Welcome to SmorgasChord!
The noun SmorgasChord denotes a cultural feast with numerous concerts in one day. The format of a SmorgasChord goes like this... guests may gorge on music, poetry and art till fully satiated. There is an expectation that the audience may be somewhat famished in that regard.
For culture, the pandemic has been a horrific crisis: cancellations, postponements, and slashed diaries. For audiences, it has left a colossal cultural void, laying bare the value that art plays in our lives in ordinary times.
There have, however, been silver linings. The pandemic has afforded us time to think and reflect, to redefine and shape how we think about music in the future.
Building on a series of concerts we presented as students in Oxford (which ranged from the informal to the formal, with music from de Vitry to Ella Fitzgerald, Boulez to the Beach Boys) we have founded SmorgasChord!
We have a variety of different concert formats, each short and relaxed. In one, the concerts are carefully curated, with a complex web of connections linking disparate musical and literary threads. In another, the concerts are more of a hodgepodge, allowing artists to present what they want in an informal, relaxing environment. And in yet another, we interweave poetry into our programmes, allowing for a conversation across art forms. Here, we chose poems that sometimes reflect themes in the piece, sometimes reflect themes not in the pieces, and sometimes have nothing to do with the pieces at all! And of course, new music is in its natural place in our programming: at the heart of what we do.
We held our first SmorgasChord in Oxford in June 2021. Things moved quickly: within a month of having the idea, we'd chosen a programme, rehearsed it, appeared on Radio 3, and performed all the concerts! The first concert comprised of chamber works by Kaija Saariaho and Clara Schumann, as well as Ligeti’s early Cello Sonata. Placing these modern works alongside Clara Schumann’s trio brings out an unusual latent modernity in her work. Second, was our relaxed soiree, with works by composers ranging from Joseph Achron to Jörg Widmann, interspersed with poetry by Elizabeth Bishop and Louise Glück among others. To close, we paired Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time with a newly commissioned work by Sebastian Black. Messiaen’s extraordinary, timeless work, we felt, was the perfect way to bring this special day to a close.
Throughout 2021-22, we will hold smaller pop-up events that will introduce some of the ideas presented in our next festival, to be held in June 2022 in Oxford. Planning is currently underway for SmorgasChord 2022, but be sure to expect the most varied programme we'll have ever presented...
Sebastian Black & Eliza Millett
Part of this article was originally published in Classical Music Magazine. You can read it here!
Sebastian Black is a British / NZ musician who was born in 1996 in Colchester, UK. His music has been commissioned by Aldeburgh Music, the BBC, Mahler Foundation (for Het Concertgebouw), Cambridge University and New Music North West. Aged only 14, Kollaps, for clarinet and electronics, received its premiere at the Royal Albert Hall, London, by Jordan Black in 2010. This was followed by Five Lorca Settings (Jesus College, Cambridge, 2011), Notturno (Snape Maltings Concert Hall, 2012), and Narcissus (Manchester, 2013). More recent works have included Chrysalis (Christ Church, Oxford, 2015, subsequently broadcast on BBC Radio 3), Idyll-Cortège (Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford, 2017) and Grand Pas de Cinq (KCL, 2018). In 2010, he won the BBC Young Composer as one of the youngest ever winners.
He studied with Sir George Benjamin at King’s College London for his masters, for which he was awarded the Hilda Margaret Watts Prize. He previously studied at the University of Oxford and Chetham’s School of Music.
He has also performed extensively as a pianist and curated music festivals in Manchester and Oxford. He co-directs SmorgasChord.
Forthcoming projects include the (postponed) premiere of The Mosaique of the Aire, originally commissioned by the Mahler Foundation for Het Concertgebouw’s Mahler Festival 2020, in addition to the premiere of I Heard Nothing But The Roaring Sea at SmorgasChord 2021.
He is represented on SOUNZ Centre for NZ Music Toi Te Arapūoro.
Cellist Eliza Millett is a graduate of the University of Oxford, attaining First-class Honours in Music, and of the Royal Academy of Music in London, where she studied cello with Christoph Richter. Eliza has performed as a soloist and chamber musician in a number of UK venues such as Wigmore Hall, IMS Prussia Cove, St John's Smith Square and St James Piccadilly, and has taken masterclasses with international musicians such as Adrian Brendel, Colin Carr, Johannes Moser and Gary Hoffman.
She is a founder member of the award-winning Echea Quartet, currently Chamber Music Fellows at the Royal College of Music and recent recipients of the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Albert and Eugenie Frost Chamber Music Prize. The quartet has appeared at international festivals in Ireland, Aix-en-Provence, Argentina and at the Banff Centre in Canada, as well as performing and winning the ‘Tremplin’ award at the Philharmonie de Paris’ String Quartet Biennial (2020).
The Echéa Quartet’s dedication to new music is central to their work: they have commissioned works by UK-based composers, including Louise Drewett, Freya Waley-Cohen and Robert Laidlow, and have worked closely with Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Andrew Norman and Henning Kraggerud.
Eliza plays on a W.E. Hill & Sons cello (2019), generously on loan from the Harrison-Frank Trust. She co-directs SmorgasChord.