An illumiating summer evening with Birtwistle and Czernowin, fabulously guided by the Arditti Quartet and IRCAM

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While enjoying Arditti Quartet’s superb performance of Sir Harrison Birtwistle’s latest string quartet, The Silk House Sequences (2015), on a beautiful Friday evening at the most atmospheric late 19th century Viitasaari Church, I found myself thinking, if this was how the first audiences of late Beethoven quartets felt upon discovering those riveting masterpieces.

The Silk House Sequences is a masterpiece. It is pure Birtwistle to the bone, but in a similarly unexpected way as those Beethoven’s late quartets. Not that the Silk House Sequences would sound anything like Beethoven. In fact, it stands apart, somewhat, from Birtwistle’s own previous entries to the string quartet repertoire too. 

A series of short fantasias and friezes with a fugue finale, 9 Movements for String Quartet (1991-96) is a study of musical segments, whereas The Tree of Strings (2007) is a continuous, gradually unfolding adventure into sounds and textures. 

Lasting circa 30 minutes, like its two predecessors, The Silk House Sequences is a feast in its polyphonic multitude of rhythms, ostinati and textures. Birtwistle’s ever-fascinating idea of layered musical clockworks is very much at play here, resulting in a rich and constantly transforming sonic tapestry.

Even though its title alludes to the composer’s home, a former silk factory at Wiltshire countryside, Birtwistle again takes paths to avoid the English pastorale. There is no serene idyll found in The Silk House Sequences. 

At times, with its most delicate textures, the music dwells on the very threshold of silence, but only to be broken by irregular, quasi-Beethovenian sforzatos. The element of surprise is a key factor of The Silk House Sequences. With every twist and turn, Birtwistle seems to find a new path leading into thrilling and most unexpected musical directions. 

With its wealth of musical ideas wonderfully elaborated, The Silk House Sequences calls for a virtuoso ensemble to tackle its fabric of rhythmic layers, shifting textures and dramatic architecture. The marvellous musicians of the Arditti Quartet captured Birtwistle’s vivid universe of musical invention with immense commitment and skill, conveying every nuance of this challenging score with admirable precision and expressive talent, form the subtlest lyricism to most energetic rhythmic drive. 

On the second half of the programme, a vastly different sound world was unfolded, as the Arditti Quartet, together with a sound engineering team from IRCAM, Paris, plunged into the alluring spheres Chaya Czernowin’s HIDDEN (2013-14) for string quartet and electronics.

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In HIDDEN, Israeli-born Czernowin, a visiting composer of this year’s Time of Music festival at Viitasaari, combines string quartet with live electronics, in order to create an extensive study of musical material and its perception. Alongside musicians onstage there  is an array of loudspeakers surrounding the hall. 

Through loudspeakers, computer-generated transformations of the musical material are projected into the hall. As in a hall of mirrors, the listener encounters reflections of the string quartet realm from most enlightening sonic perspectives.

The musical material for the live quartet consist of a series of fragments, gradually unfolding in time. There is wealth of textures created by altering between various types of pizzicati, bowings and glissandi. In this fascinating realm between sound and noise, passages of utmost pianissimo are dominant, though, at times, uproaringly dense outburst are heard. 

During its forty-five minute course, HIDDEN invites the listener to be immersed deep into the psychophysical universe of the sound itself. Czernowin does not only present us with a highly personal musical style, but a new way of listening. 

The combined talents of the fabulous Arditti players and the top-class sound engineering team from IRCAM were exquisite guides for the inspired audience upon this most intriguing of journeys. A great summer evening indeed.              

   

Arditti Quartet

Irvine Arditti, violin

Ashot Sarkissjan, violin

Ralf Ehlers, viola

Lucas Fels, cello

 

IRCAM

Serge Lemouton, computer music designer

Luca Bagnoli, sound engineer

Maxime Mantovani, computer music designer assistant

 

Sir Harrison Brirtwistle: The Silk House Sequences (2015) for string quartet

Chaya Czernowin: HIDDEN (2013-14) for string quartet and electronics

 

Time of Music, Viitasaari Church, Viitasaari, Finland

Friday 6 July, 7 pm

 

c Jari Kallio

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Exquisite evening of sun and music with the LSO and Sir Simon Rattle at Trafalgar Square

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Sir Simon Rattle’s inaugural season as the music director of the London Symphony Orchestra closed on Sunday at Trafalgar Square with the orchestra’s annual free open-air concert, titled BMW Classics after its primary sponsor. 

This was Rattle’s first time conducting at Trafalgar Square, concluding a busy weekend for the LSO and its music director, on the heels of their concerts at Tate Modern on Saturday with two classics of the postwar modernism, Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum by Olivier Messiaen and Gruppen by Karlheinz Stockhausen.

The Trafalgar Square was, of course, quite different affair from the Tate concerts. Designed as an accessible introduction for as wide audience as possible, there is considerable amount of planning to be done, in order to create a programme able to inspire a casual listener as well as a more seasoned concert-goer.

This year’s concert centered around the theme of dance. Alongside some almost self-evident choices, namely Antonín Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances (1878-1886) and Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker (1892), there were three marvellous selections from Igor Stravinsky’s The Firebird (1910) as well as Jules Massenet’s utterly charming dances from his 1885 opera Le Cid. 

Still, the most delightful part of the programme was the premiere of Kate Whitley’s Sky Dances (2018). Written for the LSO and Rattle, Sky Dances featured young musicians from East London involved in the LSO On Track education project, as well as musicians from the Guildhall School alongside the LSO players. 

Ideally suited for the vast open space of Trafalgar Square, Sky Dances is an absolutely charming piece, brilliantly tailor-made for a mixed ensemble of professionals and young musicians. 

Sky Dances is cast in two movements, Sun and Moon, each inspired by the celestial bodies journey on an open sky. Energetic, upbeat and majestic, Sun is a pulsating dance, with instantly appealing harmonies and glimmering orchestration. On the surface, there is a family resemblance with some early classics of orchestral minimalism, such as the late 70s and early 80s pieces by John Adams. 

Yet, on a deeper level, Whitley’s harmonies behave somewhat differently from those of Adams, giving rise to most uplifting textures. There is a marvellous diversity in the orchestral parts, combining the skills of first class professionals as well as young players of different levels of musical education. 

The second movement, Moon, opens with a contemplative introduction. Night music par excellence, there is that nocturnal feeling of time standing still. Gradually the music gains momentum, and comes full circle as the music from Sun returns, heralding a new dawn. 

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Wonderfully played by the LSO and young musicians with Rattle, Sky Dances made a joyous first impression on the Trafalgar Square audience. 

Charming as ever, the three Slavonic Dances from Dvořák’s both opuses, Furiant, Skočná and Kolo served as a perfect introduction to the concert, showcasing LSO’s sharp rhythmic energy and glorious sound.   

In Rattle’s amazingly wide repertoire, there are not many pieces by Tchaikovsky. The Nutcracker, however, has been a notable exception. Probably one of the most widely- known pieces of classical music, the Pas de deux, danced in the ballet by the Prince and the Sugar Plum Fairy. With the fabulous warmth of the LSO, the Pas de deux provided an aptly lyrical interlude following Dvořák’s energetic dances. 

Perfromed by the orchestra earlier this season with François-Xavier Roth, Massenet’s thoroughly charming suite of dances from the opera Le Cid, was another Trafalgar Square highlight. Masters of the French repertoire, Rattle and the orchestra clad the dances in Technicolor guise within a catching rhythmic flow.  

The evening concluded with three selections from the Stravinsky Firebird; The Infernal Dance, Berceuse and Finale. A spectacular score by the young Stravinsky, The Firebird never fails to enchant the listener with its brilliant orchestration, thrilling harmonies and sharp rhythms, not to mention the glorious theme of the Finale. 

With The Firebird, Rattle and the LSO gave a spectacular performance, endorsing the blazing orchestral colours and mysterious harmonies with alluring splendour, all within a carefully detailed rhythmic framework.

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As a brief encore, Dmitry Kabalevsky’s hilarious Galop from The Comedians Suite, Op. 26 (1938) brought the exquisitely warm summer evening to an upbeat close. 

 

London Symphony Orchestra

LSO On Track young musicians

Guildhall School musicians

 

Sir Simon Rattle, conductor

 

Antonín Dvořák: Slavonic Dances, Op 46, Nos 1 & 7 (1878) & Op. 72, No. 7 (1886)

Pyotr Tchaikovsky: Pas de deux from ’The Nutcracker’ (1892)

Jules Massenet: Dances from ’Le Cid’ (1885)

Kate Whitley: Sky Dances (2018, world premiere)

Igor Stravinsky Selections from ’The Firebird* 1910 

 

Trafalgar Square, London

Sunday 1 July, 5 pm

 

c. Jari Kallio

 

London Symphony Orchestra and Sir Simon Rattle enchanted Tate with riveting Stockhausen and Messiaen

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On Saturday, the London Symphony Orchestra embarked upon a visit to Tate Modern with their music director Sir Simon Rattle. At the splendidly postindustrial Turbine Hall, there were, in fact, two consecutive concerts featuring a most juicy programme with two veritable classics of the postwar modernism, Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum (1964) by Olivier Messiaen as well as Gruppen (1955-57) by Karlheinz Stockhausen. 

In vast space of the Turbine Hall, there were four stages built, one mounting the winds, brass and percussion of Et expecto, and three for each of the three orchestras featured in Gruppen. There was no seating. Instead, the standing audience was invited to wander around during the performance in search for different aural images. 

Composed for the memory of the dead of the two World Wars, Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum is one of the most profoundly moving and instantly appealing pieces of Messiaen. Bearing likeness to its immediate predecessor, Couleurs de la Cité Céleste (1963), Et exspecto is scored for an orchestra of winds, brass and various pitched percussion instruments. Alongside their instrumentation, both works share also a compositional idea based on the Biblical vision of the apocalypse.

There are five circa five-minute movements in Et expecto, each titled after a Biblical quote. Even though each movement forms an entity of its own in Messiaen’s quasi-narrative, there are recurring motives and textures across movements. 

Opening within the deep registers of low winds and brass, the first movement, Des profondeurs de l’abîme, je crie vers toi, Seigneur: Seigneur, écoute ma voix! after Psalm 130, is a solemn lamentation yearning towards redemption. Fabulously performed by the LSO and Rattle, the opening movement transformed the Turbine Hall into a cathedral of sound. 

In the second movement, Le Christ, ressuscité des morts, ne meurt plus; la mort n’a plus sur lui d’empire, we encounter enchanting music for winds and tuned percussion within a rhythmic framework so characteristic of Messiaen. Wonderfully articulated by the LSO, within Rattle’s marvellous pacing, there was a splendid aura of awesome beauty.

With its huge climaxes for gongs and tam-tams, L’heure vient où les morts entendront la voix du Fils de Dieu… succeeded in summoning, if not the dead, the spirit of each and every listener with its overwhelming intensity, whereas the ecstatic Ils ressusciteront, glorieux, avec un nom nouveau — dans le concert joyeux des étoiles et les acclamations des fils du ciel was ringed out in its profoundly uplifting glory by the LSO. 

The final movement, Et j’entendis la voix d’une foule immense… with its enthrallingly pulsating gongs and transfigured chorales provided a spellbinding conclusion for this masterpiece among war memorials.

With Messiaen’s vision gradually fading, and the musicians and audience veering towards the three other stages, the Turbine Hall was set up for one of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s most epic creations. Gruppen. 

Contrasting Messiaen’s almost archaic aural images of the resurrection, Gruppen stands defiantly as the ultimate experiment in total serialism. Composed simultaneously with Gesang der Jünglinge, another early Stockhausen classic, Gruppen, even though purely an instrumental work, was heavily influenced by the composer’s experimentation with electronic music. 

In Stockhausen’s original vision, Gruppen was projected to be scored for orchestra and tape. However, mixing tape with live orchestral music was found problematic by the composer, due to the limitations of technology available in those days. Therefore the original idea was soon abandoned, paving way for an instrumental composition. 

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The most distinctive feature of Gruppen, the three orchestras, was not a part of the original scheme. Stockhausen was aiming for a compositional system, where each musical parameter, pitch, timbre, duration, rhythm and tempo would be controlled by an unifying serial principle, giving rise to a myriad of note-groups stemming from this core system, creating a series of simultaneously developed musical sequences. 

Yet, Stockhausen discovered, that several overlapping tempi, resulting from these groups would prove impractical for the musicians as well as the conductor in a live performance. As a solution, the composer divided his orchestra into three large ensembles, each with their own conductor, in order to make Gruppen performable.

With three orchestras now at play, yet another musical dimension arose from the fabric of Gruppen. In the manner of renaissance polyphony for multiple choirs dispersed into various galleries of a cathedral, the spatial division between the three orchestras would turn into a musical parameter of its own.

The spatial patterns of Gruppen don’t follow an equally strict formula as the other parameters. According to Stockhausen, there are reflections of the mountain-lines, as seen from the sole window of his tiny Swiss studio, in the spatial patterns of Gruppen. 

The score calls for 109 musicians. There is a vast percussion section, three keyboards (piano, celesta and a keyboard glockenspiel), alto and baritone saxophones, as well as an electric guitar augmenting the orchestral line-up. With its unique timbral universe, Gruppen is clad in ravishing colours.

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Even though there are vast orchestral forces at play, a lot of Gruppen is almost chamber music. With subtle textures, Stockhausen employs the diverse instrumental combinations with riveting imagination, plunging into unforeseen sonic universes. 

At times, the three orchestras cross paths, either in those fleeting moments of occasional tutti chords, or in thunderous climaxes of brass and percussion, resulting in an dashing spray of sonic waves enfolding the enchanted listener. In all music, there is no rival to Gruppen in its overwhelming power to engage listener’s imagination, both cerebrally and viscerally. A postwar Rite of Spring. 

For Gruppen, a specific rehearsal process is required. To start with, there are sessions for the three conductors alone, followed by separate rehearsals for each of the orchestras. And finally, all of Gruppen is put together in the tutti sessions. 

In a performance, Gruppen poses unique challenges of synchronization for the three conductors. In live acoustics, this has to be done, for the most part, visually, calling for a most distinct beat. Rattle and his fellow conductors, Matthias Pintscher, the music director of the Ensemble InterContemporain, and Duncan Ward, a former conducting scholar of the Beliner Philharmoniker Orchester-Akademie with inspiringly wide repertoire, formed a splendid team, tacking the overlapping tempi as well as the constantly shifting dynamics and textures with virtuosity, enabling the LSO musicians to give their absolute best, resulting in an outstanding performance. 

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For me, this was the most intense 25 minutes of my life. Entering into this infinite cosmos of sonic splendour, superbly realized by the LSO and its three conductors, in these two sold-out performances with audiences of enchanted fellow adventurers, was one of the most uplifting concert experiences of all times. In all its joyously rewarding discovery, words inevitably fail to capture the full depth of the moment. For those at present, however, no words are needed. We all knew, we’ve shared something so totally unique.            

 

London Symphony Orchestra

Sir Simon Rattle, Matthias Pintscher & Duncan Ward, conductors

 

Olivier Messiaen: Et exspecto resurrectionen mortuorum (1964)

Karlheinz Stockhausen: Gruppen (1955-57) 

 

Tate Modern Turbine Hall, London

Saturday 30 June, 4.30 pm & 6.15 pm

 

c Jari Kallio

Gurrelieder in full bloom with Salonen and the Philharmonia

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With 350 musicians onstage, united in Arnold Schoenberg’s earth-shaking final chord, that glimmering heat of Strahlenlockenpracht, ringing out from the full choir with the orchestra joining the shimmering chord in its most radiant guise, Gurrelieder (1900-11) comes to its overwhelming close at a fully packed Royal Festival Hall

A superb performance at all measures, with Esa-Pekka Salonen at the helm, Philharmonia closes its London season with flying colours. Joined by Philharmonia Voices and Choirs of the Royal Academy of Music, Royal College of Music, Guildhall School of Music and Drama and Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, as well as an amazing cast of soloists, Schoenberg’s vast cantata on Jens Peter Jacobsen’s texts gets one of its most splendid outings. 

With Gurrelieder, it is not only about vast forces at play. In fact, a lot of Schoenberg’s writing is almost chamber-like, withing a huge emotional scale ranging from tenderness and yearning to sorrow, defiance and outright horror. 

The genesis of Gurrelieder was a prolonged one. Starting as a song cycle with piano accompaniment, it was originally intended as a competition piece. Deadlines came and went, however, and the unfinished score ended up in a drawer for a couple of years.

Three years later Schoenberg returned to his unfinished cycle of nine songs. Now tied together more closely, these songs formed the first part. Soon the piece was expanded to its three-part whole. 

With other projects intervening, Schoenberg was able to finish the orchestration only in 1910-11. By the premiere of Gurrelieder, Schoenberg was already exploring vastly different soundworlds. However, he held Gurrelieder in high regard, even though keeping his distance to the growing success of the work. 

The first part begins with a shimmering orchestral prelude. Ostinato flutes, glittering harps (there are four of them) and lush strings set the music in motion. Horns and clarinets join, and gradually we get the whole orchestra engaged into this sonic landscape of radiant colours.

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Apparent from the very opening bars, the Philharmonia had absorbed Schoenberg’s textures most admirably with Salonen. The music shone with that delicious late-romantic glow at its most inspiring warmth, heralding a performance of unique splendour. 

A series of interconnected songs form the core of the first part. Depicting different aspects of love between Waldemar and Tove, both parts marvellously sung by Robert Dean Smith and Camilla Tilling, stepping in for Alwyn Mellor at short notice, we travel through a realm of passion, yearning and joy. 

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There are, however, darker undercurrents at play. For where is love, there are seeds of sorrow sewn. The first part concludes with a shocking panorama of death and loss, as the Wood Dove, sung fabulously by Michelle DeYoung, laments for Tove’s passing. 

Schoenberg calls for the most impressive orchestral textures and vocal colours in The Song of the Wood Dove. The desolate cries from woodwinds, imitations of funerar bells by the harps and the slow pulse of a burial procession open a dark landscape of desperation. Rarely have I heard this music performed with such devastating intensity.

In the brief, yet intense, second part, Waldemar in his grief defiantly renounces God for depriving Tove from him. A Tyrant, not a Lord, being Waldemar’s verdict of the Almighty.  

Being cursed to pursuit a recurring nocturnal hunt, Waldemar and his men are banned from eternal rest. In the third part we enter into a phantasmagora of a horde of death riding through the night spreadig terror. 

The choir makes its chilling entry here. As Waldemar’s men, they chant their cruel fate in sequences of solemn horror. Here the Philharmonia Voices, augmented with singers from various London conservatory choirs, formidably coached by Aidan Oliver, gave a performance of a lifetime, chilling to the bone. 

Admirably balanced throughout, the vocal and orchestral parts, soli and tutti, shined with intensity and expression. Three soli are featured in the third part. First we encounter Bauer’s testimonies of Waldemar’s hunting horde, ominously sung by David Soar. Then we are entertained by Klaus-Narr, splendidly performed by Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke. And finally, there is the riveting melodrama, ever wonderfully interpreted by Barbara Sukowa, with a most sublime amplification securing the balance. 

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And finally, there is a new dawn. The full chorus and orchestra signal the swift sunrise dispersing the shadows of the night. One of the greatest moments in all music, the Philharmonia and its vast chorus shimmered in an array of pure beauty, with the harmonies and counterpoint in full bloom under Salonen’s brilliant pacing and balance. 

Quite an evening, to say the least. These sonic images will dwell long in heart and memory. 

Philharmonia Orchestra

Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor

 

Philharmonia Voices

Choirs of the Royal Academy of Music, Royal College of Music, Guildhall School of Music and Drama & Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance

Aidan Oliver, chorus director

 

Camilla Tilling, soprano (Tove)

Michelle DeYoung, mezzo soprano (The Wood Dove)

Robert Dean Smith, tenor (Waldemar)

Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke, tenor (Klaus-Narr)

David Soar, bass (Bauer)

Barbara Sukowa, speaker

 

Arnold Schoenberg: Gurrelieder (1900-11)

 

Royal Festival Hall, London

Thursday 28 June, 7.30 pm

 

c Jari Kallio

A most fascinating Huw Watkins & Maxwell Davies double bill at Royal College of Music

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A formidable double bill opened last night at Royal College of Music. Combining the 2011-12 Huw Watkins and David Harsent collaboration In the Locked Room with Sir Peter Maxwell Davies’ 1979 classic, The Lighthouse.

Both one-act operas stem from stories of isolation and the ever mysterious treshold of the inner mind and the outer reality. In the Locked Room, based on a short story by Thomas Hardy and The Lighthouse, a free adaptation of real-life events at Orkney in 1900, both deal with stories with simple outlines, but complex psychological details.

In the Locked Room features a couple, Ella, a poetry lover, and Stephen, a businessman, both focused on their own worlds, with little, if anything in common. They rent a holiday home from Sussex coast. According to their landlady, Susan, there is one room on a permanent rent to another occupant, who turns out to be Ben Pascoe, a poet whose output fascinates Ella deeply. 

As Stephen comes and goes with his business, Ella is drifted more and more into her fantasy world where she ineracts with Ben through his poems. In real life, they never meet. Ben visits the house only once, with Ella absent. Despite Susan’s attempts, Ben refuses to meet Ella, signing a copy of his collected poems for her in haste. 

After learning about Ben Pascoe’s visit, Ella begins to imagine how she would meet him when he returns to collect his forgotten coat. From this point on, Ella is constantly involved in her inner reality while she becomes more and more alienated from the deal-of-a-lifetime world of Stephen. 

Ella’s fantasies of Ben become more and more passionate. Even when learning about Ben’s sudden death by falling of a balcony, she prefers to stay in her inner world. Now pregnant, she informs Stephen, that child is Ben’s. 

Oh course, this simple outline of the story doesn’t do full justice to David Harsent’s libretto, which goes far deeper into the web of human interaction with imagination and reality, fantasy and frustration. 

Huw Watkins’ musical setting of In the Locked Room is, above all, sublime. The orchestral fabric is built upon various repeated, gradually transformed motives within an imaginative orchestration. Neither does the orchestral nor the vocal writing seek extremes. Rather, there is a firm belief in a more withheld expression, to a most satisfying conclusion. Watkins commands the listener’s attention with his sublime approach. 

The vocal writing sits very well with Harsent’s text. With subtle characterization, the different realities are brought to life vividly without unnecessary underlinig of motives or emotions involved. 

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The four singers, Lauren Joyanne Morris, Beth Maxon, Thomas Erlank and Theodore Platt team up as a fine ensemble with the RCM Opera Orchestra under Michael Rosewell’s baton providing a firm reading of Watkins score.

Written nearly forty years ago, Maxwell Davies’ The Lighthouse has become a classic. With its ghost-story outline turned into a psychological study of different narratives, or realities, set to music full of expression, detail and colour, it is one of Maxwell Davies’ most instantly appealing pieces. The score is full of discoveries, and with each performance shading new light on this brilliant music.

The Lighthouse opens with three officers giving evidenve to the court at Edinburgh on the mysterious disappearance of three lighthouse keepers at the lighthouse on Fladda. There are only three singers, with the orchestra representing the court. The French horn poses the questions, as the officers become more and more agitated with an increasing amount of contradictions in their stories. However, an open verdict is recorded, and the opening scene ends with the trio’s account on the eventual robot replacement of the Fladda lighthouse.

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In the second scene, The Cry of the Beast, we encounter the three lighthouse keepers on their fateful night at Fladda. The relief ship long overdue due storm, they are on the edge as tensions between them mount. After an unsuccesful attempt to calm down the mood with a card game, they decide upon each singing songs in turns. 

Blazes starts with a song accompanied by a fiddle and a banjo, recollecting his childhood and youth surrounded by domestic violence and alcohol. He then proceeds into a confession of a murder committed by him, for which his father was arrested and hanged, driving her mother into insanity and death. 

Sandy delivers a ballad beginning as a love song, bit gradually turning into a darker tone with troubling sexual implications. Arthur then proceeds with a Salvaton Army song on the Golden Calf and the Lord’s wrath upon blasphemy. 

As they sing their songs, the fog becomes ever more heavy. Upon sounding the foghorn, their ghosts of the past are summoned. With poor visibility, their imagination betray them, and lead by Arthur, they are convinced that the Judgment is upon them. 

However, the light the three keepers see upon the water is, in fact, the relief ship with its three officers. As the keepers run out in fury and horror, the officers enter. With an agreement on self defence, the officers get their story fixed and tidy up the lighthouse. 

All these events are set to music with Maxwell Davies’ unparalleled mixture of vastly different musical material. The score evokes isolation, calm, horror and storm with folk music and hymns incorporated a ravishing whole. The vocal writing extends from chant to wild hysteria, always in the service of the drama. 

In their dual roles as officers and lighthouse keepers, Richard Pinkstone, James Atkinson and Timothy Edlin were a convincing trio, formidably tackling with the demands of Maxwell Davies’ vocal writing. 

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The orchestra brought the court judges, the lighthouse, the fog, the storm and all the devices of fantasy and horror to life with its vivid performace, rich in instrumental colour merging the various elements of the music together into a well balanced performance.

In both operas, Stephen Unwin’s direction, Hannah Wolfe’s designs and Ralph Stokeld’s lightning served the drama well, in agreement with the music. The staging was beautifully simple focusing on the essentials of both stories, with different realities conveyed in approprately subtle manner. 

A most fascinating evening of formidable music theatre. 

Royal College of Music International Opera School

Michael Rosewell, conductor

Huw Watkins: In the Locked Room (2011-12)

Sir Peter Maxwell Davies: The Lighthouse (1979)

Lauren Joyanne Morris (Susan Wheeler)

Beth Maxon (Ella Foley)

Thomas Erlank (Stephen Foley)

Theodore Platt (Ben Pascoe)

Richard Pinkstone (Sandy, Officer 1)

James Atkinson (Blazes, Officer 2)

Timothy Edlin (Arthur, Voice of the Cards, Officer 3)

Stephen Unwin, director

Hannah Wolfe, designer

Ralph Stokeld, lightning designer

Britten Theatre, Royal College of Music, London

Wednesday, 27 June, 7 pm 

c Jari Kallio

All good things… Reflecting Sir Simon Rattle’s farewell season with the Berliner Philharmoniker

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It was announced five years ago, that Sir Simon Rattle would step down from his post as the chief conductor of the Berliner Philharmoniker in 2018, resulting a sixteen-year tenure at the helm of this legendary orchestra. 

During those years, the orchestra went through a makeover with its repertoire extending way outside its core repertoire, to new music, to Rameau and Sibelius as well. The orchestra launched its now popular streaming portal, the Digital Concert Hall in 2008 and established its own recording label in 2014. 

An apt sum-up of the Rattle era manifested itself in the concerts of his farewell season. I had the chance to attend and review nine of those concerts, seven at their home ground of the Berlin Philharmonie and two on their last tour at the Vienna Musikverein. 

Probably the most prominent link between these concerts were the new pieces commissioned by the orchestra and Rattle, a series of short works or Tapas, designed as appetizers for new music. 

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In the course of the season, there were seven premieres all in all, resulting a rich variety of styles within the Tapas framework. Georg Friedrich Haas’s ein kleines symphonisches Gedicht, Unsuk Chin’s Chorós Chordón and Andrew Norman’s Spiral each were built upon inspiring meditations on texture and harmony, whereas Jörg Widmann provided instrumental theatre par excellence in Tanz auf dem Vulkan. Hans Abrahamsen’s sonic miniatures of Three Pieces for Orchestra demonstrated an unique care for detail, and Magnus Lindberg’s Agile and Brett Dean’s Notturno inquieto were feasts of form and orchestration. 

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As always with new commissions, time will tell the fates for each piece. However, there is a considerable track record of new pieces entering the repertoire having their genesis as Rattle commissions; Thomas Ades’ Asyla and Tevot, Lindberg’s Seht die Sonne, Kaija Saariaho’s Latena magica, John Adams’ Lollapalooza, Jörg Widmann’s Trauermarch, Henri Dutilleux’s Correspondances and Betsy Jolas’ Little Summer Suite, to name a few. 

Most importantly with Rattle, it has not been just about commissioning new works, but giving them second, third and fourth performances as well. In addition, reviving a lot of repertoire from the latter half of the 20th century has been a key feature in concert programmes with Rattle. 

However, it has not been solely about new and 20th century music. Another absolutely essential composer for Rattle is, of course, Joseph Haydn. At the season opening, there was a riveting performance of The Creation, that fabulous embodiment of the age of Enlightenment. Here, the orchestra and the Rundfunkchor Berlin, Rattle’s trusted vocal companion, appeared as a formidable period ensemble. A performance practice well nurtured by Rattle, uprooted, for the most part, in Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s guest performances from the Claudio Abbado era on, as well as Abbado’s late work with the Beethoven symphonies.

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Rattle’s soloists for The Creation featured his long-time collaborators, Mark Padmore and Florian Boesch as well as a Haydn newcomer, Elsa Dreisig from the Staatsoper Berlin, stepping in at a very short notice and giving a sensational performance. She will be working with Rattle again next season on Leoš Janáček’s Mša glagolskaja with the Staatskapelle Berlin.   

Key works of the Germanic repertoire were also featured this season. Two Brahms symphonies, Strauss Don Juan and, most notably Bruckner 9th with the Finale in completed edition by Samale, Phillips, Cohrs and Mazzuca. Alongside the Deryck Cooke et al. performing version of the Mahler 10, the completed version of Bruckner’s symphonic farewell is among the most substantial additions to the orchestra core repertoire. First performed by Rattle and the orchestra in 2012, the performances of the completed Ninth on their last tour in May-June will stand out as one of the milestones of the era. 

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As for Brahms, Rattle crafted a fascinating fusion of the Karajan sound and period practice, at its most uplifting in the first and the last symphonies, both featured in the orchestra’s tour programmes this season. Having heard all the Brahms symphonies with them over the past years, the most memorable of these will be, without question, the performance of the First Symphony at Musikverein in June. Brahms the progressive instead of Brahms the monument, this was one of those revelatory moments when one hears a most familiar of works reborn, or revealed true to the core. 

Two symphonic classics from the latter half of the 20th century, Leonard Bernstein’s The Age of Anxiety and Witold Lutosławski’s Symphony No. 3 were given fabulous performances this season. Both composers being advocated by Rattle frequently over the Berlin years. 

With Lutosławski, there is a special challenge of the limited aleatorism called for in the score. Within a strict structural framework, there are passages in which the players are asked to perform their parts rhythmically independent from others. Here, a deep connection between the conductor and the orchestra is absolutely essential for a coherent, musically meaningful conclusion. Only with Esa-Pekka Salonen have I heard equally rewarding approach to the Third Symphony. 

As for Bernstein, the Berlinier Philharmoniker is probably not the first orchestra to be associated with. Yet, starting from their very first New Year’s Concert in 2002, Bernstein has been a part of the new repertoire of the Rattle era. Based on last week’s performance of The Age of Anxiety with Krystian Zimerman, frequent collaborator of both Rattle and Bernstein of his late years, the orchestra has well absorbed the American tradition, inherent also in multiple recent performances of the music of John Adams, the orchestra’s first composer in residence.     

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Speaking of the Americans, there was also repertoire from outside of the classical American tradition, namely that marvellous Paul Whiteman Orchestra repertoire featured in the February Late Night Concert, with Max Raabe and Miroslav Lacko as guests. In addition, a salute to the Hollywood golden age was presented with Scott Bradley’s Tom and Jerry and Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s The Adventures of Robin Hood.

None of this repertoire would have been possible during either the Karajan or the Abbado age. And most important of all, in these performances it was not about the orchestra swimming against the tide, but indeed full on to the game.  

Alongside Krystian Zimerman’s take on The Age of Anxiety, two other 20th century key works of piano and orchestra were heard at the Philharmonie this season. Daniel Barenboim was the soloist on Bartók’s Piano Concerto No. 1, a piece he debuted with the orchestra back in 1964, with Pierre Boulez at helm. Stepping in for Lang Lang, Seong-Jin Cho performed Ravel’s Concerto in G. In addition, Yuja Wang was the soloist on Bartók’s Piano Concerto No. 2 on the orchestra’s tour to Asia, now released on audio and video by the Berliner Philharmoniker Recordings.

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In all concerto performances with the orchestra and Rattle I’ve heard over the years, there has been an exemplary sense for balance and transparency resulting in most rewarding performances, perhaps the most perfect case in point being the Ravel concerto in November. Its mix of delicate textures, dancing rhythms and jazz idioms provide challenges for clarity and balance, all beautifully realized by the soloist, orchestra and conductor.    

Rattle’s love for Stravinsky was present in a riveting Petrushka in November, coupled with Rachmaninov Symphony No. 3, with the orchestra glowing in its trademark autumnal warmth. The distinctive sound of the Berliners has been well taken care of during the Rattle years, with new dimensions added. With guest conductors, such as Boulez, Harnoncourt, Christian Thielemann and Herbert Blomstedt, there has been an intriguing variety in performance styles and repertoire. 

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One of Rattle’s key collaborators in Berlin has been Peter Sellars. Over the years there has been critically acclaimed semi-staged performances of the Bach passions as well as a most sublime Debussy Pelléas et Mélisande and the Ligeti pandemonium, Le grand macabre. On the final season, these were followed by Leoš Janáček’s masterpiece, The Cunning Little Vixen. 

Neither Pelléas nor Vixen lend themselves easily to the stage, yet for a dramatized concert  performance they are ideal pieces. Sellars’ work, especially in its current ascetic form, divides opinions, but for me, there is a unique immediacy and intimacy found in these productions, resulting in most memorable performances. 

After tonight’s Mahler Sixth Symphony at the Philharmonie and the season finale at the Waldbühne on Sunday, the farewell season closes. Yet, there will be guest appearances by Rattle on seasons to come. In March 2019 there will be a revival of the St. John Passion with Sellars as well as a Berlin premiere of Helmut Lachenmann’s My Melodies for eight horns and orchestra with Rattle. With these new chapters, their story continues. 

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c Jari Kallio

Bernstein at 100, three world premieres and a salute to Hollywood, an exhirating all-in-one by Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker

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Rarely does one come by with an equally inspiring programme as with this week’s concerts by Berliner Philharmoniker and Sir Simon Rattle. Throughout the Rattle era, the Berlin concerts have demonstrated exemplary programming of a rich and varied repertoire. 

Even so, this week’s programme stands out with its unique combination of the Leonard Bernstein centenary with Krystian Zimerman, three world premieres and two excerpts of Hollywood Golden Age, Tom and Jerry by Scott Bradley and The Adventures of Robin Hood by Erich Wolfgang Korngold. 

Based on a six-part poem by W. H. Auden, Leonard Bernstein wrote his Symphony No. 2, The Age of Anxiety for piano and orchestra in 1947-49. In 1965 the composer revised the ending to its final form. With its programmatic nature and concertante setup, there is a certain kinship with Hector Berlioz’ Harold en Italie (1834), a hybrid between a concerto and a symphony.

With its portrayal of a search for meaning, identity and faith, The Age of Anxiety is one of Bernstein’s finest pieces for the concert hall. It is set in two main parts, each divided further into three sections, thus corresponding the six-part structure of Auden’s poem.    

The First Part begins with a Prologue introducing the main theme, a sort of idée fixe of the symphony, with the intertwined parts of two solo clarinets. Gradually winds, harp and lower strings join the subtle introduction. Finally, the solo piano makes it entry setting in motion two sets of seven variations, titled The Seven Ages and The Seven Stages, respectively. 

Contrary to a traditional practice of variations based on a single theme, each variation picks a different feature of the preceding one for further development leading to most imaginatively varied sonic landscapes with a certain family resemblance.  

The Second Part opens with The Dirge, a lamentation based on a twelve-tone row leading to perhaps the most brilliant of the six sections, a jazz-infused scherzo, The Masque for piano, celesta, double bass and percussion. Set at the front stage around the piano at the Philharmonie, the jazz ensemble emerged from within the orchestra in a fabulous way with extra spatial effect provided by the pianino placed on the organ balcony. 

The Age of Anxiety concludes with and Epiloque, written in its original form for orchestra alone. In his 1965 revision of the symphony, Bernstein added a cadenza for the soloist leading to the determined and reassured coda, thus enhancing the structural unity of the concertante symphony. 

Zimerman, the orchestra and Rattle gave a wonderful performance of The Age of Anxiety on Thursday evening. The multi-faced solo part was throughly absorbed and conveyed by  Zimerman, who first performed the part with Bernstein himself at London in 1986 with the LSO. Rattle and the Berliners evoked a full spectrum of orchestral colour and rhythmic detail on Bernstein’s tricky but rewarding score. In The Masque Zimerman was wonderfully supported by Matthew McDonald on the bass, Wieland Welzel on the timpani and Majella Stockhausen performing the celesta part.   

After a pause, the three premieres ensued. Performed without a pause, Magnus Lindberg’s Agile, Andrew Norman’s Spiral and Brett Dean’s Notturno inquieto provided the audience the final pieces in a series of commissions by Rattle and the orchestra dubbed as Tapas, intended as appetizers for contemporary music.

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Agile inhabits that universe of subtler sonorities visited by Lindberg in his more recent pieces, such as Era (2013). There are interesting links with Ravelian orchestration too, especially in the lower registers for winds. 

There are familiar Lindbergian elements present throughout Agile, manifesting themselves in the shape and hue of a quasi-impressionistic orchestral tapestry unprecedented in Lindberg’s output. With his impeccable craft of instrumentation and form, Lindberg creates a marvellous six-minute orchestral journey.

Winner of the 2017 Grawemeyer award with his orchestral piece Play (2013/2016), Andrew Norman sets out to study an idea of a musical spiral in his new Berlin commission, aptly titled as Spiral. 

With audible links to the 60s and 70s minimalism and the micropolyphony of György Ligeti, Spiral opens with divisi strings in hushed sul ponticello harmonies resulting in a ever more dense contrapuntal web revolving around itself in fascinating array of orchestral colour. There is a whole universe unveiled in this stunning sonic spiral of unique, unhinged, and at times eerie beauty.

Befittingly for a former Berliner Philharmoniker viola player, Brett Dean opens his Notturno inquieto with two solo violas introducing the melodic material. Sustained cymbals, strings and pulsating winds gradually join the music, evoking an immersive soundscape of nocturnal unrest. 

As the music proceeds, the melodic fragments and orchestral pulses become ever more unstable and anxious leading to a climax followed by a coda gradually fading back to silence.

All three pieces were performed with beauty and dedication by Rattle the Berliner Philharmoniker. The rehearsal time was well used, as ever, resulting in fabulous premieres of three uplifting pieces with fascinating sonic identities. These were appetizers par excellence. 

The evening closed with a salute to Hollywood. First, the audience was treated with a concert presentation of Scott Bradley’s work for Tom and Jerry. Between 1940 and 1958 Bradley wrote scores to all but one episode of the MGM animation classic.          

A student of Arnold Schoenberg, Bradley considered animation as a fully fledged form of art, putting all his knowledge and craft into creating musical scores for these episodes of classic comedy. Among the key elements of Bradley’s style were various imaginative instrumental effects replacing ones traditionally produced by the sound department. 

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As the original scores contain mostly very short musical cues, they don’t lend themselves easily for concert hall. Luckily, there is a concert edition wonderfully prepared by John Wilson and Peter Morris in 2013, comprising excerpts from a dozen or so episodes of Tom and Jerry into a quasi-narrative whole scored for a large orchestra.

Rattle and the orchestra cast themselves wholeheartedly into Bradley’s whirlwind of swing, dodecaphony and musique concrète. These ten minutes of (barely) controlled chaos were, quite frankly, among the funniest moments I’ve ever experienced within the walls of a concert hall. 

The marvelously varied programme concluded with excerpts from one of the most epic scores of the cinematic Golden Age, Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). With an endless flow of sweeping melodies, imaginative use of leitmotivs and breathtaking skill for orchestration, Korngold created not only an impressive series of classic film scores, but in fact the very musical grammar for the silver screen.

Korngold started his Hollywood career in 1934. By the time of scoring The Adventures of Robin Hood, he was already accustomed to the pressing schedules of film production, which required him to compose and record his vast scores within eight weeks or so. Yet, there was extra tension associated with the creative process of Robin Hood, as Hitler launched his Anschluss while Korngold was at work in Hollywood. 

While desperately waiting news of the fates of his friends and family members at his native Vienna, Korngold went on to write the most ravishing music for Robin Hood, filmed in state-of-the-art Technicolor and starring Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone and Claude Rains.    

Naturally extracting a concert suite from the eighty-minute original score poses some challenges. Korngold’s own concert arrangement is in four movements and employs somewhat reduced orchestration. In 2007 John Mauceri expanded Korngold’s suite into a Symphonic Portrait, a fuller representation of the score in its original orchestration. This week’s Berlin performances were based on this excellent edition. 

After the opening fanfare, Old England, a most uplifting movement, Robin Hood and HIs Merry Men, is heard. Consisting of the Main Title march and the quasi-balletic Ambush in Sherwood sequence, there is a full sweep of Korngold’s melodic and orchestral genius at display in this action-packed music. 

The Love Scene is one of the best known pieces of classic Hollywood, and one of the most elaborately orchestrated romantic scenes by Korngold with its imaginative use of alto and tenor saxophones.

The Symphonic Portrait concludes with a battle sequence, Duel, Victory and Epilogue. Worthy of Dance sacrale, this is masterpiece in fierce rhythmic drive with ever changing meters and irregular accents. Various leitmotivs signal the course of the battle within the layers of Korngold’s fabulous orchestration. 

After a victory fanfare there is an apotheosis of the love of Robin and Marian and the restoration of peace and justice as the music glows in its full symphonic warmth and glory. 

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Korngold’s virtuosic score sounded ever so beautiful in the hands of Rattle and the orchestra. The rich, warm, but ever wonderfully transparent sound of the Berliners did full justice to Korngold’s orchestral colour and detail. The tricky rhythms were marvellously articulated. A dream ending for a riveting evening.

 

Berliner Philharmoniker

Sir Simon Rattle, conductor

Krystian Zimmerman, piano

 

Leonard Bernstein: Symphony No. 2, The Age of Anxiety (1947-49, revised 1965)

Magnus Lindberg: Agile (2018, premiere)

Andrew Norman: Spiral (2018, premiere)

Brett Dean: Notturno inquieto (2018, premiere)

Scott Bradley: Tom and Jerry (1940-58, edited by John Wilson and Peter Morris, 2013)

Erich Wolfgang Korngold: The Adventures of Robin Hood. Symphonic Portrait (1938, edited by John Mauceri, 2007)

 

Philharmonie, Berlin

Thursday 14 June 2018, 8 pm

 

c Jari Kallio