The leading new music and music-theatre ensemble in the North of England, Psappha was formed in 1991 by its Artistic Director (and percussionist) Tim Williams, who named it after a colourful percussion piece by Iannis Xenakis. With Nicholas Kok newly appointed as its Principal Conductor, Psappha has a repertoire of over 300 works and a reputation for technical assurance and interpretative flair. Its eight-strong regular membership encourages a refreshing diversity in the instrumentation of its repertoire, but its performances all bear the hallmark of sophisticated ensemble playing, marked by a high degree of communication and empathy among the players.
Its distinctive concert series and mini-festivals have featured commissions and other premieres of works by a wide range of composers including Sir Peter Maxwell Davies (Master of the Queen’s Music and Psappha’s Patron), Anthony Gilbert, Gordon McPherson, Karen Tanaka, Ronald Caltabiano, Rebecca Saunders, John Casken, Piers Hellawell and Steven Mackey – whose music Psappha introduced to the UK and showcased on a recent Contemporary Music Network tour, and whose FIVE ANIMATED SHORTS it has co-commissioned for the 2007 Cheltenham Music Festival).
In 2000 Psappha gave the premiere of MR EMMET TAKES A WALK, a music-theatre work by Maxwell Davies (with direction and libretto by David Pountney) which it co-commissioned. Praised in The Independent as ‘top rate’ and ‘mesmerising from start to finish’, the production won the Manchester Evening News Theatre Award for Opera 2000, went on to enjoy acclaimed European and UK tours in 2001 and 2002, and has just been released in an original-cast recording on Psappha’s own CD label.
Based in Manchester, Psappha has appeared throughout the UK, at such major music festivals as Aldeburgh, Bath, Buxton, Cheltenham, Huddersfield (where in 2001 it performed György Kurtág’s SCENES FROM A NOVEL in the presence of the composer), Oxford and St. Magnus Festival (Orkney). In 2004 Psappha made its debut at the BBC Proms with a late-night concert marking Maxwell Davies’s 70th birthday – ‘an inspiring, revelatory event that made you mighty glad you were there,’ according to The Financial Times. It also appeared in the special Henze and Maxwell Davies portrait series in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, and gave the first public concert at Stormont Castle in Belfast.
Psappha has toured to both North and South America (with performances of Caltabiano’s Margaret Atwood-based music-theatre piece MARRYING THE HANGMAN in Sacramento, San Francisco and at the Guggenheim Museum, New York, and the Argentine premiere of Stockhausen’s KONTAKTE in Buenos Aires), Australia (a Maxwell Davies programme at the 2000 Barossa Music Festival in Adelaide), Belgium, France, Holland, Ireland, Jersey (a pairing of Piazzolla and Mackey at the 2006 Fêtes des Arts), Portugal and Spain.
Distinguished soloists with whom Psappha has worked include Sir Thomas Allen (Walton’s FAÇADE, Buxton), Phyllis Bryn-Julson (MARRYING THE HANGMAN, US tour), Philip Langridge (Stravinsky’s RENARD, Salford Lowry), Robert Tear (Stravinsky’s THE SOLDIER’S TALE, Salford Lowry) and the actress Fiona Shaw (Maxwell Davies’s MISSA SUPER L’HOMME ARMÉ, BBC Proms).
Psappha established its own CD label in 2004 with unconducted performances of two Maxwell Davies music-theatre works, EIGHT SONGS FOR A MAD KING and MISS DONNITHORNE’S MAGGOT, featuring baritone Kelvin Thomas and soprano Jane Manning. The disc was picked as one of the ‘Best CD releases of 2004’ by Michael Kennedy in The Sunday Telegraph, awarded five stars (out of five) by Andrew Clements in The Guardian and greeted as ‘an auspicious beginning to Psappha’s own CD label’ by Arnold Whittall in The Gramophone. Psappha has also recorded six CDs for other labels, including FANTASTIC ISLANDS, a collection of premiere recordings of music by Maxwell Davies and others, hailed in The Sunday Times as ‘a brilliantly accomplished debut disc’.
Education projects represent an important part of Psappha’s busy schedule both in the UK and abroad. Currently the University of Manchester’s Contemporary Ensemble in Residence, it collaborates with people of all ages, devising and participating in composition workshops and courses, and was awarded the Swatch City Life Award for Best Concert Series and Education Work.