TWENTY-FIVE years ago, a young musician called Tim Williams started a music group for the Manchester area.
It was called Psappha, and specialised in living composers – its first concert included music by the Salford-born firebrand Peter Maxwell Davies, and a world premiere.
Today it’s an established part of the national music scene, the north of England's only stand-alone professional contemporary music ensemble and a National Portfolio Organisation for Arts Council England. It’s based at St Michael’s, the former Italian Chapel in Ancoats.
Tim Williams is its artistic director, and still enthusiastic to share his love of new music.
“I went to a comprehensive school in Liverpool with a brilliant music teacher,” he says. “He took us to the Philharmonic and also to contemporary music concerts. He even wrote a xylophone concerto for me to play, at the age of 15.”
(He was clearly a gifted percussionist, and you’ll see him playing with top orchestras as well as Psappha).
“What I really love is being able to ask a composer about his own music and how we play it,” he says. “You don’t often get the chance to do that.
“We’ve changed with the times, but it’s always been about offering people in the north west something they can’t find anywhere else. I’m still excited about what we do – and we’ve worked with composers from all over the world.”
The latest collaboration is with Mike Walker – Salford-born and now resident near Haslingden – whom he describes as ‘the best jazz guitarist on this side of the Atlantic’, and his internationally famous quintet, The Impossible Gentlemen.
Psappha’s opening concert for its 25th anniversary season is with them and includes Mike’s suite, Ropes, played by the Gentlemen and a 22-piece Psappha strings ensemble conducted by Clark Rundell.
Mike says: “I wanted to fuse the dynamic of the acoustic string soundworld with the electric soundworld of the jazz quintet: and I was thinking about lines in our lives, and ropes – things that can tie us up as well as help us out of a hole. There are sea shanties in there – and things about being ‘tied up’, ‘towed home’ – and even ‘a bit ropey’!”
Other music in the concert includes the Triple Quartet by 80-year-old American giant Steve Reich, and the 1970s cult track by Gavin Bryars, Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet.
Psappha, RNCM, 12 October, 7.30pm.