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  • Jurowski in a fascinating all-Russian evening with the London Philharmonic. » Christopher Gunning
    three most important composers in the Soviet Union alongside Prokofiev and Shostakovich After a period of neglect at least in the West his music is being revived Silentium is an early work and is based on Silence a Fable by Edgar Allan Poe and follows the text quite closely throughout it is predominantly dark and brooding and stylistically owes far more to the nineteenth century than looking forward to the twentieth Unfortunately brevity may not have been one of Miaskovski s stronger qualities and I found the unremittingly doomy textures a little hard to take for nearly twenty five minutes However this reviewer was fascinated to hear a quote repeated several times from his own Poirot theme emerging in one or two spots how very clever of Miaskovski to have hit on the same rising note pattern Notwithstanding that I could once again have done with some stronger thematic material overall although Jurowski and the LPO did everything in their power to bring the work to life Edison Denisov s Bells in the Fog was also too long for its own good The title explains everything really bells this time mostly tinkly bells mostly from the vibraphone celesta glockenspiel and tubular bells interspersed with high clusters from the strings and woodwind Similar textures and patterns pervade the piece through nearly all of its sixteen minutes except for some loud interruptions later on What to say about it I would have been happy with four or five minutes but please not sixteen The best was yet to come The Bells Op 35 came after the first and second symphonies of Rachmaninov but before the third It was his favourite work is in four movements and is composed for a large orchestra choir and three soloists soprano tenor and baritone We are back in Edgar Allan Poe territory here the text being The Bells translated into Russian by Konstantin Balmont a Russian poet Rachmaninov was staying in a flat that had belonged to Tchaikovsky when he wrote this wonderful music and some of his predecessor s influence seems to have rubbed off Its emotions are strong ranging from the angst ridden to the sublime you have to be a pretty miserable specimen not to be moved by it When reviewing this same work once before I said his use of the orchestra is brilliantly virtuosic alive with brilliantly vivid colours and always sure footed Rachmaninov s extraordinary harmonic sense is here in abundance glowingly chromatic yet always with a firm sense of direction There s no need to modify my view except to add that tonight it was the choral writing which also needed special mention I loved every moment of this Jurowski did too His was a studied approach obviously well rehearsed with detailed loving care apparent throughout The soloists were terrific Sergei Skorokhodov tenor in the first movement Sleigh bells Tatiana Monogarova soprano in the second Wedding Bells and Vladimir Chernov baritone in the fourth movement Funeral Bells Monogarova in

    Original URL path: http://www.christopher-gunning.co.uk/2012/09/30/jurowski-in-a-fascinating-all-russian-evening-with-the-london-philharmonic/ (2016-02-16)
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  • The LSO launches its 2012/13 London season with Szymanowski and Brahms » Christopher Gunning
    plodding rhythms forgettable material and confused argument Symanowski s description of it as a contrapuntal harmonic orchestral monster was thus not wide of the mark What a relief then to hear Janine Jensen tackle the 1 st Violin Concerto Composed ten years later Szymanowski had developed a far surer technique and the concerto has many episodes of great beauty with plenty of opportunities for the soloist to weave and soar above the orchestra I could not fault Janine Jansen s wonderfully sensitive interpretation of the solo part which isn t necessarily easy to get right It is predominantly lyrical and frequently passionate and of critical importance are genuinely flexible tempi fortunately the collaboration of Jensen and Gergiev seemed well nigh perfect Only very occasionally did the richly colourful and rather full orchestration threaten to drown the soloist and the LSO s contributions were always supremely musical and enjoyable A performance of this calibre almost disguises the fact that a good deal of this exotic mystical music is rather too improvisatory in character with its frequent reminders of major figures such as Scriabin Debussy or early Stravinsky The long and lovely cadenza towards the end of the work which was composed by Szymanowski s friend Pawel Kochanski was beautifully done For part two of the concert the territory was altogether different with the first Symphony of Brahms I had wondered how Gergiev might tackle this in the event it was a mostly rather strident reading not short of volume in the over warm Barbican environment At the outset the violins were virtually drowned by some enthusiastic timpani playing and while you could say the strength of the reading of the first movement overall was a full bodied red bloodedness I did miss some subtlety in the quieter sections There was some

    Original URL path: http://www.christopher-gunning.co.uk/2012/09/23/the-lso-launches-its-201213-london-season-with-szymanowski-and-brahms/ (2016-02-16)
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  • PROM 61: Hymnus Paradisi and Elgar’s 1st Symphony; an emotional evening at the Proms. » Christopher Gunning
    of course there cannot be complete resolution not with a subject such as this Howells composed his major work in an idiom that could be described as less modal than Vaughan Williams and less chromatic than Delius but nonetheless distinctively English Unsurprisingly for a professor of composition and music theory it is beautifully formed and imaginatively orchestrated with parts for the soprano and tenor soloists and the choir expertly and sympathetically written This should not suggest that it is in any way stuffy or academic far from it The work glows with inspiration from start to finish and if I say I had tears welling up throughout tonight s performance perhaps you ll understand what I mean There s a quiet confidence in the way the music speaks for much of the time which is not to say that it doesn t erupt with rhythmic fire periodically particularly in the Sanctus where it s almost as if the Walton of Belshazzar strides in But it is the weaving of the soloist s contributions with the choir that lingers having led us along a journey to eternity where souls meet in a halo of holy light Tonight we were allowed to appreciate the depth of the music in an unhurried unfussy performance which got right to the heart of the piece the work of the soloists was impressively sincere and well projected without being forced and the huge dynamic range of the choir was simply astonishing breathtakingly quiet and overwhelmingly radiant by turns Howells probably imagined the work being performed in cathedrals but the Albert Hall turned out to be perhaps an even better venue He didn t want it to sound churchy and the strange acoustics of the hall seemed to suit it ideally the reverberation time depending on where you sit is not as long as Gloucester or Worcester cathedrals where the choral sound can be muddled and confused tonight it was colossally impressive but clear But and it s a small point this is there something not quite right with the organ The low pedal notes were accompanied by a strange rattling noise which suggested a defective pipe or something shaking in sympathy with the vibrations It was mildly disconcerting Martyn Brabbins who very much impressed with his performance of Havergal Brian s Gothic Symphony last year was equally at home with this I very much warm to his no nonsense style of conducting which is always crystal clear and I admire his sense of tempo everything seemed to flow just perfectly Throughout the concert I found myself thinking of another British conductor well known for championing the two works tonight Vernon Tod Handley He loved the Howells partly because he suffered the loss of a child himself and he loved Elgar s First Symphony which I saw him conduct on two occasions I also have his recording and it s one I tend to compare others by I suppose you could say that Handley followed in Boult

    Original URL path: http://www.christopher-gunning.co.uk/2012/08/30/prom-61-hymnus-paradisi-and-elgars-1st-symphony-an-emotional-evening-at-the-proms/ (2016-02-16)
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  • ROM 54: An offering for the Queen, idyllic Delius, and shattering Shostakovich. » Christopher Gunning
    a mish mash with high woodwinds thrashing about And yes I thought the brass contributions often daft But the overall structure of the piece does work and it s a good deal more concise than some of the composer s other symphonies Vasily and the RLPO should be congratulated in giving a fantastically committed performance of this often technically difficult work insofar as one could tell it was accurate and spirited when required or quietly sensitive The same forces gave the first performance earlier this year and gave it a great deal of rehearsal time Delius s Violin Concerto has a real devotee in Proms favourite Tasmin Little She had not worked with Petrenko before but the collaboration was inspired The soloist negotiated the often tricky and richly expressive chromatic lines with great assurance and the flexibility of tempo so vital in this piece made for a glorious performance with seemingly every moment savoured You would hardly believe this was the same orchestra that had just negotiated the Maxwell Davies the woodwind transformed their tone and gave some beautifully lyrical solos and the strings were deliciously warm without sinking into soppy sentimentality Great musicianship then from all concerned The work may be an acquired taste and may ramble a little but it s encouraging to see Delius being programmed after a period of relative neglect and I d say four stars are about right with five going to the performers Petrenko a Russian has an obvious affinity with Shostakovich and now the same can be said of his Liverpool players for they have recorded all the Shostakovich symphonies for Naxos The recordings have won plaudits and the combination of Petrenko and the RLPO is reckoned to be one of the most exciting in the orchestra s history The 10 th Symphony is widely regarded as one of Shostakovich s deepest works the long first movement broods as only this composer can and needs firm control if it is not to sprawl There could be nothing to complain about in Petrenko s management of it or the orchestra s execution there was a restlessness throughout and the fortissimo outbursts were thrilling in the hall with the RLPO producing a far fuller and more glamorous sound than the rather thin quality of the BBC s broadcast would suggest for those listening at home Nevertheless the orchestra s timbre was also notable for a particularly icy tone which suited the slow meditative sections admirably This was REAL Shostakovich as Russian as could be There was fire and raw excitement in the second movement reckoned by some to be an evocation of the brutal Stalin who had recently died But it has now emerged that a quite different force was at work in the third movement for the composer had developed a romantic fascination for a young pupil Elmira Nazirova twenty years his junior His own initials D S C H appear frequently as a thematic element in the symphony and we now know

    Original URL path: http://www.christopher-gunning.co.uk/2012/08/24/rom-54-an-offering-for-the-queen-idyllic-delius-and-shattering-shostakovich/ (2016-02-16)
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  • PROM 42: Bartok and Prokofiev delight, Neuwirth challenges. » Christopher Gunning
    sustained chords and the solo viola has a Herculean task a to play the part and b to make himself heard although any issues regarding balance were far less evident when listening to the broadcast later thanks to the BBC sound engineers Some of the music is harsh and garish but there are some softly shimmering textures and some lyrical passages for the soloist too Much of the viola part consists of squeaks squeals scrapes glissandi and harmonics and it s probable that just about every effect possible is in there somewhere Neuwirth has in the past employed electronic sounds in her work something she finds quite natural for a composer of the twenty first century and her instrumental writing displays a similar approach with the use of extended techniques and effects being very much part and parcel of her approach to composition An amphigory is defined as a meaningless or nonsensical piece of writing especially one intended as a parody That last word parody is all important in this piece for onto it are superimposed quotations or rather near quotations of well almost anything it seems Paul Griffiths who wrote the programme note talks of Mozart and The Rite of Spring I did detect a snippet of Mozart but in any case you can t fail to notice references to music from bygone ages when they come because they re obviously in a completely different idiom to Neuwirth s main style She remarked that she is both haunted and obsessed by memory and the strange mental processes which can disfigure memory hence her predilection for quotations I was reminded of T S Eliot s use of literary quotations in The Waste Land and other poems perhaps Neuwirth is in similar territory here Yes I found this difficult But look this is a serious composer of great individuality gaining a considerable international following she is best known in this country for her opera inspired by the David Lynch film Lost Highway and two of her chamber works were played by musicians from the Royal Academy of Music earlier this evening both of these explored extreme techniques but always for dramatic purpose Several works were showcased by the London Sinfonietta earlier this year Tonight s opus was first performed in Graz in 2009 and if it s not to my personal liking then so be it Neuwirth always challenges avoids the ordinary at all cost and seldom permits relaxation The audience was certainly attentive although several I spoke to were totally perplexed The irrepressible Mällki returned after the interval for Bartok s Concerto for Orchestra in a performance which I thought was pretty well perfect perhaps the last movement was a little on the fast side but otherwise I found much to relish This was the Philharmonia at its best What wonderful woodwind playing Samuel Coles principal flute Chris Cowie principal oboe and Barnaby Robson principal clarinet must be singled out for their outstanding solo work And the two bassoonists Robin

    Original URL path: http://www.christopher-gunning.co.uk/2012/08/14/prom-42-bartok-and-prokofiev-delight-neuwirth-challenges/ (2016-02-16)
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  • Concert Reviews » Christopher Gunning
    F Major Op 93 1812 Boulez Anthèmes 2 1997 Beethoven Symphony No 7 in A major Op 92 1811 1812 Tonight it was the turn of Beethoven s 7 th and 8 th Symphonies to receive the Barenboim treatment The previous night s concert showcasing the 5 th and 6 th Symphonies was a hard act to follow and I wondered particularly what he would make of the 8 th often unjustly relegated to 2 nd rank in Beethoven s output In the event Barenboim unsurprisingly opted mostly for big This was a totally serious view by which I don t mean humourless some might even describe it as old fashioned because of the presence of such a large string section complete with eight double basses but Barenboim is not interested in adopting a period approach to Beethoven s symphonies Early music diehards please keep away and stop complaining This is a man who came up through the ranks of Furtwangler Klemperer Stokowski and Barbirolli who has lived in these symphonies for more years than most and has something to say about them The first movement was tautly dramatic with plenty of bluster but also ample grace One aspect of Barenboim s interpretations is his comprehensive grasp of form one usually feels one is on an unstoppable journey from start to finish and it was mostly the case here Beethoven s frequent contrasts of dynamics often from one phrase to the next never really getting in the way of the overall shape In the second movement often taken to be a parody of the recently invented metronome Barenboim favoured brisker tempi than some one might have wanted a little more wit but there was some and again there was plenty of drama and contrast Some good humour again suffused the third movement with its reinvention of the by now obsolete minuet and the well known horn and clarinet solos in the trio section were beautifully done The final movement was fast and furious its complex form seeming straightforward in comparison to some more laboured views Another success then This symphony a favourite of composers as diverse as Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky really needs no apologies whatsoever Among its more remarkable attributes is that Beethoven composed this predominantly sunny work when already seriously troubled by deafness and other life events Yet its optimism shines through even in this somewhat darker more serious reading and he himself sometimes said he preferred it to his 7 th Most of the Boulez works during this series have been for solo instruments or small ensembles Tonight it was left to Barenboim s son Michael who leads the orchestra to give us Anthèmes 2 an extended piece for solo violin and electronics The Royal Albert Hall is proving an unexpectedly marvelous space in which to appreciate Boulez s small scale opuses tonight we had the lone violinist on stage surrounded by loudspeakers pinned high on the walls broadcasting music and effects devised by a sound designer and an engineer from IRCAM Boulez says that in choosing the title he was influenced by his childhood memories of psalms sung during Holy Week the Lamentations of Jeremiah This often beautiful work enthralled for most of its twenty five minutes with antiphonal effects whizzing around the hall sometimes there are masses of pizziccatti sometimes lyrical lines and sometimes aggressive scraping noises It s virtually impossible to describe you have to hear it Michael Barenboim deserves a Victoria Cross for his dedicated performance and the audience should be congratulated for remaining so silent during a piece which eventually strained their powers of concentration If in the end the piece outstayed its welcome never mind it was another experience not to be missed Back to Beethoven and the mighty Symphony no 7 this was another big performance and if I wondered if things in general were perhaps a little on the hurried side irrepressible energy was the other side of the coin The dynamic contrasts now loved by Beethoven and an essential ingredient in his middle and late styles are very much in evidence here and in the wrong hands they can feel overbearing That I only began to feel that way towards the very end may be a tribute to Barenboim and his wonderful orchestra and let s not forget that commentators have found the finale the work of a complete madman It wasn t of course but that a kind of demonic fury marks passages in that movement is undeniable Along with the opening of the 5 th Symphony the Ode to Joy and the Moonlight Sonata the Allegretto from the 7 th Symphony will be to many their best loved of Beethoven pieces it turns up all over the place including incongruously to my taste in the King s Speech Tonight it commenced with no pause after the first movement a shame I thought because it seemed to diminish the movement s initial effect It was taken at a steady pace slower than some quicker than others and probably just about right The steady momentum soon made its mark and that something so hackneyed could still feel fresh is another tribute to Barenboim I have been conscious throughout these performances that despite his roots in a central European tradition Barenboim s performances do feel like reinventions in the very best sense The scherzo was incredibly frenetic and fast again it followed with no break with the trio sections alternately touching and grand And then with precious little time to draw breath that last movement as fast as I ve heard it and positively galloping with enthusiasm Plenty of youthful energy here You would have to be a pretty moribund individual not to be thrilled by the horns and trumpets blasting away the strings dashing around and finally by the sheer exuberance of it all Terrific Onward now to the Ninth Christopher Gunning Share on Tumblr July 25 2012 PROM 12 Barenboim s Beethoven and Boulez Cycle continues Beethoven and Boulez Guy Eshed flute Hassan Moataz El Molla cello West Eastern Divan Orchestra Daniel Barenboim conductor Royal Albert Hall London 23 7 2012 CG Beethoven Symphony No 6 in F Major Pastoral 1802 1808 Boulez Mémoriale explosante fixe Originel 1971 1983 Boulez Messagesquisse 1977 Beethoven Symphony No 5 in C minor 1804 1808 There is hope for Man With music making of this order made by young people from politically opposing groups love and understanding is being spread around the world for all to see and hear Barenboim s work with Jewish and Palestinian musicians has been very well publicised and it demonstrates that music our common language has the power to heal the most impossible rifts Who could fail to be moved by that These unmissable concerts are quite simply some of the most inspiring I ve ever been privileged to attend The eight double basses spread impressively to the left behind the orchestra told us straight away that these were going to be big performances by a big orchestra With Barenboim there is no pandering to early music tastes no period instruments and no lack of vibrato in the strings Yet the Pastoral floated gently into the world tonight just as it should and I was struck all over again by how revolutionary this work truly is It is hailed as one of the first essays in programme music although Beethoven said it has more the expression of feeling than painting and we were treated to a day in the country complete with sparkling brooks chilly winds rain a super loud cuckoo and a particularly violent storm It was a journey full of poetry and drama and a time to love natural things Nobody had painted pictures or described feelings in music quite so vividly before And nobody had used repetitive figures in quite the same way either that Beethoven was a forerunner of composers as diverse as Sibelius and Steve Reich was brought home forcibly to me tonight Beethoven worked on the 5th and 6th symphonies simultaneously The two works were even performed for the first time at the same concert along with several others of Beethoven in 1808 In his late twenties and at the height of his powers there was seemingly nothing the genius couldn t achieve and his mind was taking him in many directions at once The 5th Symphony was no less revolutionary than the 6th but here is a work that is quite deliberately on an enormously grand scale for the time Barenboim gave us a performance with plenty of rhythmic vitality and power The first movement was taken at a perfect tempo for the famous rhythm to make its mark restless but not hurried The horns were magnificent and the oboe s unexpected solo in the recapitulation a touch of genius was meltingly done There was much grace and humanity to admire from the cellos in the second movement and in the closing stages of the third movement you could have heard a pin drop This provided an excellent foil for the entry of the last movement where the brass blew my head off There were plenty of other touches to admire too all manner of delights in phrasing and I ve never heard the piccolo stand out quite so well at the end of the whole symphony In co creating and working with the West Eastern Divan Orchestra Barenboim has melded his group of impressive musicians into his very own instrument which he plays with superb musicianship The overall tone may not be quite as full bloodied as say the Berlin Philharmonic or the Bavarian Radio Symphony but it is certainly not lacking in power or expressiveness The woodwinds make big soloistic sounds the brass are vibrant the strings warm The degree of understanding between conductor and orchestra allows Barenboim to adopt an extraordinary conducting style Everything is obviously very well rehearsed leaving Barenboim to conduct in his own highly unorthodox manner Sometimes he stops beating altogether Sometimes he ll shape a particular phrase while ignoring others Sometimes he ll simply waggle a finger Sometimes there s a baton sometimes not And so on there s hardly anything conventional about it For the most part it works presumably because of all that rehearsal but sometimes it doesn t quite Ensemble is not always super precise By and large it doesn t matter at all because the energy and musicality of the performances carries us through the occasional blemish In the Boulez works sandwiched by the Beethoven symphonies Barenboim was more apt to beat time the complexity of the music demands that he does so I noticed this very different approach most noticeably in the performance of Dérive 2 at Prom 9 reviewed by Mark Berry in Seen and Heard The two Boulez works performed tonight are exquisitely beautiful pieces and both received thoroughly confident performances Mémoriale explosante fixe Originel in which the outstanding soloist was Guy Eshed has accompanying parts for three violins two violas a cello and two horns The part for the flute is extremely florid with a lot of flutter tongueing and the other instruments pick out notes quietly forming a halo around the flautist You might think it wouldn t work in the vast Albert Hall but it did and moreover was spellbinding Messagesquisse Messages Quest is another of Boulez s lovely short pieces this time featuring a solo cello perfectly performed by Hassan Moataz El Molla with six cellos contributing quiet notes until suddenly the music becomes absolutely frenetic Once again it s brilliantly effective and it s something of a mystery why these and other pieces by Boulez have not become concert favourites yet The members of the West Eastern Divan Orchestra have shown that there s absolutely nothing difficult for an audience to appreciate and these young players take to the music as naturally as music from the standard repertory This is a happy orchestra I know that because I talked to some of the musicians afterwards on the way to South Kensington station They were full of fun and joie de vivre They love their music director and he loves them And after last night I love them all too Christopher Gunning Share on Tumblr July 24 2012 Julian Anderson Delius and Elgar in a fascinating evening with the London Philharmonic Julian Anderson Delius Elgar Roderick Williams baritone London Philharmonic Choir London Philharmonic Orchestra Ryan Wigglesworth conductor Sir Mark Elder conductor Royal Festival Hall London 24 3 2012 CG Julian Anderson The Discovery of Heaven world premiere Delius Sea Drift 1903 4 Elgar Symphony No 1 in Ab Major Op 55 1907 8 We had two conductors tonight the young Ryan Wigglesworth for the Anderson and Sir Mark Elder for the Delius and the Elgar The Discovery of Heaven is Julian Anderson s latest orchestral work for the London Philharmonic of which he is composer in residence It is a piece in three movements influenced by a novel by Harry Mulisch and Japanese Gagaku music which is the oldest Japanese classical music Several composers have shown an interest in it in the past including Messaien Britten Alan Hovhaness and Henry Cowell Anderson was particularly attracted to the very high glistening textures this music often has and consequently the woodwinds have a hell of a lot to play in this piece Mind you it s also a workout for everyone else Anderson does not generally do simple for very long The first movement entitled An Echo from Heaven starts arrestingly phrases with long notes in the woodwind terminate with dazzling squiggles At first separated by silences they gather momentum progressively until there s an absolute mass of trembling sounds from the orchestra It is tremendously effective The second movement In the Street is something of a collage of the chaotic sounds one might hear in a busy city thoroughfare it develops into quite an infernal racket with various types of music popping up from here there and everywhere The last movement Hymns is far more lyrical at first but elements of the second movement return to interrupt and almost destroy Anderson s melodies Finally we are left with lapping string music which dies away with no resolution Advertised at seventeen minutes but actually lasting a good deal longer there was a lot to take in on a first hearing There is no doubting Anderson s amazing orchestral fluency as one highly effective section follows another I did worry that the textures in the second movement became so densely complicated and chaotic as to lose overall effect and it s fairly disturbing to see musicians scurrying around their instruments when you can t hear what they re playing I certainly lost the thread during this movement and began to do so again in the third Does Anderson always employ the most direct means to express his thoughts and ideas I m not so sure but I do need to hear the piece repeatedly to get to grips with it properly Ryan Wigglesworth and the LPO certainly appeared to cope with it brilliantly In the event it was Delius who was to bring us a little closer to heaven Sea Drift is frequently praised as Delius s finest work and yet along with most of his output one seldom hears it performed nowadays It emerged beautiful as ever in this sensitive performance with Roderick Williams and Sir Mark Elder obviously loving every nuance No less magical was the singing of the excellent London Philharmonic Choir It is not surprising that Sea Drift became so popular in Germany and Europe generally it is full of Wagnerian harmonic and melodic influences and when not being operatic in style has an intimacy not far removed from German Leider Walt Whitman s poetry provided the perfect vehicle for Delius s craft touching in it s portrayal of the lonely seagull who has lost his mate and simultaneously conveying the aching loneliness of bereavement that we all feel Don t ever think that Sea Drift doesn t have a human dimension If Delius was often more German than British the same could hardly be said of Elgar especially in his First Symphony despite the composer being a huge admirer of the Austrian German symphonic tradition and the works of Brahms in particular Few would argue that it doesn t contain some of his finest music and it achieved enormous success straight away with a hundred performances within the first year Imagine a concert composer of today being recognised in this way With its massive dimensions it takes a skilled and dedicated conductor to guide an orchestra through its complex narrative successfully Elder is as dedicated as any and gave a thoroughly well considered idiomatic and polished account with the noble gestures not overdone the intimate moments especially in the slow movement touchingly but never sentimentally interpreted and the scherzo perfectly poised To end a fascinating evening the finale s closing pages were genuinely thrilling marred only by some over enthusiastic members of the audience being far too eager to shout bravo almost before the music had finished Christopher Gunning Share on Tumblr March 25 2012 Nico Muhly the Britten Sinfonia and friends at the Barbican PART ONE Mazzoli Pallett Muhly Oliver Coates cello Pekka Kuusisto violin director André de Ridder conductor Britten Sinfonia Thomas Gould leader PART TWO Nico Muhly keyboards Doveman Thomas Bartlett keyboards Owen Pallett cello and voice Nadia Strota viola Sam Amidon guitar and voice Pekka Kuusisto violin Oliver Coates cello Thomas Gould violin Barbican Hall 16 3 2012 CG Missy Mazzoli Violent Violent Sea European premiere Owen Pallett Violin Concerto World premiere Nico Muhly Cello Concerto World premiere An 802 Moment informal songs and pieces Dear reader you probably know it already but the Britten Sinfonia is one of the very best ensembles to be found anywhere It is blessed with string players to die for with simply wonderful wind and brass players too and anybody brought in for special purposes has to be of an equally astonishing standard The composers featured tonight therefore were fortunate They surely could not have wished for more enthusiastic and polished performances undoubtedly helped by the German conductor Andre de Ridder with his sure direction And the Sinfonia has been highly instrumental in promoting Muhly in various concerts over the past couple of years or so As a result of this performances by some other orchestras and choirs and the opera Two Boys recently premiered by ENO Muhly might be as popular here as in his home town New York He and the very different Thomas Ades are most frequently quoted as the young firebrands of today And what of the music It has to be said that one has to crawl through an awful load of hype to reach Nico Muhly and his comrades Here are some samples Think Muhly think youthful no rules classical full of cross genre inventiveness BBC Music The hottest composer on the planet Daily Telegraph A new wave of musicians have revitalised the contemporary music landscape eroding the boundaries between rock classical electronica and folk making richly textured music for adventurous listeners Barbican programme Now to be fair to the 29 year old Muhly he reportedly hates the hype when you re built up into a colossal revolutionary genius it s all too easy for the reality of the music to be disappointing and for some to come along and carp Nevertheless Muhly is excellent at promoting his own work nothing wrong with that and his web site is a model for other composers to follow http nicomuhly com projects 2007 honest music Muhly is a child of his times brought up with Apple computers synthesisers samplers sequencing programmes and the internet and he uses everything to hand perfectly naturally The first two works tonight were not by Muhly but two of his colleagues whose thinking Muhly must be completely in sympathy with The first of these Missy Mazzoli found that studying with Louis Andriessen was life changing and has also been much influenced by Philip Glass Violent violent Sea is anything but violent for much of the time It makes much of two or more textures going on a once vibraphone and or marimba playing repetitive filigree passages with slow moving harmonies in the strings sometimes moving conventionally and sometimes not The strings also contribute active passages and the title does feel more and more appropriate it s a perfectly attractive and effective piece if not earth shattering With Pallet s Violin Concerto three separate influences are described in the programme note Bach the Russian composer Galina Ustvolskaya and Ligeti Unfortunately I found some of the material repeated over and over again in the manner of Philip Glass somewhat trivial although Pallet s textures for the strings and percussion are frequently interesting The second movement had more verve and the third movement with much use of quarter tones is presumably where the Ligeti influence comes to the fore for me this became a bit of a trial With the last movement we were back to minimalistic repetitions of rhythms and short figures Muhly s own Cello Concerto had more meat I enjoyed some of the contrasting textures Muhly uses pizzicato strings and quiet chordal motifs to great effect and there s good use of growling trombone snarls Sometimes I felt the orchestral parts to be more interesting than the solo part which wasn t always clearly audible although played with obvious involvement by Coates In the second movement Glass influenced repetitive passages are back to the fore Then it suddenly turns into something rather funereal and ends After the interval the lighting changed to a moody blue and the stage was completely rearranged no more Britten Sinfonia now it was the turn of Muhly and guests to sing some songs and play various pieces in an informal jam session This was really two concerts and strange as it may seem the disparate nature of parts one and two served to emphasise the differences rather than the commonality of two different types of music making So is Muhly the hottest composer on the planet If you say so yes the hall was choc a bloc and the audience was mostly 30 minus Incidentally it had also been full the night before for the LSO with Brahms Strauss and Mahler but I suppose we cannot call them hot But all that hype is it justified Muhly and friends are instantly likeable energetic enthusiastic refreshing and we should applaud the way they move easily between pop music and non pop In part 2 with his introductions at the piano Muhly also revealed himself to be quite an entertainer But here s the rub was there anything at all tonight that bowled me over with its startling originality or even strength of character Sadly no Steve Reich was doing some of this stuff years ago and so was John Adams Come to that so was Philip Glass in his way although I ve never personally considered his work to be quite the match of the other two And then there are those songs and other pieces forming part two it was all okay and well done but no more and I d rather have been listening to someone like Jimmy Webb from the 70 s or 80 s and still going strong or umpteen folk artists from yesteryear and has Nico Muhly listened to Keith Jarrett on the piano A rhythmically clever and tricky piece for the viola allowed Nadia Strota to display her considerable technical skills and yet when all was said and done I left the hall feeling decidedly so what But then I haven t ever believed that minimalism in music which whether they admit to it or not provides the essential building blocks of this latest New York School could be any more than a fascinating and perhaps purifying episode in music history but other means of moving forward have been found and a darn sight more interesting I feel them to be With all that natural talent don t Muhly and friends need to push themselves further now It will be interesting to see what he produces for the National Youth Orchestra Christopher Gunning Share on Tumblr March 20 2012 Strauss Mahler and Brahms at the Barbican with Maltman Ticciati and the LSO Richard Strauss Mahler Brahms Christopher Maltman baritone London Symphony Orchestra Robin Ticciati conductor Barbican Hall 15 3 2012 CG Richard Strauss Tod und Verklärung Death and Transfiguration Op 24 1889 90 Mahler Kindertodtenlieder 1901 4 Brahms Symphony no 2 in D Major Op 73 1877 Three of this reviewer s favourite works London s most frequently feted orchestra the LSO one of our star baritones Christopher Maltman and Robin Ticciati at 27 a hot property of the conducting world this concert certainly augured well Strauss s Tod und Verklärung Death and Transfiguration his second major tone poem can be a tricky piece to get right Even though still only twenty five the composer s handling of the orchestra was already virtuosic but some have had doubts about the depth of the piece Why was this young man with a bright future ahead writing about the struggle against death giving into it and finally achieving glory in the afterlife Of course it s a richly romantic notion and Strauss was rapidly becoming a leader of the late Romantic movement The piece has a narrative that s relatively easy to follow but if you indulge too much it can seem discursive the various sections insufficiently related By and large Ticciati avoided any major pitfalls and this was an intelligent reading The quietly irregular throbbing string chords felt like approaching death at the beginning and the explosion as the hero commenced his agonizing struggle was terrifying The woodwind and violin solos were all sweetly fashioned in the more delicately nostalgic sections the trombones were horribly menacing as death approaches and the aspirational theme as the soul rises to immortality was perfectly judged with beautifully balanced quiet chords at the end So all well done and totally professional Could one have wanted even more drama commitment and a greater sense of propulsion periodically Perhaps Next it was Christopher Maltman s turn to give a heart rending account of Mahler s Kindertotenlieder When Mahler wrote these extraordinary and desperately sad songs he was a good deal older than Strauss in the previous work one can speculate as to whether he was prophesying the death of his own child a few years later or recalling the death of his brother many years previously probably both At any rate Mahler was obsessed with death a theme which was to permeate his work right to the end Maltman s reading was quietly bitter unforced and unsentimental That is not to suggest there was no beauty of tone we had that alright but it was never present for its own sake I found it terribly moving despite the performance being wrecked by the most dreadful racket for the first twenty seconds or so Why don t they remind people to turn off their phones and watch alarms at the Barbican as they do at the Festival hall Ticciati has won plaudits for his operatic conducting and it s not hard to see why He was the most sensitive accompanist carefully attentive to Maltman and he drew some lovely contributions from the LSO s wind players too Christine Pendrill Queen of the Cor Anglais excelled just as she always does and there were equally touching contributions from Gareth Davies Guillaume Deshayes and Chris Richards on the flute oboe and clarinet The balance between soloist and orchestra was exemplary and even in the stormy final song Maltman rose above the orchestra to telling effect And so to Brahms and his glorious Second Symphony I would so love to go into raptures about this but I m left feeling slightly iffy Why This is a fabulous orchestra the ensemble playing is nearly always bang on intonation likewise and each player is terrific in his or her own right And let s not get things out of perspective this performance was not in any way bad and my problem with it could probably be simply that things were not to my own taste It happens The horns were rather too loud at the start meaning that I didn t get that haunting mysterious feeling that I have often loved The same applied to the passages leading to the second main theme in the violins which also wasn t quite sunny enough Then Ticciati didn t repeat the exposition as marked by Brahms The first movement continued in an ever so slightly matter of fact way and there was no real sense of homecoming when we came to the recapitulation or adventure during the extraordinary coda The second movement lacked weight somehow and the third wasn t quite charming enough at the start or skittish enough later on The last movement had momentum but there were a few slightly scrappy moments and I didn t feel it ended with quite the right blaze of glory And the timpani dominated the proceedings too often Nit picking Maybe Ticciati was aiming at a predominantly classical approach to this work and in its pastoral beauty I happen to think it warrants a bit more than that Christopher Gunning Share on Tumblr Jukka Pekka Saraste conducts Kurtág Bartok and Sibelius s two last symphonies Bartok Kurtág and Sibelius Hiromi Kikuchi violin Ken Hakii viola BBC Symphony Orchestra Jukka Pekka Saraste conductor Barbican Hall London 16 12 2011 CG Bartok Dance Suite 1923 György Kurtág C oncertante Op 42 2002 3 UK premiere Sibelius Symphony No 6 in D minor Op 104 1923 Sibelius Symphony No 7 in C major Op 105 1924 This was the third in the BBC Symphony Orchestra s series featuring works by Sibelius including the seven symphonies we had Symphony no 3 back in October and a selection of Sibelius s songs and his incidental music for Belshazzar s Feast last week Of course the BBC programme planners would never do anything as obvious as playing Sibelius s symphonies in the order he composed them which seems more than a little perverse how interesting and educational it is to witness the development of this infinitely fascinating symphonist from one to the next A number of different conductors will be taking part after the opening concert it was difficult to imagine performances more sympathetic than Sakari Oramo s of the 3rd but tonight we had Jukka Pekka Saraste who is one of the triumvirate of dedicated Finnish Sibelians along with Osmo Vänskä and Esa Pekka Salonen all of whom studied in the same class in Helsinki and are now in their 50 s Saraste was making a welcome return to the BBC Symphony having been their Principal Guest Conductor from 2002 2005 The first half was for some reason Hungarian Bartok s Dance Suite interestingly composed at the same time as S ibelius s 6th Symphony is one of his most immediately attractive orchestral works drawing on Hungarian Romanian and North African folk music to great effect with the various sections being connected by a returning theme in changing guises The brilliance of Bartok s colourful orchestration came over well in the BBC SO s performance and the constantly varying tempi a vital ingredient were all fluently handled There was plenty of rhythmic zap as well as some beautifully idiomatic solos and it was all highly enjoyable just the thing on this cold December evening The two major successors to Bartok in Hungary are Ligeti and György Kurtág whose Concertante was next on the agenda Kurtág won the 2006 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition with this work which has solo parts for the violin and viola with a very large orchestra The soloists tonight have been playing the work around the world since the first performance in 2003 and have also recorded it The programme note waffled about Mozart s Sinfonia Concertante and references to Wagner and Magyar music but if I was supposed to recognise any of these I m afraid I failed miserably In fact I found this work altogether perplexing the soloists are not soloists in the conventional sense and their contributions often seemed inconsequential or inaudible The music is also extremely discontinuous at worst it felt like a random series of sounds and gestures which although frequently interesting in themselves were largely disconnected There are welcome periods of greater energy and some violent outbursts too but overall this doesn t make for coherent let alone pleasant listening You may say there s absolutely nothing wrong in that in itself of course but there s a point at which incomprehension gets the better of me and I must admit to being pretty relieved when it was all over Awful to say this when the soloists conductor and orchestra have worked their socks off but maybe I ve spent too many hours trying hard to appreciate things I instinctively just don t like at all I certainly prefer my Kurtág in his more typically shorter more concise mode and I found myself asking yet again why the BBC favours so many contemporary composers from abroad rather than the host of home grown composers desperate for an airing It was brave to place the Sixth and Seventh Symphonies of Sibelius next door to one another These very different works could have benefitted from this one might have thought but in reality they did not Why Although each is short by major symphonic standards each is complete in itself and benefits from a period of reflection afterwards So we could wander off into the night with the magnificent 7th ringing in our ears but the more delicate and less overtly dramatic 6th suffered Technically these were both assured efficient performances I wouldn t argue with the tempi chosen for any part of the 6th but somehow the music refused to spring into life in the way it can and too much of it felt well efficient Despite some fine work from the BBC symphony Orchestra I found myself asking where was the poetry And although there was plenty of rhythmic verve in the scherzo and the last movement didn t things feel somewhat briskly mechanical rather than genuinely spirited And while I have come to love this symphony I also recognise that it s a special case needing specially sensitive treatment and programming placing it just before the interval would have worked better The 7th was far more successful Saraste maintained a tight grip on the formal shape managing all the difficult tempo changes brilliantly There was a satisfying inevitability to the unfolding of the drama the emotionally charged string passages near the beginning pulling us forward irrepressibly towards the first great trombone solo expertly judged by Helen Vollam the way she rose above the orchestra with no semblance of force was just perfect And I marvelled all over again at the astonishingly inspired orchestration that Sibelius dreamed up here just one lone trombone against the whole orchestra and yet you hear it clearly and gloriously The remaining sections flowed effortlessly the stormy sections were genuinely thrilling with the brass and horns glowing in the winter sunshine and the woodwind sparkling like freshly fallen snowflakes I could have wished for a greater sense of heartbreak in the final pages but nevertheless Saraste s interpretation was absolutely justifiable and it was impossible to leave without this one of the very greatest of all symphonies having made its mark yet again Marvellous Christopher Gunning Share on Tumblr December 17 2011 Two Views of Belshazzar s Feast Gerald Finley Edward Gardner and the BBC symphony Orchestra charm and impress in Britten Sibelius and Walton Britten Sibelius and Walton Gerald Finely baritone BBC Chorus BBC

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  • My EarlyYears » Christopher Gunning
    home with undying devotion A musical education for me was not high on the agenda even though it must have been obvious from the beginning that music would provide my livelihood I was no good at anything else With no formal lessons at all I picked up tunes and their accompaniments by ear and it was not long before I was composing my own pieces There were rather a lot of waltzes at first but gradually things became more sophisticated At Hendon County Grammar School I learned to read music and if I say so myself excelled at harmony and counterpoint These were such exciting years as I investigated classical music from dawn to dusk or rather when I wasn t out on my bike I also started to learn about jazz I ll never forget hearing Miles Davis playing Milestones and Porgy and Bess for the first time And then came pop music in the guise of Burt Bacharach and I realised that pop music too could be harmonically interesting A major discovery happened when I borrowed an LP of Bartok s 2nd Violin Concerto from the local record library Actually it was the second time I d borrowed it the first time was when I was twelve and I thought it was rubbish Then a friend suggested I give it another go and since it was a friend whose musical taste I respected I gave it another shot Wonderful A whole new area of music was opened and I began to hear all sorts of elements I thought I could work with Another composer whose work I began to adore and still do to this day was Maurice Ravel I revelled in the orgasmic sounds of Daphnis et Chloe and was especially moved by the famous daybreak scene loving the impersonation of natural sounds It could be that this was the music which helped me veer towards composing for films One cannot listen to Daphnis without having pictorial images and yet of course the music always has a structure built of iron beneath the glowing surface I have always consciously aimed at giving my film TV music some sort of musical structure over and above the demands of the film sequence itself believing that this way one might achieve the best marriage of visuals and sound It s a difficult proposition and I certainly haven t always succeeded but it still seems to me a laudable proposition Schooldays over I went on to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama where I had already been a junior exhibitioner for two or three years I didn t work especially hard for the first two years there were too many other distractions notably girlfriends But I knuckled down to it in the second two years and after lessons with Edmund Rubbra a highly distinguished composer I needed to extend my compositional abilities somehow so went to Richard Rodney Bennett What a good choice this was Richard taught me how to

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  • Getting Started » Christopher Gunning
    respects things are easier for young musicians than they were ten or twenty years ago The wide availablility of relatively inexpensive computers and music programmes means that demos of high quality can be assembled at home or in a college workshop Professional guidance is also widely available at universities and music colleges which was not the case when I was a student In other respects things are more difficult Getting yourself known in the television and film industries is certainly no easier than before because there are a great many young composers trying to break in There is simply not enough work to support the number of people who would like to be doing it meaning that things are fiercely competitive And we are living in difficult times with ever decreasing music budgets I would always recommend that a budding media composer has a second string to his or her bow You should send your music to producers and directors having established that they have a production lined up Names and addresses can be found in tomes and periodicals such as The Knowledge Screen International and Programme News You will probably receive no response but it is essential to remember that you only need a favourable response from one producer or director to get you started Good luck Christopher Gunning August 2008 Share on Tumblr Twitter Facebook Del icio us Reddit August 12 2008 Comments are closed Prom 49 2008 Those Reviews Home About Christopher Buy CDs Film TV scores Concert Music Listen Discography Shop Videos Reviews Gallery Writings My Works Concert Reviews Blog Contact Categories Blog Concert Reviews My Works News Recent Posts Diana Brekalo to perform CG s Piano Sonata St Olave s Church Hart Street London EC3R 7NB 2nd July at 1pm The Royal Festival Hall wrecked

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