By Val Javin
Buckner joined chamber orchestra, Ostravskà banda making its first visit to hcmf// from the Czech Republic, in a tribute to Christian Wolff. What a way to celebrate the 80th birthday of the avant garde composer and to underline what lies ahead - 10 days of contemporary music, a heady cocktail of modern music giants and vibrant new talent.
A clearly delighted Wolff was in the audience at St Paul's Hall to hear the concert open with his piece 37 Haiku, a setting of John Ashberry's poems written in the form of Japanese Haiku. And it was Buckner's sombre tones which provided the verbal punctuation marks as each ensemble member offered lines of instrumental sound juxtaposed with words spoken and sung.
An extraordinary start and much, much more to follow including John Cage's recently rediscovered version of Wolff's For Six Or Seven Players.
Written as a piece for American dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham, it demands the minute precision and drama of the dance world. Fascinating to see the arm movements of conductor Petr Kotik choreographed as beautifully as the fingering of his instrumentalists.
A hard act to follow? Perhaps not with Catalonia's ensemble CrossingLines high on my Saturday to-do list.
Here was another sell-out. Hardly surprising as this young group of performers sprung a whole bag of musical surprises. They packed Phipps Hall and almost burst the walls with energy and vitality.
Alistair Zaldua's contrejours was eerily beautiful. Four performers, one piano and a bag of electronics add up to a massive range of sound which flickers and bounces around, blurring light and shade, turning darkness into day.
If you thought the electric typewriter had been consigned to the scrap heap then Manuel Rodríguez Valenzuela might just make you think again. Kaleidoscopic sound and word patterns in his piece, T (t) blocks A + B + C + D were the smile-inducing part of my day.
One day down, so how to follow that. With Oslo's Cikada Ensemble, which never fails to deliver, and the equally remarkable combination of the London Sinfonietta and the BBC Singers.
Sunday 23 November
My Sunday started at St Paul's Hall at the civilised hour of noon with music to match. Cikada showcased the work of composer Liza Lim, on home ground since she is also professor of composition at the University of Huddersfield.
In her piece, Winding Bodies: 3 Knots there were absorbing textures, sibilant sounds and whispering as the music wove a thread as rich as the Nordic tale of sailors ‘buying the wind' tied in knots.
And in The Heart's Ear, flute, clarinet and string quartet create a poetic sense of longing, of fluttering hearts and spirits.
If all those riches were not enough, Cikada added the compelling piece Gimilen, written by Norwegian composer Jon Oivind Ness and well worth the warm reception it received.
But then to what has to be my five star vote winner of the weekend, the world premiere of James Dillon's Stabat Mater Dolorosa, a new concert-length work for the London Sinfonietta and BBC Singers.
This year's composer in residence at hcmf//, Dillon is an old friend of the festival. Theirs has been a long and fruitful relationship and one on this latest showing, just keeps on giving.
Beautifully written, complex, layered and in places, extraordinarily moving, this piece is just what hcmf// audiences love. Challenging for players and performers and one of those works you just might want to say "I was there when it was first played."
Fine performances everywhere with the astonishing virtuosity of instrumentalists matched by the pitch pure, bright and muscular vibrant tones of the BBC Singers. Festival heaven.