As time passes, achieving true originality and distinction in the field of music becomes an increasingly difficult task as musical boundaries become eroded, genres overlap and merge and techniques grow ever more experimental. Finding space to genuinely stand out is something that evades many artists.
Yet, it is something that Kazakh violinist Aisha Orazbayeva has shown is still possible. Her name may not be particularly well known outside the circles of contemporary classical music but her career to date has seen her accumulate a range of impressive achievements. She’s performed at some of the world’s most acclaimed classical and experimental venues (Carnegie Hall, Wigmore Hall, Cafe OTO), worked with some of the most respected composers of modern, leftfield classical music (Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Helmut Lachenmann and Pierre Boulez) and is also a co-director of the London Contemporary Music Festival (which this year focuses on the works of pioneering electroacoustic composer Bernard Parmegiani).
She has a refreshingly relaxed approach to and view of music, having spoken of her distrust of musical categorisation and stylistic segregation, something noticeable on The Hand Gallery. Her debut album Outside set the bar high, incorporating traditional classical repertoire such as Ravel’s Violin Sonata in G Minor, alongside more defiantly avant-garde material such as Salvatore Sciarrino‘s Six Caprices and a collaboration with electronic musician Peter Zinovieff. Her second album The Hand Gallery is released on PRAH Recordings, the experimental offshoot set up by Moshi Moshi’s Stephen Bass, and sees her maintain an uncompromising and radical direction.
Much of the music on The Hand Gallery will undoubtedly be a challenge to the unaccustomed, causal listener. Her version of Violin Phase by Steve Reich has a discipline and rigidity while she plays For Aaron Copland by Morton Feldman with a lamenting faithfulness. A second piece dedicated to Aaron Copland follows later, the hushed, minimal caresses of the strings here evoking distant winds.
It is possibly the two tracks that feature her vocals that surprise the most. Her interpretation of Harbour Lights by Elvis Presley reveals her voice to be soft and gentle alongside the comparative austerity of much of the sound derived from her instrument. Here, the plucked violin conveys sounds from a different era in a similar way to that of someone like Josephine Foster. Later, her cover of John Cale’s Baby You Know has a sharp sensuousness to it and the album is closed by a version of the same track arranged for solo violin, arguably the most accessible and successful moment on The Hand Gallery.
Two Sounds Two and Aloise meanwhile offer the two of the more defiantly avant-garde moments of the album, the former unearthing strange, unsettling timbres and emissions from deep inside the body of the instrument while the latter striking a far more inflammatory, destructive tone, recalling last year’s similarly visceral Ghil 3 by Korean cellist Okkyung Lee.
The Hand Gallery shows Orazbayeva to be a musician deeply immersed in her instrument, striving for newness and musical freedom. For those who like their music to operate at the outer limits and be served with moments of enjoyable difficulty, it will be viewed as a fearless and innovative piece of work.