The BBCs omission of a three-minute Birtwistle piece from a televised prom broadcast points to a lack of belief in new music and in audiences, says Susanna Eastburn
Tonight, BBC Four will televise one of the best-loved events of the BBC Proms season, the National Youth Orchestras Prom, which was performed on 10 August 2014 to a packed and joyful audience at the Royal Albert Hall. One work from the concert pogramme will be omitted from tonights broadcast, however: Sir Harrison Birtwistles three-minute piece Sonance Severance 2000.
The BBC have been quick to confirm that it will be televised, as part of a special BBC Four programme on Sir Peter Maxwell Davies and Birtwistle scheduled for 11 September, and that it is also available on the iPlayer. So thats ok then. No, hang on, its not. For one thing, it speaks volumes about the BBCs stance on new music, and audiences, that they feel the need to remove Birtwistles piece from a slot where it might have been discovered by a broader public, placing it instead in a special feature which, while it will no doubt be fascinating, will mostly attract viewers already interested in these composers.
Hannah Ellis-Petersen visits an inspired and intricate forest-sound installation that takes its cues from, and responds to, the timbre of nature
It begins just as a gentle hum, fragments of musical notes barely decipherable from the sounds of the forest. But walking into the depths of Bedgebury Pinetum in Kent, to a small circle in the depths of the trees, the natural symphony of the forest is gradually replaced by music of a very different kind.
The unique sound installation that will play out between the trees of Bedgebury until 31 August is the work of artist duo James Bulley and Daniel Jones. The piece, Living Symphonies, is a composition that reflects and responds to the very ecosystem of the wood where it is played, from the photosynthesis of the trees, to a spider weaving its web and the flitting of a butterfly.
From a vast repertoire of nominations from last weeks thread, RR regular Shoegazer presents his concert of selections
A busy blog this week with a vast spectrum of music. Before we get to this weeks selections and close the lid on pianos, Id like to highlight one individual who composed for or played the instrument.
The odds were against Glenn Gould (1932-1982) becoming a concert pianist. The Canadian felt that concertos only served the primeval human need for showing off and detracted from the purity of music. In addition to disdain for the concert arts, Gould was a hypochondriac. He once sued his piano tuner for touching him and refused to visit his dying mother in hospital due to terror of germs/human contact. Whatever the weather, he dressed in an overcoat, jumpers, scarf and gloves for fear of catching a chill. When and if he did perform, he would only sit at the keyboard on the same uncomfortable, worn-out, handmade chair, rising just 14 inches from the floor.
It's not often that a western-style concerto for a non-western instrument works as well as u, written by the South Korean composer Unsuk Chin for the Chinese sheng player Wu Wei. This was the highlight of the Seoul Philharmonic's debut Prom, under Myung-Whun Chung.
The sheng is a kind of ancient Chinese mouth-organ. Visually, it's a foot-high nest of upward-striving tubes imagine someone tore off a corner off the Sagrada Familia and stuck in a mouthpiece. It sounds like a harmonica but also, when played with Wu's virtuosity, like almost any other instrument too. It emerges seamlessly from the violins, traces long arcs of reedy breath like a clarinet, tremolos like a mandolin, or makes sudden, percussive mini-explosions. In Chin's concerto, which holds the serious and the playful in fabulous balance, we can barely tell where the sheng stops and the orchestra begins. The music hangs in the air, or dances in a frenzy, but all the time it seems the other instruments are tracing the aura the sheng leaves in its wake.
Amsterdam's great orchestra is unquestionably one of the world's finest. Everything it does sounds expensive. There is such depth to its string sound, such richness to its winds, such a purr to its ensemble engine when it gets going. The players are fantastically responsive to their revered chief conductor, Mariss Jansons, collectively poised at the end of his baton. Jansons is standing down at the end of next season for health reasons; whoever follows him has enormous shoes to fill.
It feels slightly churlish to find fault with such magnificent playing, but there were several moments during the first of the Concertgebouw's concerts at the Edinburgh international festival when the orchestra's plushness, Jansons' weighty interpretative choices and the spry character of the music didn't quite line up. The programme opened with Shostakovich's First Symphony. The slow movement was the dark heart of the work, solemn and hushed with tremendous gravitas. But the outer movements needed more jolt between the skittish, sardonic and frankly crass and the moments of quiet solace. The Concertgebouw handled the latter superbly but never clinched the spirit of the former. The sound was always polished; Jansons' pacing was steady and sometimes just slow.
Though Aeschylus's triptych of tragedies has influenced opera composers from Wagner to Birtwistle, relatively few of them have been tempted to fashion a stage work of their own from the Oresteia plays. There is Sergei Taneyev's ambitious, evening-long version, while Iannis Xenakis's Oresteia compresses the whole drama into just 50 minutes, with a single baritone protagonist and children and adult choruses. Neither, though, is on anything like the scale of Darius Milhaud's L'Orestie d'Eschyle, which emerged over the course of a decade, when the composer was in his 20s.
Milhaud's starting point was a French translation of Aeschylus by his lifelong collaborator, the playwright Paul Claudel. He began in 1913 by setting just a single scene of the first play, Agamemnon, as a relatively conventional musical interlude for soprano and chorus as part of a spoken stage performance. His treatment of the second part of the triptych, Les Choéphores (The Libation Bearers), which emerged three years later, is much more ambitious; it requires an orchestra supplemented by 15 percussionists, and alongside the complex, multi-layered choruses and solo numbers, it incorporates rhythmically notated speech that at times weirdly anticipates the style of Peter Hall's famous National Theatre staging of the Oresteia of the 1980s. The third part, Les Euménides (The Furies), which Milhaud completed in 1923, is on a different scale entirely its three acts last more than twice as long as the first two parts put together, and it requires an even bigger orchestra, including quartets of saxophones and saxhorns for music that, in its way, is sometimes as strikingly original as anything by Stravinsky from the same period.
"You have to be attracted to the fire in Beethoven to do this work," John Eliot Gardiner remarked ahead of his late-night performance of the Missa Solemnis with the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique and Monteverdi Choir. This was an evening of anniversaries: the 50th of the choir's founding, the 25th of the founding of the ORR and 30th time Gardiner has conducted the work in public. Yet the Missa Solemnis also belongs with the first world war centenary. One of the many ideas posited by this immense work is that war is humanity's ultimate refutation of the idea of God. Time hasn't blunted its political relevance.
It hasn't blunted the impact of Gardiner's familiar interpretation, either. Numinosity and urgency course through it in equal measure. Textural clarity, conferred by period instruments and a smaller choir than usual, remind us of the depth and range of Beethoven's orchestral writing. There is real awe in the strings as they usher in the Benedictus. The insistent brass, rarely absent from the score, suggest both God's infinite majesty and man's potential for violence. Contrary to opinion, Gardiner's speeds are not so much fast as extreme: in the Sanctus and the consoling Et Vitam Venturi fugue, he's slower than some.
Rossini's last opera the whole thing, that is, not just the overture is a rarity that suddenly seems to be everywhere. There are new productions at Welsh National Opera and Covent Garden this season, and there was this, a magnificent concert-performance from Teatro Regio Torino and its music director, Gianandrea Noseda. Perhaps the themes of self-rule and justice are particularly topical at the moment; perhaps the word is finally out that there's a whole lot more to this score than the first 10 minutes.
The plot is pure picturesque nationalism, and lively enough if you like that sort of thing. Set in Austrian-occupied medieval Switzerland, Guglielmo Tell is a Swiss freedom fighter who outwits the brutish Austrian governor Gessler by shooting an apple from atop his own son's head and navigating treacherous waters to freedom in a rowboat. Arnold, son of the Swiss leader, is in love with Matilde, an Austrian princess; the chorus alternates between righteous patriots and boorish oppressors. Mainly it's the music that keeps things rollicking along. This is Rossini at the height of his operatic powers: boisterously fluid and inventive, sparkling with dramatic sequences, colourful orchestration and lush choral writing. Premiered in Paris in 1829, the rumblings of grand opera are everywhere.
Always an ensemble to do things differently, the Budapest Festival Orchestra has turned itself into a part-time choir. We discovered this at encore time. "We perform for you Johannes Brahms's Abendständchen," conductor Iván Fischer announced, after the BFO had played the composer's Third and Fourth symphonies. Clutching scores, the musicians hastily regrouped themselves on the platform.
Abendständchen is one of Brahms's most beguiling works for unaccompanied chorus, and the orchestra sang it with remarkable precision and finesse.
Earlier this month, Julian Lloyd Webber gave a speech to music students at the Birmingham Conservatoire. Here, we reprint it in full.
In 1977 I won a bet with my brother Andrew. This meant that he finally had to write me the cello piece he had been promising for years. The trouble was that he decided it should be a piece for cello and rock band - and the classical music world was a lot stuffier then than it is now. That was the time when melody, rhythm and harmony were taboo in contemporary classical music and I was warned by friends and colleagues alike that I would literally ruin my career by recording it. But I believed in the piece so I took the chance.
And it didnt ruin my career. Variations (aka the South Bank Show theme) was unexpectedly successful. Perhaps because audiences were actually crying out for melody, rhythm and harmony. Perhaps because we had shown that pushing at boundaries need not be a bad thing. But more likely it was because I never left my classical roots behind because - much as I liked to experiment - I knew that my bedrock as a solo cellist would always be based on that five-hundred-year treasure trove called classical music.
The life of a solo musician is tough and exhausting, both physically and mentally, but I would definitely make the same choice again. For in the end, there is something which sustains you through all the difficulties, something far stronger than ambition, wealth or fame. Let that great cellist, Pablo Casals, say it for me. After a particularly moving performance he was asked:
Mr Casals, can you tell me, are we in heaven or still on earth?
"I am very happy with the ease and versatility with which I can share my content with my audience, clients and business partners alike."