Venue 505, February 12


This was music into which you could sink as if it were a soft leather armchair, while the musical diary conjured images before your eyes. Pianist/composer Novak Manojlovic was enshrining in sound nine memories of places and people, and in the process taking us deep into the weave of his perceptions and texture of his emotional responses.

Novak Manojlovic. Photo: Sam Gill.

Five days after hearing Paul Cutlan’s String Project, here was another improviser employing a string quartet, and although this one wasn’t as refined as Cutlan’s, it was certainly good enough to bring Manojlovic’s imaginative writing to life. We were initially taken to Big Sur, California, and wrapped in a quiet foreboding that segued into a sudden sun-shower of melody. Manojlovic conjured San Francisco with solo piano that juggled ornate elegance with massive density, before we dashed to Copenhagen for Canals, with the crying, sighing strings capped by glistening little plinks from a glockenspiel (Jacques Emery, who, rather usefully, also played guitar, percussion and keyboard).

A sad, diaphanous romanticism permeated the strings on Through Woods and Tuneless, penned for Middle Eastern refugees in Europe, with a hint of Gypsy swashbuckle in the first violin part (Yuhki Mayne), and a high-drama conclusion. Austinmer was the next stopover: an evocation of stillness by piano, strings and glockenspiel, evolving to tremolo-laden guitar and a cello melody (Freya Schack-Arnott) that seemed to flood the room with moonlight. We Will Later Think it Silver had Manojlovic switching to guitar to cook up an African-inflected groove with pizzicato strings and snare drum.

String intonation issues that resurfaced on a trip to Sweden were washed away by a ravishing piano solo, and we finished in Germany, where Manojlovic deftly painted the dichotomy of a village’s charming mundanity nestled next to what as a Nazi death camp: piano and drums seemingly depicting the former; the strings having a sinister edge. Hana King (violin) and Beth Condon (viola) completed a string quartet that helped Manojlovic bare these facets of his inner self, while Emery revealed more of his versatile musicality.