas [on The Round and Square Art of Memory].
David Fanning, The Telegraph
Yeats has a strikingly individual feel for the texture of an orchestra, yet it’s never in all-purpose avant-garde alienated tones. But this is the second fabulous piece I’ve heard from this emerging composer, and if there’s more where that came from we have a major new British talent on our hands [on The Round and Square Art of Memory].
That Yeats has something to say in the wild shrieking music is beyond question. He hurls himself at the sound with an admirably pure and savage impressionism [on The Anatomy of Air].
He unleashes every shade on the palette and continually pushes instruments, textures and dynamics to extremes. [The Anatomy of Air].
Sally Beamish, composer
The orchestral work ‘I See Blue’, is startlingly original in its structure and orchestration, using brass and bass drum to unexpected and powerful effect, with dazzling combinations of string and wind colour.
Kathryn Stott, pianist
Marc Yeats is one of the most exciting composers I have encountered in recent years. His ability to use maximum with all timbres of the instrument, whilst never sacrificing the very heart of the music, gives the musician many challenges which are exhilarating to discover.
Michael Kennedy, critic
The sheer noise of the percussion section through which Kathryn Stott somehow managed to make the piano audible set a new decibel level for this hall. Yet one felt an original creative mind at work, not just a bruiser but a maverick with some kind of purpose [on The Round and Square Art of Memory].
Sarah James, Clarinet and Saxophone Magazine
VOX was premiered by and written for Sarah (Watts), with the intention of depicting as many voices as the instrument is capable of. In Sarah’s hands the instrument spat, grumbled, screamed and sang throughout. Making use of the altissimo range of the instrument at every turn, this has to be one of the most demanding yet effective works in the repertoire, both musically and technically.
Warnsby – Festival Review
Yeats is largely self-taught, though he has received support and encouragement from Maxwell Davies after attending his composition summer school on Hoy some years ago. He is also a painter, and the possibility that the audio and visual aspects of his creative imagination are linked in some way should not be ruled out. Yeats is an experimental composer in his own highly individual manner, and this is reflected in almost all his recent scores. ‘a waiting ghost in the blue sky’ was the most ‘advanced’ music on offer at this year’s Festival, yet the confidence with which Yeats deployed his material ensured a warm reception [St Magnus Festival – 16 – 21 June 2000]
Tim Jonze On Shuffle: The Guardian
Part of the Coastal Voices Project in Dorset and east Devon, sturzstrom has no famous participants. It’s a vocal work I stumbled across while reading the blog 5against4.com and is one that expresses – in the words of the composer, Marc Yeats – “the formation and geology of the Jurassic coast concentrating on the phenomena of landslips, mudslides and coastal erosion”. I’m sure we can all agree it’s been awhile since we heard one of those. The piece was made using nothing but vocals from community choirs and pebbles for percussion but it was no simple affair. Geologists were offered creative input, while – not wanting to limit the music to conventional notation – Yeats created a variety of signs and symbols for the vocalists to learn and interpret (looking at the score feels more like a maths exam than a piece of music). It certainly sounds different: the volley of shrieks and bellows have a feral quality to them and create genuine excitement. At the same time, crescendos can disappear into whispers just as quickly.
[ … Experimental music | The Guardian | 30th June 2012]
Markus Wenninger, clarinettist
Marc Yeats’ music is perhaps the only music I know of personally that is truly making sense of the 5th empirical quality of sound – spatiality. I mean it. Amongst everything else, e.g. Black Root or A Theft of Cold Moisture manage most amazingly to work (as the subject of this work, not the object) the space around the performance from which they ring out. Differently as in e.g. Xenakis, You don’t displace the performers, as in spacing them apart from each other but not changing the projection dimensions fundamentally, You not only manage to realise (again, as the agents of said activity, not object) the spatial attributes of sound, by the very particular handling of dynamics, but also literally within the timbres themselves (the latter would hold true even when all notes would be played in identical dynamics, without any emphasis or else; I know, I tried it)! To be able to shape the spatiality inherent in timbres, and to do so in a solo piece (!), is unique [Clarinettist and musician [Germany] | 12th November 2013 Facebook Thread] and: Never ever before I have encountered such brilliance & unrelenting insistence in the densest & most massive material structures as with Marc Yeats’ work, every single work is as written by an extreme expert for the instrument chosen, & at the very same time free & open & pushing me to wherever I cannot go on my own. I’m very grateful to meet such a mind & soul, such a physicality. [Clarinettist and musician [Germany] | 1st. December 2014 Facebook Thread].
Carlton Vickers, contemporary flute
Today, received “Streaming” for Kingma System quartertone alto flute by Marc Yeats. A massive 20< minute energy field. What a terrifying talent this man has. Effortless. Unreal.” and “Such exceptional music. Effortless talent. Marc is such a monster. So much shit and so many impostors/posers out there. You have no idea how refreshing it is. [25th April and 1st. july 2014 Facebook open post] more about Carlton Vickers
“Streaming” presents a serene array of pools, each containing suspended quantities of crystalline particles. Global tempo composites equate to relative fluid motion, influencing local activity, while arrangement is held in stasis. [Specialist Contemporary Flute Virtuoso [US] | 10th October 2015 Facebook message]
Simon Cummings, composer and writer
These concerts [Sonic Coast Concert Series [1-5] / Sound and Music Composer Curator] are curated by one of the UK’s most ceaselessly energetic and imaginative composers, Marc Yeats, on this occasion featuring flautist Carla Rees, oboist Paul Goodey and clarinettist Sarah Watts. [Composer and music blogger 5:4]
Peter Amsel, composer and writer
This is how to compose for solo violin, and the performance… holy crap… just sit back and be awed by the brilliance of Marc Yeats – he is definitely no slouch as a composer, that’s for sure. He brings it, in spades (and buckets) in this amazing piece. For those who know me, you should realize how high this praise is (think Simon Cowell screaming, “Oh my word, that was absolutely friggin BRILLIANT!”) – I just don’t do it too often… so… cutouts, for solo violin, by Marc Yeats. A new masterpiece for the violin repertoire. . . . and Now that I’ve had an opportunity to study Marc’s extremely well prepared score for cutouts I have to say I’m even more impressed by this piece. It definitely deserves to take its place amongst the great solo works for violin, like the Bartok “Sonata”, and the Bach “Partitas” – an entirely different paradigm shift, but that’s the point of stylistic changes from one era to another. Bach would have been impressed, of this I am certain – extremely impressed. [composer, writer and classical guitarist [Canada] | 15/16th March 2015 | Facebook open post]
Carlton Vickers, contemporary flute
To me, the greatest compliment I can pay a composer is after the premiere, and I feel I’ve known their piece my entire life. Obviously, a rare, if not, unheard of occurrence, unless you are Marc Yeats. ‘streaming’ is a work I will perform many times, effortlessly. Bravo, and thank you. [Specialist Contemporary Flute Virtuoso [US] | 3rd. July 2015]
Ian Pace: pianist, musicologist.
I have been enormously interested in Marc’s work for some years and been looking for an opportunity to devote a sustained amount of time to his piano music. Drawing upon a wide range of different interests and motivations, many of them from beyond the field of music, Marc brings an extremely distinctive gestural and linear sensibility to bear upon his composition, combined with a sense of the fantastical but equally a very individual desire to construct new meanings, new expressive possibilities, from a language of fragments, often intensely mediated renditions of some of the residue of past musical languages. I am absolutely sure this will be a major new contribution to the recorded legacy of contemporary piano music. [26th March 2016]
John McLeod, composer
Honoured and proud to be the dedicatee of this extraordinary work by Marc Yeats [observation 2 string quartet] – one of the UK’s most innovative and gifted composers. Trees are swaying and bending in the breeze in some exotic garden before they start up an amazing conversation. We will never know what they are saying – but that’s what makes the piece so compelling. What? Why? Wherefore? – the enigma of life! [26th April 2016]
Click HERE to discover more about Marc and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies
Click HERE to discover Marc’s awards, commissions, prizes and memberships.