When I began producing concerts for St George’s in 2002, one of my early dates was a double bill of solo piano by Mark Springer – a founder member of legendary Bristol post-punk band Rip Rig & Panic (see them here as an insert on classic TV comedy ’The Young Ones’) – and the Welsh jazz pianist Huw Warren. I’d probably expected a programme of solo improvisations but Mark had other ideas, arriving that afternoon with his engineer and pre-recording four separate tracks for a series of linked pieces which he then accompanied live to provide the fifth part of the resulting quintets. It was a thrilling, astonishingly bold performance, as can be heard on The Watching Bird, a rich and varied double-album on Mark’s own Exit label that includes the St George’s recording. A hard minimalistic pulse is overlaid by delicate, almost orientalist effects and madly jangling overtones to form a musical palimpsest where the relationships between the different impressions remain beguilingly fluid, constantly shifting into new sonic patterns that continue to regenerate, like ocean waves forming and reforming or a computer algorithm skipping nimbly through the digital options available.
You could, if you like, make reference to the experiments of Steve Reich and Conlon Nancarrow or even the esoteric piano music of Gurdjieff and De Hartmann, but as will be evident from the other pieces on this recording, Mark Springer doesn’t really sound like anyone else. Whether it’s classical or crossover or whatever category you prefer doesn’t matter, either. This is music, and proper music at that: there’s form, texture, aesthetic harmony and disharmony and a colour-field of emotions to key your responses to. In his more recent compositions there’s a new, almost pastoral element at work, too, evident in the powerful evocation of a sense of place or reverence for the natural world. Of course, this could just be my imagination but one of the most satisfying things about Mark Springer is that he gives the listener a lot to work with.
In February 2015 – twelve or thirteen years after the original St George’s concert – Mark came to the studio of Nimbus Records, near to where I live in Monmouth. I went along to say hello and stayed to hear part of the recording of his new string quartets (featuring the Lochrian String Quartet), an experience I found profoundly moving, inspiring even. Once again, this was real, hard-won and worked-over music that functioned on a number of levels simultaneously, feeding both the emotions and the mind. It also sounded as immediately attractive as any new music I know, yet it continued to deepen; indeed,the process is still going on. We may not know exactly where to file Mark Springer, but listening to him is no problem at all.
The Nimbus experience also provided an introduction to the Lochrian Quartet, who played the music so sensitively, and with such evident regard for Mark and his work. When I was looking for a string quartet to accompany the Theremin player Lydia Kavina for the concert we titled Theremin! as part of last year’s filmic series, our annual partnership with Watershed, I therefore asked the members of Lochrian if they were able to participate. They were, and the result was a wonderful evening that ended with fulsome praise both from the audience, and from Lydia Kavina herself, for the group’s consummate professionalism in playing so superbly after only an hour or two’s rehearsal that afternoon.
Now, as the opening St George’s concert for filmic 2017, Mark Springer and the Lochrian Quartet will be reunited for ‘Concert with Film’: Mark’s new music for piano and string quartet inspired by the landscapes of Italy and his time spent composing and performing at the remarkable Castello di Potentino in Tuscany, will be accompanied by films by the directors John Maybury and Sarah Killery that were themselves inspired by Mark’s music. There will also be wine from the estate’s vintages, to taste and to buy. This film of Mark’s ‘Potentino Concerto’ gives a tantalising flavour of both music and setting.
Phil Johnson, Senior Programme Producer