Athanasia Kontou - CANCELLED

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A bit over a year ago, on 12th March 2020, I had the pleasure of listening to the Ligeti Quartet live. That was in a gig at the SoundsLikeTHIS festival in Leeds, where a premiere of a vocal work of mine was in a set which was headlining the quartet’s performance. It was just a few days before the first national lockdown, when everything in the UK was seemingly still “normal”, but some events had been cancelled as the pandemic’s shadow was growing. With this threat hovering in the air (quite literally!), before the ensemble’s amazing performance, Patrick, (or maybe it was Richard, I am not sure) jokingly said “Welcome to the last concert ever!”

This joke made an impression on me, and soon proved to be surprisingly prophetic, as the very next day I fell ill with COVID-19. Whilst I was in isolation, we went into lockdown and the rest is history. So, this concert in Leeds was indeed the last concert I went to in the pre-pandemic world, and for this reason I remember it very fondly. What has followed, none of us artists, I think, is fond of; cancellation upon cancellation, postponements until further notice, empty diaries, financial uncertainty…

This personal anecdote in combination with the frustrating situation gave me the idea for this piece, written especially the Ligeti Quartet’s WORKOUT! scheme. CANCELLED is a set of five miniatures about cancellation, and how it can be translated into music. In each one of the miniatures, the concept of cancellation is dealt with in different ways. In the first introductory movement, cancellation presents itself in the sound, but also in the notation, with the sweeping gestures across the full range of the ensemble forming X shapes in the score. Throughout the second movement, the viola player moves their bow diagonally from left to right and vice versa, while playing soft, non-pitch material. This results into crosses being formed visually this time. The third movement is an Aria gone wrong, cancelled out by its own accompaniment. The pointilistic fourth movement slowly loses its energy and dies away. In the last movement, an insistent machine-like repetition gets succeeded by a detuned jazz tune.

Composer: Athanasia Kontou

Composer photo
Photo of Athanasia Kontou

Athanasia Kontou is a 25-year-old Manchester-based composer and pianist originally from Greece. Her compositional portfolio comprises of more than 40 pieces ranging from solo to orchestral repertoire, mainly for acoustic instruments. Athanasia was the 2019 winner of the prestigious Christopher Brooks Composition Prize, awarded by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. She has been commissioned amongst others by Ensemble 10/10, RNCM New Ensemble, AXO-duo (DE) and pianist Dr. Adam Swayne. Her works have been performed by the Antwerp Symphony Orchestra, Psappha Ensemble, the BBC Singers, the Elias String Quartet, ensemble deCompagnie (BE). This year, she is working with ensemble recherche, as part of the Klassenarbeit project, and she is writing music for an interdisciplinary project with award-winning poet/director Katie Byford. She studied composition at the Royal Northern College of Music, where she took the Master’s in Composition course, and subsequently the Postgraduate Diploma Course (which she completed with a 90% Distinction). Her studies were supported by the Garner Howard award, and entrance scholarships for both courses from the RNCM.