Review of Conditional Action (for two flutes) by Gavin Stewart, published on Pan, March 2020
John Palmer has an amazingly creative output of works for flutes and Conditional Action, written in 2016, builds upon this catalogue. In this five-minute piece Palmer explores the full spectrum of flute technique from microtonality and aeolian sounds to multiphonic work all wrapped together in complex rhythmic structures. One particularly effective gesture is the multiphonic trills that open the work; these are full of sonic information which the players are asked to ‘bring out ad lib’. This moment of freedom juxtaposes the otherwise tightly controlled timbres and rhythms that dominate the piece as the two voices appear to weave in and around each other, at moments appearing as one singular line. Intentions for the more experimental techniques are clear and mostly very practical; however achieving these will require the player to explore their instrument and technique as specific fingerings and embouchure techniques are not given. This piece brings a level of complexity and virtuosity that is often reserved for the solo repertoire into a duet setting and so Conditional Action is undoubtedly an undertaking for two adventurous flute players who are well versed in the performance of contemporary music.
Interview on Re di Donne with Cristina Battocletti and Carla Moreni – Swiss Radio RSI Rete 2 “Voi che sapete” programme, RSI Rete 2, Radio della Svizzera Italiana. 17th October 2019
Re di Donne allo Sperimentale di Spoleto. Le Salon Musical interview with John Palmer 15th September 2019
INTERVISTÆ Re di Donne, a cura di Marcello Manuali, 245ma puntata – 8th September 2019
About Art Online: Successo per la prima mondiale di Re Di Donne al Teatro Sperimentale di Spoleto (Claudio Listanti, 9th September 2019)
Pioggia di applausi per la prima di Re di Donne – Spoleto Online, 7th September 2019
Re di Donne al Caio Melisso, Il Giornale degli Umbri, Francesco Castellini, 7th September 2019
Debutto dello Sperimentale: Un “Re di Donne” duro, repellente ma necessario. Vivo Umbria, Valentina Tatti Tonni, 7th September 2019
Radio 3 Suite – Panorama: i concerti e gli spettacoli in giro per l’Italia – 5th September 2019
Critica Classica, “Re di Donne” di John Palmer, 2nd September 2019
On the world premiere of verso l’alto. Bregenz, 3th May 2015
John Palmer hat dem Bratschisten Andreas Ticozzi das Stück “verso l’alto“ auf den Leib geschrieben und es ihm gewidmet. Mit einer intensiven Tongebung erklang das impulsive und virtuose Werk. So kam der romantische Gestus wirkungsvoll zur Geltung. Anfang und Ende des Solowerkes ergaben eine gut nachvollziehbare Bogenform. Vor allem die flirrenden Tonflächen verbunden mit starken Spielgeräuschen setzten bei der Uraufführung viel Energie frei.
Kultur – Zeitschrift für Kultur und Gesellschaft” – Austria
On Musica Reservata CD
“Palmer schreibt intuitiv wirkende Klänge, die den romantischen Topos des träumerisch am Klavier vor sich hin fantasierenden Musikers reflektieren und in die Gegenwart übersetzen. Minimale, durch aufgehobene Dämpfung nachhallende Impulse, Akkorde, Cluster oder Kurzmotive wechseln mit Zonen der Stille, in die hinein die Klaviertöne ausschwingen.
Neue Zeitschrift für Musik 04/2014
On Thereafter world premiere, Stuttgart, 20th February 2013
I liked ‘thereafter’ very much, quite a magical atmosphere, suddenly accelerated at the end, a great, dramatic thrust. And a very nice, sensible and musical relationship with the electronics.
Marco Stroppa, March 2013
On Transference. World premiere, Udine, 17th October 2010
di profilo alto, il postespressionismo dell’inglese Palmer con “Transference” per flauto, clarinetto, violoncello e pianoforte, anche se declinato nel consueto mondo post Webern.
Marco Maria Tosolini, Il Gazzettino di Udine, October 2010
Il brano di John Palmer ‘Transference’ richiama le esperienze delle avanguardie novecentesche, con passaggi di notevole virtuosismo sopratutto per il flauto e con suggestive soluzioni timbriche e ritmiche.
Il Messaggero Veneto, October 2010
Your music impressed me as extremely well-constructed, and finely scored. It is an honour to have received such a fine composition. I appreciate having had the opportunity of become acquainted with your music.
Bruce Polay, Conductor, Knox-Galesburg Symphony, Illinois, 25th July 2009
On Spirits, The Place, London, 12th January 2009
Ethereal modern music of whistles, bells and harps created an other-wordly ambience – heavenly to listen to.
Eileen Strong, Resolution! 2009 Festival)
On Transfiguration, Bremen, 16th January 2009
Das musikalisch interessanteste Werk des Abends war die Komposition ‘Transfiguration’ für Posaune, Live-Elektronik und Tonband von John Palmer. Er verzichtet auf einen persönlichen Stil ebenso wie auf einen zentralen Sinn. Es gibt zwar ein Ordnungssystem und eine Struktur aber keine zentrale Logik. Palmer montiert um die Posaune ein Netz heterogener Klangereignisse, ebenso allumfassend wie unvollständig.”
Michael Pitz-Grewenig, Weser Kurier, 19. Januar 2009
Peace explorers in music. The new works however offered a different sound world. From a musical point of view, the most interesting work of the evening was “transfiguration”, for trombone, live-electronics and tape, by John Palmer. The composer renounces both any kind of personal style and a central reference. Indeed, the work retains a clear inner system and structure while avoiding a prevailing logic. Palmer creates a network of heterogeneous sound-events around the trombone that are both all-embracing and fragmentary at the same time.
Michael Pitz-Grewenig, Weser Kurier, Bremen, 19th January 2009 – translation by Marc Sinclair
On Present Otherness. CD recording, 9th September 2008
Finally, John Palmer stretches the [CD’s] project brief to its limits by choosing to ‘manipulate the spectral characteristics of single sounds in order to create new sounds and create a new music from scratch”. […] Palmer alters the original material so radically that one would hardly know a trumpet existed in his source material.”
Malcom Tattersall, Other Trumpets, Music and Vision, Australia
On Transitions. World premiere, Berlin, 24th September 2003
Der Programmhöhepunkt sollte eigentlich die Uraufführung einer Komposition von 2000 namens Transitions von John Palmer für Klavier, Klarinette, Violine und Cello darstellen. Die drei auszumachenden Teile der Komposition grenzten sich voneinander durch die Gewichtung von Linie und Klangfeld ab. Der erste Teil erzeugte Vorstellungen von riesigen Klanggebäuden, wobei die einzelnen Instrumente nicht voneinander unterscheidbar sein sollten. Teilweise unisono oder permutierend ergänzten sich die Instrumente und brachten so ihre besondere Nähe trotz der spieltechnischen Ferne zum Ausdruck. Im zweiten Teil dominierten die Soli, die vom Klavier begonnen wurden, über die Klarinette und Violine zum Cello führten. Diese waren sehr still und von einer jeweils eigenen Dynamik geprägt. Während der Soli setzten die anderen Instrumente aus. Im dritten Teil nun waren Glissandi und Vierteltöne zu hören. Diese wurden durch heftige Wechsel von einem zum anderen Instrument deutlich, wobei hier im Gegensatz zum Anfang genau die Unterschiede der Instrumente deutlich gemacht werden sollten. Nach der halbstündigen Aufführung konnte der Komponist selbst den Beifall entgegennehmen. In typischer Manier und mit dem obligatorischen Schal bedankte er sich bei den Musikern für die gelungene Aufführung. Als geplanter Programmhöhepunkt wurde John Palmers neues Stück erst an vierter Stelle aufgeführt.
Matthias Wozniak, www.revsomol.de
On “…as it flies…”, encounter, beyond the bridge
Non c’è dubbio che la sua musica abbia un’impronta spirituale, ma anche molto gusto del “suono”. Ho apprezzato “…as it flies…”, ma anche “Encounter” e “Beyond the bridge”, il modo in cui la tradizione classica europea si fonde con l’elettronica ma si avvicina anche ad altre tradizioni.
Alessandro Sbordoni, Nuova Consonanza Festival, Rome, 12.9.2002
On Drang, Sound Ways Festival, St. Petersburg, November 2000
Spread over 10 days, the St Petersburg 2000 Sound Ways Festival allowed soloists and chamber music ensembles from all over the world, as well as larger choral and orchestral formations, to showcase a large number of contemporary works varying tremendously in compositional scope, style and innovativeness. In this reviewer’s opinion DRANG, by British composer John Palmer and its performance by the young St Petersburg accordionist Sergej Tchirkov, was the highlight of the Festival. In his programme note to DRANG, John Palmer says: “This music is to be played with much Sturm und Drang character; impetuous, yearning, passionate, gestural, directional and always virtuoso-like. For this reason, rubato techniques are essential for the performance of this work and the performer is encouraged to emphasize – and exaggerate – much of the phrasing and articulations according to her/hir virtuosity and interpretation. The production of air sounds from within the instrument should resemble the inhaling and exhaling typical of human breathing. The air sounds should strongly enhance the dramatic character of the music. Therefore, they are no less important than the notes.
DRANG is a supremely virtuoso work, confronting the performer with enormous interpretational, technical and physical hurdles. Its structure arches over more than 10 minutes of intricate, filigrained, very involved figurations interwoven with, and interrupted by, chordal declamations and pillars of silence. Palmer’s integration of human breathing into all of this fuses the instrumental with the vocal, the inanimate with the animate, the decorative with the basis of our existence. Sergej Tchirkov plunged into DRANG, playing the entire work from memory, completely unhindered by any of the aforementioned difficulties. The complex figurations flowed from his fingers as if they were ordinary classical patterns, the physical stamina required for the performance and the emotional intensity Tchirkov brought to, and sustained throughout the work were seemingly without effort, as simple and completely natural as breathing. In Tchirkov passion, intelligence and a finely differentiated aesthetic sense come together in a most promising mixture. This young accordeonist is an ideal interpreter for this difficult but important addition to the music of our century.
Margie-Wu, pianist, Zurich
On Spirits, German first performance, Munich, 9th June 1997
In the dark, a man [John Palmer] lights three candles at the synthesizer and inquires through suspended sounds into the activities of nocturnal apparitions… [Spirits] … Palmer’s works Spirits and Phonai step through the hyper-regions of a spiritual meta-world: his subtle evocations, infatuated with seventh- and semitones glissandoes, skillfully avoid sliding into too easy musical propositions thanks to an individual perspective which keeps the events terse, compelling and strongly original.
Süddeutsche Zeitung, Munich, 10 June 1997
On Palmer’s electroacoustic music
What is inspiration? John Palmer, one of the most successful British electroacoustic composers.
Neue Krone Zeitung, Vienna, 24th May 1996
On Beyond the Bridge, world premiere, Lucerne, 21st/22nd September 1994
Electroacoustic Music: Two concerts by John Palmer in Lucerne
On Friday 21st and Saturday 22nd January 1994 two concerts of electro-acoustic music took place at the Wartegg villa in Lucerne. Actually, a rare – if not unique – event, which would have certainly appealed to a larger audience.
British composer and pianist, John Palmer, winner of the 1992 Lucerne competition and initiator of both concerts, who has a deep interest in this genre, not only musically but also with scientific meticulousness (he is about to gain a PhD in Composition) offered two extremely interesting evenings of “chamber music”. His activities encompass an extraordinarily wide range: up to a few years ago a student at the local conservatoire where he graduated in Piano Studies, today he is a busy composer, lecturer and performer whose qualities as a pianist and synthesizer-player are well known as is his brilliant mastery in the production and design of live-electronics and the direction of an electro-acoustic studio. In this sense, the electronics are his instrument, which he controls even from the piano. Also astonishing is his development as a composer: up to a few years ago, one could not have foreseen the development of his work. His latest compositions (including omen for amplified voices and orchestra) are mature pieces, which, it seems to me, are in no way inferior to the works of his mentor Jonathan Harvey which have been performed in these concerts; on the contrary they sometimes surpass them. This is particularly the case in beyond the bridge, in both a metaphysical and physical sense (the ponticello of the cello). Of all the works of both evenings this composition seems to be the most original, the most self-contained, and the most pleasant to the ear, and at the same time well thought out and designed throughout its poetical beauty of sound. It also demonstrates most impressively the superimposition of time layers and therefore a negation of time boundaries.
Another discovery was the soloist of the second evening, the cellist Zoe Martlew, also from London. Wonderful technique, coupled with expressiveness and clear understanding of the problems and the new beauties of such music. She dominated the second evening, in which she also was the visual protagonist (John Palmer, discreetly in the background, was nevertheless fully in control during his own compositions and others he was involved in). Lamentation as well as accusation conveyed John Palmer’s recent work Epitaph* (in memoriam Ursula Saenger) for cello and electronics, performed by both musicians with highest inspiration and concentration. Altogether two most exciting evenings for the lovers and the beginners of this music.
Hubert Podstransky, Luzerner Neue Nachrichten, 28th September 1994
* Note by the composer: this was the first version of Epitaph, subsequently revised. The new version is available on the sargasso CD scd 28038
On Palmer’s music
John Palmer’s music portrays a sharp awareness of sound unfolding in time and space simultaneously, suggesting both a predilection for subtle transformations of colour and a distinguished perception of silence. It is a music that goes beyond today’s stylistic stereotypes. His compositional techniques vary from work to work, from the application of vigorous methodologies to the most spontaneous unfolding of musical ideas based on pure intuiton.
Gwenneth Bransby-Zachary, GBZ Managament, London, 1993
OnVision. World premiere, Sachseln (CH), 26th September 1993
Music of the spheres in the hermitage – Electro-acoustic music with John Palmer: a concert in Sachseln and a course in Lucerne
According to the English composer Jonathan Harvey, electronic music, due to its expansion of the possibilities of sound, is one of the keys to spirituality. The younger composer John Palmer, who has studied in Lucerne and now lives in London, proved himself a kindred spirit to his former teacher in his piece Vision, which is a musical interpretation of Brother Klaus’s enlightenment. It was the central work in a concert given by Palmer together with the Lucerne flautist Jonas Lindenmann in Sachseln’s Brother Klaus Museum, which they filled with sounds of galactic dimensions.
Musically, everything went extraordinarily well, with the technical apparatus being used for far more refined effects than the mere bombastic boosting in volume of the harpsichord (John Palmer) and flute (Jonas Lindenmann).
The most exciting aspect of the programme lay in the interaction between electronic and acoustic sound-production. The most convincing work in this respect was one written especially for this concert in the museum, John Palmer’s own vision, which gradually dispersed the energetic activity of spiky harpsichord figurations into ethereally smooth fields of sound. The harpsichord and tape, at first locked into one another as separate cogs, became not only melted together, but, during the working-out of the piece’s process, more and more closely bound to one another. The relation of opposite sound-sources, of man and machine, was just as spiritual as the echoes of the spheres, distinguishing themselves in their delicate tenderness from so much of the now familiar ‘new-age sauce’.
Urs Mattenberg, Luzerner Zeitung, 28th September 1994 – translation: Juliana Hodkinson
On Palmer’s music
THE AMBIGUITY OF SOUNDS: The composer and pianist John Palmer
Sursee: the young composer and pianist John Palmer, along with other artists, collected his prize from the City and Canton of Lucerne yesterday. Who is John Palmer? Let us discover. As the name suggests, he is not a Lucerner by birth. He is, in fact, British. However, he has a close relationship with Lucerne. It was here that the now 33-year old man graduated in piano studies. From 1986 to 1990 he attended the Dreilinden Conservatory of Music, studying with Grazia Wendling and Eva Serman. Then his postgraduate studies in composition took him from Lucerne back to London, to Trinity College of Music and on to do a doctorate at City University in the same city. But in a way he is still with us, not having given up his residence in Lucerne. The first contact with Palmer reveals a sympathetic and serious man who thinks deeply about life and art, and formulates quite clearly his own philosophical thoughts. “Between Freedom And Discipline” – with this slogan he tries to live and conduct his musical work. It is extremely important to Palmer that life-style and artistic aims are in harmony with each other. He stresses the fact that his life until now, and particularly in his earlier years, has never suggested he should take anything for granted, and his music somehow is supposed to manifests his life-experiences.PALMER’S WAY TO NEW MUSIC
Back in 1985, when he started composing, Palmer was a big fan of Chopin’s music: “I didn’t have a clue about Stockhausen.” The following five years in Lucerne brought about a gradual transformation and awareness which led him to new music. At first it began with a predilection for Debussy and Ravel. Later he discovered 12-tone music, “I found my way to this music by intellectual means: I began by reading books about it. This required discipline, but it worked well. With the time I learnt how to understand this music”. Later on in his musical exploration, Palmer came across John Cage, “It began with my decision to write my dissertation about this composer for the History of Music final year at the conservatory, much against the wishes of my teacher.” What followed was a 3-year friendship with the great musician which lasted until Cage’s death. This association with John Cage made a great impression upon Palmer.
Up to two years ago electronic music still remained a taboo for him. “I discounted it because I thought it was artificial.” In this instance it was an English contemporary composer, Jonathan Harvey, who opened his eyes, “His music which works with traditional instruments combined with synthesizers and electronics, struck me considerably. For me it was like a door to a new world.” Today, Palmer is convinced that every young composer should consider electronic music, at least for a certain period. He also believes that it is very important for an audience to stretch its horizons and feels that British culture is already moving in this direction. In London there is a widespread sensibility towards electronic music, contrary to the situation here in Switzerland. One of Palmer’s ambitions at the moment is to encourage a general awareness and acceptance of the synthesizer as an instrument in its own right. By taking it on stage he hopes the synthesizer will eventually gain the same status as traditional instruments. In some of his works, for example Omen for orchestra, John Palmer attempts to achieve a sonic unity through the subtleties of timbral transformations, both vocal and instrumental. It is the game of “ ambiguity of sounds”, as he puts it, which particularly fascinates him. Another example is the work Reflections where he uses real trumpet and piano sounds, together with their synthetic imitations.
PLADOYER FOR PLURALISM
What are the technical principles of John Palmer’s compositions? “Well, they vary very much. Here again, it is a matter of my previously-mentioned principle of ‘Freedom and Discipline’. I am not a follower of a fixed compositional technique, such as serialism, for example. I do not want to create music for the sake of technique.” At the beginning of his compositions the composer sets always an aim. Then he decides which technique he needs in order to achieve that aim. “For this reason I often create my own systems. I like to work with numbers; in Omen I have limited myself to only seven notes”. This is why in his oeuvre one can find works that have little in common stylistically. “I usually prefer rigorous forms, but a work like Spirits, for instance, has no traditional formal construction at all.” Today’s musical world does no more end with Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen, says a happy John Palmer for being awarded right here in Lucerne.
Christian Peter Meier, Luzerner Zeitung, 25th January 1993 – translation by Roger Solomon
On Palmer’s piano music. “Palmer plays Palmer” BMIC concert, London, 23rd February 1993
A successful concert in every sense. John Palmer is an inspiring composer and a fine pianist, too.” (Philip Jones OBE, Trinity College of Music, London
On Omen, Cultural Price of the City and Canton of Lucerne 1992
Das sowohl formal als auch durch den Miteinbezug von verstärkten Vokalpartien in der Klangidee überzeugende und atmospherische Werk [omen] weist John Palmer als einen vielversprechenden und entwicklungsfähigen Komponisten aus.
Jury des Kulturpreises der Stadt Luzern, 1992
On Sun and Earth, 1990
Captivating sounds! Your music makes the point very clearly.
John Cage, New York, August 1990
On Utopia, world premiere, Biel, 12th March 1990
Young composers and young interpreters: a remarkable surprise
The quite extended composition utopia for mezzosoprano and four wind instruments by John Palmer, was an extraordinarily positive surprise. The composer uses new playing techniques for wind instruments, from instrumental and vocal noises to harmonics and multiphonics, with impressive musical imagination, elegance of sound and wit, too. The voice is treated without a text, as a pure instrument; on the other hand the players of the wind instruments are also producing vocal sounds. The whole thing isn’t simply a demonstration of instrumental effects, but on the contrary has the effect of a captivating, amusing, and somehow even liberating music.
Junge Komponisten und junge Interpreten: Eine positive Überraschung
Eine ausserordentliche positive Ueberraschung stellte die recht ausgedehnte Komposition utopia. Der Komponist setzt einfallsreich, mit viel Klangphantasie, Klangsinn und auch Witz neuere Spielweisen fuer Blasinstrumente ein, von Blas- und Klappengeräuschen über Flageoletts bis zu Mehrklängen aus Obertönen. Die Singstimme wird ohne Text instrumental behandelt, und auch die Bläser werden zu oralen Äusserungen herangezogen. Das ganze hinterlässt keineswegs den Eindruck einer Demonstration, sondern wirkt als kurzweilige, fesselnde und irgendwie sogar befreiende Musik.”
Daniel Andres, Bieler Tagblatt, 14th March 1990 – translation: GBZ Management, London
On Utopia. Liechtenstein, 14th March 1990
This work goes beyond frontiers especially in the style of its performance. The listener does not find himself in the usual frontal collision with the work, but in the middle of it. Note at the beginning of the piece: ‘… darkness on stage, the flute and the oboe play behind the stage, both invisible’. At the entry of the singer, dressed in black, a soft light goes on and the music begins. From time to time there are notes regarding the scene. Movement is everything. Movement of lights, movement of the actors on stage, movement in the musical material, movements in motives. Moreover, the sound contains special effects, too. The voice has to sing with the hand to the mouth, inhaling and exhaling, humming repetitions of words, whispering, high and low speaking effects, changing sounds between English and German. The wind instruments are treated in a similar manner. Noises caused by particular embrochures, speaking and playing at the same time, a “rrr” to be spoken before the actual note is played, key-clips, lips-glissando to imitate laughter, use of quarter-tones and whistle effects. The work shows a consistent formal idea carried out through long motivic contours and clear changes between monophonics and multiphonics. Free rhythms are always resolved in exact notation. The composition is a conglomeration of compositional techniques of recent years and is an attempt at a utopian collage directed towards the next century”.
MUSE – Cultural Journal of Liechtenstein, Contemporary Chamber Music Series, translation: GBZ Management, London
On song for you, Poem for the Absurd and Trio for Bill Evans. Sursee Rathaus Concert, 7th July 1988
THE PROPHET IN HIS OWN LAND
John Palmer and his friends gave an impressive performance. His works give evidence of sparkling ideas. Song for You, a jazz piece, gave also the bass player Christian Hartmann a chance to test his virtuosity, whilst Trio for Bill Evans was a very impressive demonstration of its musical clarity and sonorities, giving the flautist the opportunity to explore and exhaust the technical possibilities of the instrument.
Vaterland, 9th July 1988 – translation: David Mauer)
UNUSUAL PROGRAMME WITH WORKS BY JOHN PALMER
…this passionate and elegant pianist who composes in a modern lyrical idiom. He is familiar with new sonorities, with the poetic orientations of Debussy, the pianistic technique of Bartok and equally with the character of his English fellow-compatriot Benjamin Britten. Indeed, John Palmer concentrates upon an impressive musical brightness, radiant tone colours, and his tone pictures are far more than merely unrestrained ramblings. In fact, he continuously uses well-defined formal structures, catchy motives and themes with recurrent developments and variations in each single voice as in, for instance, Song For You. This piece was surely not conceived as a “song for you all, the large audience”, but as a sort of “confession to you” covering a whole gamut of emotions. The piece is composed in the traditional A-B-A form and the rhythmically straight pizzicato playing of the double bass created a surprising contrast to the lyrical passages of the piano. The title of the piano piece Poem For The Absurd reminds one of similar grotesque titles by the French avant-guarde composer Eric Satie. However, with the ambiguous “absurd” Palmer certainly does not refer to dissonances of any sort. Despite the passionate blocks of chords and the flamboyant melodic passages in whole-tone scales, the piece is neither ugly nor intentionally brutal. It is a zig-zag through different tonal areas and yet with a regular return to the charming. The same applies to Trio For Bill Evans including a short, but thoughtful and discreet first movement, the second movement rich in melodic expressivity especially in the flute and cello parts, and the third movement technically very demanding and written in a lively and sparkling saltarello-style. The polished interplay of the three musicians was a very enjoyable and pleasant experience having an impressive impact on the audience.
Landbote, 12th July 1988 – translation: Sue Watson