Riot Ensemble: Vestige

Sarah Dacey, Soprano
Marie Schreer & Sarah Saviet, Violins
Stephen Upshaw, Viola
Louise McMonagle, Cello

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About the Album

Based upon their debut performance at London’s Wigmore Hall during the COVID19 Pandemic, Vestige ranges from the intimate vocal solo of Naomi Pinnock’s Vestige, through pensive string trios of Alex Groves and Peter Wilson, to virtuosic chamber music of Ashkan Behzadi and Enno Poppe.

Vestige is Riot Ensemble’s second co-production with Deutschlandfunk, and fourth production on the Coviello Contemporary label.


  1. az hoosh mi… by Ashkan Behzadi
  2. the ghosts in these trees by Michaela Catranis
  3. Three Forms by Alex Groves
  4. Requiescat by Elisabeth Lutyens
  5. Vestige by Naomi Pinnock
  6. Trauben by Enno Poppe
  7. String Trio by Peter Wilson

Sleeve Note

A woman sings.

She sings in praise and lament, of memory, of healing and of desire.

But as well, there is loss. Elisabeth Lutyens calls our singer to mourn. In 1959 Igor Stravinsky declared of Lutyens’ 6 Tempi for 10 Instruments, ‘That is the music I like’ – a cherished validation of her work from the highest possible authority. When the new music journal Tempo commissioned seventeen leading composers to write ‘Canons and Epitaphs’ to mark Stravinsky’s death in 1971, Lutyens was among them. In hushed, tortured sobs, her singer in Requiescat (1971) echoes the ‘Dirge-Canons’ of Stravinsky’s own In memoriam Dylan Thomas. (‘All I could do was cry’, Stravinsky said on that occasion.) Accompanied by string trio, rather than the Russian’s portentous trombones, and setting lines from William Blake’s 1783 prose poem ‘Couch of Death’, she eventually breaks through the grief to a lighter, more consolatory tone.

At the start of her score for Vestige (2020), Naomi Pinnock has written two words: ‘remembering? forgetting?’. Her singer is the composer herself, in pandemic exile at her parents’ house, finding half-forgotten teenage compositions among piles of papers. Her song – two steps up, one small, one larger, turned over and over until they spin into a thread of their own; a text of etiolated fragments of poems ‘that have become important to me’ – is as elusive as memory. Not memory as sepia-tinged nostalgia, but as weighted, transparent matter that settles, glows and fades. Her song is a means of capturing, affirming and constructing.

Women heal. Among the Mapuche people of Chile and Argentina, female shamans use their maternal voices alongside herbal remedies and spirit communion. The title of Michaela Catranis’s the ghosts in these trees (2017/18) comes from a poem by the Mapuche writer Jaime L. Huenún Villa. In Mapuche cosmology, the universe is a vast fabric of connected elements. The human being is but one among many points of intensity; the woman’s voice and words just one expressive energy travelling through material space. Huenún Villa’s poem is a descendant of the ancient Mapuche songpoems, ül, which are sung in order to make manifest certain emotions or feelings about things or people. Catranis gives her singer four words and phrases – angel, turn, be kind, stay here – which in chant-like vocalisations act as points of binding and gathering. Her three wooden instruments are symbols of the sacred Foye Tree, the Mapuche tree of life, whose leaves and bark women use in ceremonies of healing.

Ashkan Behzadi’s singer expresses another emotional energy, one so intense it almost exceeds the capacity of song. ‘Az hoosh mi …’, by the Iranian poet Reza Bahareni (b. 1935) and set in 2013 by Behzadi, expresses the ecstatic moment of meeting a loved one. In their intentional incompleteness, Bahareni’s lines signal the collision of intellect and body: Az hoosh miravam, the singer means to say (I am losing consciousness), before she is overtaken by the very thing she is trying to describe. Entrailed by the violin, which embosses her voice in bold, curling outline, the singer gasps and gathers herself, holding the line between clamour and calm.

And among these songs, others. The voice is silent but the birds, in Peter Wilson’s String Trio, still sing, in short cells of music played as simultaneous solos, the listener like a voyeur, eavesdropping on forest birdsong. 

And when the voices stop singing, they talk, and can talk to each other. Enno Poppe’s piano trio Trauben (2004–5) unfolds in the form of a conversation close, but prickly friends. Two tiny motifs provide both subject and line of thought: a staccato piano chord and a string glissando; contrasting perspectives in microcosm on rhythm and melody. Talking in turn, over each other, behind one another’s backs or muttering to themselves, the players state, insist, repeat and change tack, switching allegiances and following random paths into ever more heated argument. When it (almost) all becomes too much, however, they unexpectedly evaporate into rising song, in the way too few real-life conversations ever do.

Tim Rutherford-Johnson