Dave Smith is an excellent composer and a formidable pianist. In his early days he played in the Scratch Orchestra, and over the course of his career he has worked with the likes of Cardew, White, Skempton, Nyman, Bryars, and Parsons, and was an early champion and performer in the UK of Glass, Reich, and Riley. For the concert of his music celebrating his 70th birthday at Cafe Oto the place was packed. The largest and most recent (2018-2019) work on the program, Hunter of Stories, lasting 70 minutes, was described by Smith in his program notes as being a posthumous collaboration between the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano (1940-2015), John Tillbury, and himself. Tilbury’s part of the collaboration was the selection of excerpts from Galeano’s final book whose name was given to this project, which are separated by short musical interludes by Smith. The spoken texts, which Smith described as, “intentionally varied, dealing with universal issues as well as the realities of Latin America, indigenous and modern,” were originally in Spanish, and are here presented in translations by Mark Fried. The thirty-two vignettes are divided into two groups, separated by a longer interlude; the entire set is framed by two longer pieces serving as prologue and epilogue. Some of the interludes draw on tunes from Brazil, Uruguay, Chile, and Argentina, as well as from the Western Sahara. The work is dedicated to Tilbury. In this performance Tilbury was the speaker and Smith was the pianist.
Tilbury, joined by speaker Ella Marsh, was the pianist is These Special Colours (2002), a short, at least by the terms of this concert, work whose musical material is a Palestinian song called ‘For the Flag,’ and includes a poem published in the Palestinian Chronicle of March 26, 2002, by the thirteen year old Nura Salameh, describing the Palestinian flag. The concluding work, Kaivopuisto (1995-96), an approximately half hour long work in four continuous sections, was originally for ‘cello and piano. Smith was joined by Ian Mitchell in the first performance of a more recent version for bass clarinet and piano. Smith’s notes explained that Kaivopuisto is a large park in Helsinki which he visited in August of 1995 and that ”the piece is in no way descriptive although the (correct) impression may be that the park was spacious and the weather unusually hot.”
All of the performances on the concert were, apparently, flawless; they were certainly definitive.