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Upcoming shows: PowerSolo... Martha Tilston... The Umbrellas... Nick Harper... Chris Brain... Mr Ben & the Bens... Daudi Matsiko... Jolie Holland... Christof van der Ven + Niamh Regan... Ariel Sharratt & Mathias Kom... Giant Sand... Melanie Baker... Sophie Hutchings... Jerron Paxton... Ghostly Kisses... Sounds From The Other City 2024... Francis of Delirium... The Buffalo Skinners... The Handsome Family... Memorial... His Lordship... Florry... Dana Gavanski... Caoilfhionn Rose... The Lovely Eggs... Rain Parade...

When: 7.30pm on Saturday 27 April 2024
Where: Hallé at St Michael’s, 36-38 George Leigh Street, Ancoats, Manchester M4 5DG

We’re delighted to be working with Australian composer and pianist Sophie Hutchings for the first time!

Close your eyes, and take a trip. Listen and you’ll see it. An ancient place of desert plains, mountain ranges and rocky gorges; of blazing sun, star-cloaked nights and shadows that loom and leave. A timeless terrain where clouds dance in water and red dirt roads stretch beyond the horizon.

This is soundscape as landscape. As a vast interior.

 A World Outside.

The ninth studio album from lauded pianist and composer Sophie Hutchings is a work of spacious, hypnotic beauty, a musical travelogue inspired by a road trip through Australia’s mighty Northern Territory, beginning in tropical Darwin and going deep into the arid Red Heart.

Rich with emotion and feeling, texture and contrast, as propulsive and powerful as it is elegant and intimate, A World Outside is an impressionistic take on a wide brown land. Piano notes flow, pause and surge, variously blending with strings, synths, percussion and field recordings, and features from First Nations artists, revered Yolgnu songman Rrawun Maymuru and rising Larrakia diva, Lena Kellie.

This is music that unveils itself. Like a universe of secrets.

“I’m a person who needs time away in a natural environment in order to make music,” says Hutchings. “The bigger and more challenging the space, the better.”

Like the majority of Australians, Hutchings grew up – and spent holidays – on the coast. Sydney-based, she remains an avid surfer. Travelling is a passion: periods spent in India, Southeast Asia and the Middle East have woven golden threads into a sound hailed as ‘calm in a maddening world’ by Clash and ‘stirring, vigorous, grandly melodic’ by MOJO.

Hutchings flexed this shining aesthetic to global acclaim on her 2020 Mercury KX debut Scattered on the Wind, a collection of hitherto unheard pieces – some based around verse by the 13th century Persian poet Rumi – and fresh material created with musicians on strings, woodwind and soprano vocals.

This time around, she began with a blank canvas. With a map and an open mind. Reflection had provided direction: “Over lockdown I realised that I really didn’t know enough about the land on which I was living” she says. “I decided to get lost in its colossal landscape. I wanted to absorb what I was seeing.”

Hutchings committed everything to memory: the constant heat haze. The contours etched by the sunrise. Palm trees jutting from the sides of cliffs, swimming holes strafed with rainbow sparkles, rocks whose patterns told of long-gone seas. The great silence, sometimes eerie, often serene, that crept into her bones.

“There were days when I literally didn’t see any humans. But I saw dingoes. Cliff wallabies. Wild camels and wild horses. I heard echoes, and melodies in the wind. Some mornings I’d do a big hike up a rock face and stand there taking in these endless 360-degree views.”

A smile. “That land has a mystical other worldliness like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.”

Back home in Sydney, Hutchings began magicking an album using the loose, natural style she developed as a child. A child who, having struggled to sight-read, would come to channel her distinctive musical gifts using instinct, imagination and a system of written-out chord charts, practicing in private on the family piano while her two older brothers were listening to and/or playing in alt-rock bands. Her jazz-musician father, a multi-instrumentalist, had raised her on a musical diet that generally favoured horn players: John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Chet Baker. The young Sophie gravitated to instrumental piano, regardless.

Pieces by the likes of Frédéric Chopin and proto-minimalist Eric Satie are in her muscle memory, nestled alongside such late-teen discoveries as contemporary classical composers Arvo Pärt and Jóhann Jóhannsson American chamber music renegades Rachel’s and iconic Australian improvising trio The Necks. And although Hutchings composed prolifically throughout her mid-to-late twenties she waited until she was 32 before releasing her debut album, 2010’s Becalmed.

“Music wasn’t something I’d ever thought of as a full time career,” says Hutchings, who has toured the globe, composed for film soundtracks and appeared on countless Best Of lists. “I guess music found me.”

This will be one of the first public concerts in St Michael’s since its recent re-opening, having been closed since 2004. The Roman Catholic church was founded in 1859 and became the heart of the Little Italy Community in Ancoats.

Age restriction: 14+. Under 16s must be accompanied by an adult.

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All shows are 18+ unless otherwise stated.