Emily Howard is a multi-award-winning composer who is deeply fascinated with the "poetry" that can be found in mathematical shapes and processes. The development of a series of geometry-inspired orchestral works has been central to her creative practice over recent years, and these Orchestral Geometries make up three of the four pieces on Howard's new album, Torus.
The work which gives the album its name, Torus, was a 2016 BBC Proms Commission described by The Times as "visionary", and was the winner of the orchestral category of the 2017 British Composer Awards. Here the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Martyn Brabbins bring to life Howard's meditation on the shape which her collaborator, the mathematician Marcus du Sautoy describes in his notes for the album as "a finite flat geometry where top and bottom are joined into a cylinder which is then connected at both ends to make a doughnut shape." Howard translates this into vivid music punctuated with continual oscillations and pulsations, with the void in the centre of the shape playing a vital part in this music of stark contrasts.
Antisphere, which was featured in the Barbican's high-profile Life Rewired season in 2019, interprets the impossibly concave imaginary shape of its namesake. An uncanny panorama of "huge gyrations" and "estranged pitches" (Paul Griffiths), are heard here performed by the BBC Philharmonic with conductor Vimbayi Kaziboni.
Although she is inspired by the intricate mathematical properties of each form, Howard goes further to produce her Orchestral Geometries. She meditates on each form, its distinct character and "shape-energy", saying, "the musical score often emerges through the consideration of multiple journeys around the imagined entity, from multiple viewpoints." During the composition of the smaller-scale work sphere, Howard imagined travelling across the convex surface of the shape, encountering different landscapes which are brought to life in this recording by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Mark Wigglesworth.
The newest work on the album is Compass for string septet (Birmingham Contemporary Music Group with conductor Gabriella Teychenné) and solo percussionist (Julian Warburton). Howard conceives of this piece as a synthesis and evolution of her Orchestral Geometries, elaborating on the soundworlds of all three geometric forms, producing music which is more weird, more abstract, perhaps symbolising a new chapter in the composer's body of work.
This new album follows Magnetite, the critically-acclaimed portrait disc which NMC released in 2016 as part of the label's Debut Disc series.
'All four [works] are charged with structural tension and packed with dramatic flourishes... [Howard's] compositions are taut and suspenseful in their development, robustly delineated and often edgy, even rugged in character [...] energetic impact and imaginative breadth.' The Wire
'[Torus] unfolds as a beautiful adagio for strings overlaid with stronger pulsations […] Emily Howard has been really lucky with all the performances and recordings on this new album, it's a fine showcase for her orchestral scores and her geometrical explorations.' BBC Radio 3 Record Review
'Howard’s lyricism has led to marvellously uncanny results that take vast leaps in pitch and volume in their stride [...] triumphant and strange, a shimmering klaxon that sounds like the workings of some near-future mechanism.' New Scientist
'These recordings sit on the edge of discomfort, relishing in the stark contrasts of timbres available to an orchestra. Oscillating between these extremes, this is music-making at its most dynamic.' ★★★★★ BBC Music Magazine
'[Emily Howard is] established among the most distinctive while forward-looking composers of her generation, heard in scrupulous performances by a notable line-up of British orchestras and ensembles [...] This impressive release reinforces Howard’s significance in no uncertain terms.' Arcana
'A warping and melting of harmony and rhythm, in which intervals collapse into one another, in which time is shrunk and stretched, and in which extremes of density and quietness create a friction that's expressive and geometric.' BBC Radio 3 New Music Show
Antisphere was recorded by the BBC at The Bridgewater Hall on 29 October 2022.
STEPHEN RINKER Recording Engineer
MATTHEW BENNETT Producer
sphere was recorded by the BBC at Aldeburgh Festival on 23 June 2018 and first broadcast on 2 July 2018 on BBC Radio 3.
STEPHEN RINKER Recording Engineer
DEAN CRAVEN Producer
Compass was recorded at the Royal Northern College of Music on 4 December 2022.
DAVID LEFEBER Recording Engineer & Producer
Torus was recorded by the BBC at Barbican Hall on 1 November 2019 and first broadcast on 11 November 2019 on BBC Radio 3.
CHRISTOPHER ROUSE Recording Engineer
ANN MCKAY Producer
DAVID LEFEBER Mastering
This album is supported by PRiSM, The RNCM Centre for Practice & Research in Science & Music, funded by the Research England fund Expanding Excellence in England (E3).
Catalogue no: NMC D274
Release date: 28 April 2023