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THE THIRD SEA LONDON 2023

'The Third Sea is a cycle of ten songs (one without words) - and only the stage lighting was explicitly theatrical at this premiere performance - but it harbours tempting scenic possibilities. [...]

The often sensuous score, running for some 50 minutes, forms a coherent whole, exploiting its resources both sympathetically and inventively. The vocal line, spun in pearly tones by Cutting, ranges satisfyingly wide in both pitch and expression. Watts's declared intention is to trace the transition from dry land to open seas by moving gradually from notated lines to improvisation. Initially suggestive of Debussian tracery, the textures become more substantial and chordal, jazzily succulent in the vein of Bill Evans in such passages as the extended piano solo in the seventh song. [...] Some arresting use is made of 'special effects' - the violinist intermittently whispers the Hebrew word 'Neshama' (soul) in the second song (entitled 'Soul') and the cellist rubs the wood of the instrument in the finale, 'Night', which echoes the spirit of the opening of the cycle. Exploiting extremes of register in the cello and violin, and an ethereally floating voice, it is also the song that elucidates the title of the work: 'The sea is mirror to the sky: the two are but twin oceans, that flow into each other. Between this pair a third sea storms: my heart...'

(Yehudah Shapiro, Opera Magazine, May 2023)

KEPLER-MOTETTEN TÜBINGEN / HARROGATE / LONDON 2019/20

‘Everything was interconnected - in precise correspondence to Johannes Kepler's new, but still Christian-devout Copernican world view at the epochal turning point towards the modern age and located between mathematics, mysticism and magic. In addition to the German-British exchange on the subjects of literature, music and (historical) science there was a British variation on the subject of Kepler's sense of humour making this a most wonderfully enjoyable event in the age of Brexit. This was confirmed by the enthusiastic applause and the delightfully cheerful atmosphere during the reception that followed.’

(Martin Bernklau, Reutlinger General-Anzeiger)

‘dissonant tight clusters, compressed agglomerations of sound overlaid by irridescently sweet counter sonorities…transposition of the earth's orbit into sound frequencies…rising suns of sound…artistically accomplished and sonorous…Dissonance gives rise to harmony and vice versa - altogether remarkable, philosophically and compositionally advanced music.’

(Achim Stricker, Schwäbische Tageblatt)

‘the desperate beauty of the second motet of Tim Watts’ sublime Kepler-Motetten…was an echo in darkness…Gesualdo’s harrowing rendition evoked a sense of cosmic loss and isolation as near total as that vouchsafed in permanent exile. I was minded, apropos of the plaintive desolation of the voices, to think of the forsaken godlessness of a Beckett play, if not also of Friedrich Hölderlin, the German Romantic poet whose luminous lines inform Watts’ music.’

(Steve Whitaker, Yorkshire Times)

Concerts of contemporary music are traditionally a hard sell, and it’s been one of the unexpected pleasures of the current digital pay-per-view landscape that performers can experiment, trusting their audience to take risks a venue or festival might not. Here it paid off, in an exhilarating sequence of works by Dobrinka Tabakova, Tim Watts and Richard Rodney Bennett that each mused on astronomy, physics and their relation to the divine.”

Technically daunting and mercurial in mood, the Watts is a touchstone for a young group with serious skills – probably the best all-male ensemble this side of the King’s Singers. With a wonderfully clean alto sound and plenty of low bass to keep things anchored, The Gesualdo Six and artistic director Owain Park made a strong case for these unfamiliar works, framing them thoughtfully with polyphony by Lassus and Josquin – the latter’s Tu solus qui facis mirabilia … an exquisite moment of simplicity and stillness after so many musical equations.

(Alexandra Coghlan, The i Newspaper, November 2020)

KEPLER'S TRIAL LONDON 2017

"The music teems with energy and melody all the way through, occasionally incorporating glorious ‘rebuilds’ of seventeenth century music"

(Judith Weir, composer & Master of the Queen’s Music)

 

"The production boasts remarkable intellectual, musical and staging coherence...History is brought to the present and viewed from varying perspectives both in the music and in artist Aura Satz’s film elements. Watts cites the variety of forms in Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo (1607) as an influence on the structure. He also incorporates ‘found materials’, such as a sixteenth-century drinking song and two Lutheran chorales. He then transforms the song: a new vocal line is ‘like graffiti of a sort on a historical musical object’ which thus acquires new meanings and force as the opera progresses. For example, it evolves to convey the unsteadiness of the ground on which Katharina and Johannes unexpectedly find themselves. That sense is conveyed also in video clips, by the instability of poignantly chosen objects on a turntable: a Renaissance statuette of a naked old woman; an armillary; an orrery. History and the present coalesce in the choice of instruments, too: cornetts, a sackbut and a harpsichord play alongside a flute, an oboe, violins… Katarina and Johannes are introduced by the sonorities of their time...

A work about Kepler could not fail to foreground harmony and dissonance. His idea of these two concepts encompasses a worldview according to which nature, including human beings, can sense changes in the universe. All too aware of the world’s imperfections, he thought that traces of the harmony of God’s creation could inspire perfectibility. Watts makes astute use of these notions. For example, fairy-tale harmony accompanies the fabulation of one of Katharina’s accusers, only to morph into sinister dissonance.

All of these elements flow into a musically and dramatically compelling production."

(Valeria Vescina, seenandheardinternational.com)

"Watts’s writing for his 13-strong ensemble (crisply conducted here by Graham Walker) is wonderfully limpid—peer through the glossy surface provided by a string quartet and you catch glints of jewel tones from harp and flute, but also the muddied, gritty textures of sackbut and cornetts. Weaving these early instruments along with ‘found’ scraps and sections of music from Lassus, Vulpius and Schein into the score, Watts nods to Kepler’s age without getting bogged down in pastiche. Patterns and themes cycle and intersect like the astronomer’s orbiting planets, anchoring the score structurally."

(Alexandra Coghlan, Opera Magazine)

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