WE ARE THE MUSIC MAKERS: Maximum Ensemble & The Pelleas Ensemble by Norman Warwick & Graham Marshall


Maximum Ensemble maestros del minimalismo

Salon Indieras, Tias, March 2020

Review by Norman Warwick

Maximum Ensemble

We turned up to collect our reserved tickets at the desk in in Salon Indieras in Tias to see Maximum Ensemble, who carry the somewhat grand sobriquet of ´maestros del minimalismo.´ The advertising posters had been showing four young people, carrying their musical instruments on a clouded but sunset-lit beach that might have been that at Orzola or Famera. We had wondered over our pre-show evening meal, this time at the wonderfully Spanish La Eermita where the whole meal was fantastic and served by a friendly young staff, and included a milk cake (who knew? Certainly not me) that was an explosion of the most amazing flavours. Meal and dessert for all four of us including a bottle of wine and two beers and two coffees was only sixty euros and with tickets at only 15 euros each our total spend for the evening would be 120 euros which, when broken down into reading a meal and a concert, was for only 30e per person seemed pretty damned good. So long as the concert was ok, of course, and whilst we have learned to trust the concerts that are delivered on the island, we weren´t too sure what ´minimalist´ might mean in terms of classical music.

´Might be a bit modern,´ said Iain whilst his wife, Maigret Marguerita, murmured that she was sure it would be lovely. My wife gave her best Mavis ´I don´t really know´´ Reilly impression. I kept my mouth firmly shut, hoping my friends might think I maybe did have an understanding of what minimalist night mean, whereas opening my mouth would have only confirmed that I didn´t!

Fortunately, we were handed some extremely useful programme notes that clarified things for us somewhat. According to these notes,

Minimalism is an artistic movement that has become hugely popular since its inception in the experimental avant-garde of the 1960s, exerting a strong influence on all the arts, and permeating from classical music to other musical genres, particularly pop and rock. Minimalist music has also found an important synergy with the world of film and the audio-visual. Proof of this is the ease with which the so called ´minimalist composers,´ attached to the genre, moved between concert music and composing directly for the screen. There have even been pieces that have leapt from one medium to the other that were not expressly conceived to, nor expected by their composers, to do so.  

While minimalist works often share certain characteristics, such as a steady pulse and a slow harmonic rhythm, the surprising variety they present, according to each composer’s personal vision, is notorious. Thus, “Masters of Minimalism” the concert we would be seeing tonight was intended to offer a small sample of a musical current, that remains influential, and to emphasize the great stylistic diversity within the genre.

Ermesto Mateo of Maximum Ensemble
photograph by Dee Dutton of Sidetracks & Detours

The idea for the program emerged following the writing of the book of next publication “The Modern Piano”, by the composer Ernesto Mateo, who would be here as part of the Maximum Ensemble. As in his book, Ernesto would tonight explore on stage, the characteristics of the music of composers such as Yann Tiersen, Ludovico Einaudi or Wim Mertens: music that is, music with strong classical roots and elements of modern styles such as pop-rock. For this concerto, the instrumental template has been expanded by adding two violins and a flute to the initial piano. The resulting ensemble allows great flexibility in the selection of the repertoire, making it possible to offer this musical panorama that includes important works by some of the authors most associated with the style, adding also a Canarian presence with an interesting approach by the Canarian composer Sergio Rodríguez.

Maximum Ensemble was born in 2018 through the collaboration of a group of students, from the Conservatorio Superior de Música de Canarias, interested in modern music and alternative concert formats, and their teacher in the subject Repertorio with pianist Companion. Initially they participated in several concerts organized by the Equality area of the Conservatory, performing pieces by authors from all eras; and in the presentation of the album,

Ernesto Mateo believes his main line of work is to create musical experiences that include the fusion between the classical and modern repertoire, as well as collaboration with other artistic expressions such as dance, plastic arts and theatre, in proposals expressly designed for today’s audience and era.

Enthused by what I had read in those hand-out notes, I nevertheless believe that nothing is too much trouble for my reader, so I looked it up as soon as I got home and am happy to share what I read on 


´Minimal music (also called minimalism) is a form of art music or other compositional practice that employs limited or minimal musical materials. Prominent features of minimalist music include repetitive patterns or pulses, steady drones, consonant harmony, and reiteration of musical phrases or smaller units. It may include features such as phase shifting, resulting in what is termed phase music, or process techniques that follow strict rules, usually described as process music. The approach is marked by a non-narrative, non-teleological, and non-representational approach, and calls attention to the activity of listening by focusing on the internal processes of the music.´

I´m sure that clears up everything for you. It clarified things for me, but I had already read the concert notes and had heard the concert by the time I read Wiki´s wisdom.

Ostensibly led by Ernesto Mateo at the piano, Maximum Ensemble also included Elise Bartolome on flute, Laura Diaz on first violin and Melina Tubaro on second.

Whilst they occasionally played as a quartet, they actually performed in various configurations but in whatever form they adopted the instrumentalists would play with great empathy with their performing partner(s) to create gentle, searching and often seemingly introspective sounds of the kind that Ernesto explained as being regular film accompaniments.

The opening selection of Ode y Hammer by Nils Frahm even seemed to have the instruments playing mind games with each other. The music was, if not soothing, at least an aid to clarity of thought for an audience that at once seemed to engage with these young musicians.

Max Richter´s exploration of ´the nature of daylight´ had been employed in parts in films such as Arrival and The Queen Of Scotland, and the violins and flute ceded here to an eventual piano medley.

Philip Glass is a name many of us would have perhaps associated with minimalist music if only because nothing is much more minimal than the period of silence he once famously recorded. In fact, his Facades, played here, was a piece that sounded very familiar and was one of the highlights of the evening

There was a moody and spiritual delivery of Lalai, a composition by Barbara Heller, played here by violin with piano, and a gorgeous illustration of how tricks of serendipity occur and disappear whilst time moves ever on, oblivious to the adventure. With the piano representing the passing time and an emerging melody between the other instruments being such a serendipitous act this was perhaps one of the more accessible pieces in the recital.

The intriguingly titled Struggle For Pleasure by Wim Martens seemed at first to show each instrument struggling to reach for its own pleasure until, eventually, the musicians plainly achieved pleasure in ensemble music.

I was not familiar with the name of composer Yann Tierson but Sur le fil / Naomi / La Noyée on piano, flute and the two violins was seductive, moving from a tormented opening to a distressed drama and emerging at the other side with a beautifully languid close.

Neither had I heard the name of Arvo Part but the music of Spiegel im Speigel was instantly familiar with the jaunty piano opening, followed by fine violin passages and then being joined by the flute. Ernesto informed us that Arvo Part is in fact ´the most widely played living composer !´

So, the one composer involved in the playlist that I haven´t yet mentioned is Ernesto Mateo himself. His piece, created to be played by four hands at the piano, saw him invite first-violinist Laura Diaz to join him. Together they delivered a mind-boggling high speed ride across the entire keyboard as the two players appeared as if in competition at times and at others in complete synchronicity.

Maximum Ensemble take a bow in Tias
photograph by Dee Dutton
Sidetracks and Detours

This was a passionate feature in a concert that, although delivered to a relatively small audience, drew a standing ovation that seemed to delight the players, who delivered an ensemble encore.

The excellent programme notes had been produced in Spanish, and I shall refer to their English translation when conducting a proposed an e-mail interview with Ernesto and the rest of Maximum Ensemble to bring you further information about the four highly skilled and passionate musicians who had brought us constantly changing moods in a ninety minute concert.

The Pellius Ensemble, Heywood Civic Centre, March 2020

Rochdale Music Society

Review by Graham Marshall

Meanwhile, on the same evening, a similar concert was taking place thousands of miles away on my old home ground in the North West of England. Heywood Civic Centre was hosting another in the series of concerts celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Rochdale Music Society (RMS) and their guests were The Pelleas Ensemble.

We are grateful to Graham Marshall of RMS for allowing us to publish his review of the performance by The Pelleas Ensemble, enabling us to create a compare and contrast offering with that of Maximum Ensemble. In truth the two performance groups sound very different in genre, but it is good to again acknowledge how many different threads of classical music are being constantly woven around the world.

Anemoi Wind Quintet

Saturday, March 7th 2020 was a rewarding day for those who love live music in Rochdale. First, there was a very attractive programme of arrangements of mainly French music performed in St. Chad’s parish church at lunchtime by the student members of the Anemoi Wind Quintet.

Then in the evening there was the Rochdale Music Society’s concert in Heywood Civic Centre, the fourth in its 40th Anniversary Season.

This also featured some French music, including a work specifically written for the unusual combination of flute, viola and harp which is the composition of the Pellêas Ensemble.

The Pelleas Ensemble

This concert evening was a very good example of this. To begin with, they took us back to the time of the doyen of early Baroque composers in France, François Couperin, from whose large collection of Trio Sonatas and Dances four dance movements had been chosen to be played by the Ensemble with great precision and charm. This was certainly a tasty and satisfying starter on a Concert Menu of delicious European musical dishes.

There followed the Suite Paysanne Hongoise, an arrangement for flute and piano (on this occasion the harp) by Paul Anna of Hongarian peasant folk tunes in the collection of Bela Bartók, whose later music demonstrates how deeply ingrained in his musical imagination were these melodies and rhythms.  There was no mistaking how deeply affected by the musical landscape the two performers were, for they made a very colourful display of its combination of unabashed rawness and simple charms.

To end the first half of the concert four movements from Prokofiev’s ballet suite, Romeo and Juliet, received the flute/viol/harp treatment to great effect in a performance that made up brilliantly in tonal and dynamic quality and balance for the lack of a full orchestral complement.

After the interval Between Earth and Sea, a quite recent work by British composer Sally Beamish (whose 1993 work Five Changing Pictures was commissioned by the Rochdale Music Society) acted as something like a trou normand, refreshing the pallet before the next rich dish.  Definitely ‘offshore’ in its Celtic evocation of the plangent call of the redshank seabird, this was presented with meticulous attention to the contribution each instrument was called on to make as the musical eye was opened on, focused on and closed to a bleak but engaging landscape.

In complete contrast, Debussy’s Claire de lune was then a surprise addition to the programme. Played on the harp alone, it brought the warmth of a summer’s evening to the concert, which continued with a spirited account of the advertised Prelude to the Debussy suite from which it had been taken, the Suite Bergamasque.

To end their concert, the Pelléas Ensemble chose to tantalise their audience with an entrancing account of the Petite Suite by one of twentieth century France’s well-known, but not as celebrated as perhaps he should be, composers, André Jolivet.  Like the Bartók earlier on, this is a musical tapestry woven out of fragments of folksong melodies. It is obviously enjoyable to play, as this performance from the long-breathed, opening extended melody that is the first movement to the breathless final fling of the last amply demonstrated.

Patrick Hemmerlé

Next month’s concert will be on 4th  April. Pianist Patrick Hemmerlé will play a programme including Chopin’s four Ballades – a real treat in store! Details on the website www.rochdalemusicsociety.org.   

Editor´s note. Here at our Sidetracks and Detours ´office´ at all across the arts on Lanzarote we are delighted to have established a strong contact now with Ernesto Mateo of Maximum Ensemble that we are confident will help us keep readers informed of news of the group´s concerts, and perhaps even of recordings. We also know that Graham Marshall similarly keeps us and Steve Cooke´s English aata office aware of what is going on at Rochdale Music Society and we look forward to bringing you his thoughts on the Patrick Hemmerlé recital.

We are grateful to both Ernesto Mateo and Graham Marshall  

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