In celebration of Louis Andriessen’s seventieth birthday, the first UK performance of his The Hague Hacking was scheduled for the Prom concert on August 17. The piece was commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and first performed with that orchestra by the pianists Katia and Marielle Labèque and Esa-Pekka Salonen, who were the performers for the Proms, playing this time with the Philharmonia Orchestra. There were several sources, or perhaps references embedded in The Hague Hacking: the piano parts make use at the beginning and subsequently in the piece of the notes of the beginning of the Lizst Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, which Andriessen knew not so much from knowing the piece itself as from knowing its use in a Tom and Jerry cartoon, The Cat Concerto (Warner Brothers used the Lizst in a similar way in a fairly well known Bugs Bunny cartoon, Rhapsody Rabbitt); the work also uses a Dutch “sing-along ballad” about The Hague, O, O, The Hague (Andriessen suggested in an interview that the text of this song is vulgar), whose notes are presented first at lengths which render it unrecognizable, but on subsequent reappearances faster, finally, apparently, at the end of the work, at its original speed; in addition the work’s Dutch title, Haags Hakkûh, makes allusion to the slang name (the second word of the title) for what we are told in Robert Adlington’s program note is a “a distinctive kind of dance, characterized by quick ‘chopping’ foot movements, that emerged in Dutch nightclubs in the 1990’s.
All of these allusions are very subtle, however. If one knows they’re there, the notes of the Lizst are recognizable, but if one wasn’t looking for them they could easily be missed. The surface of the piece is full of fairly rapidly zig-zagging hocketing notes in rhythms that one could see coming from some kind of house music, but since the bass is fairly consistently in long notes, certainly not suggesting any kind of dance music, the sense that there’s some kind of clubby dance music going on is absent. O, O, the Hague not being a particularly well known tune, outside of Holland anyway, a non-Dutch listener has to take its presence there on faith. What one hears if one isn’t worrying about all these subtle allusions is an engaging, mostly slow, rather monumental work with very active surface texture, although not as lively as all the preliminary information suggested. The orchestration is forcefully sonorous and bell-like and the piece makes an impressive sound.
The concert also included three dances from El amor brujo by De Falla, and two works of Ravel, the Mother Goose ballet (the movements from the original four hand piece, which Ravel turned into a ballet, changing their order and adding music, mostly short interludes connecting the movements, and Bolero. The performance of Mother Goose was astounding and unforgettable due to beauty of the playing, particularly of the winds, and its great subtlety.Before the concert the BBC presented a composer portrait concert which included several short works of Andriessen’s performed by students from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. A Very Sharp Trumpet Sonata and A Very Sad Trumpet Sonata, played by Chris Evans, are each a minute long; the first included in that short time span three movements of a typical sonata, a sonata-allegreo frist movement, a three parts slow movement, and a rondo. Image de Moreau, played by Richard Uttley, is a glittering toccata for piano, influence by both Prokofiev and Ravel, and meant to suggest the qualities of the work of the nineteenth-century pianter Gustav Moreau. Xenia, for solo violin, played by Alexandra Raiklin, is a solo violin piece in three parts (a Sarabande, a movement meant to suggest chickens, and a slow song) using music that Andriessen had written for a short film. Uttley, was joined by Thomas Besnard, Louise Morgan, and Catherine Ring to perform Bells for Haarlem for two keyboards and percussions, an appealing clangorous slow piece that deconstructs over its course its initial tolling chords.
The Prom concert on August 19, given by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, included the first performance of Shoreless River (a.k.a. Fluss ohne Ufer) by Detlav Glanert, which had been commissioned by the BBC along with the Royal Concertgebouw and the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D. C. The work has some unspecified connections to Galnert’s opera in progress, The Wooden Ship, which is based on the first part of a trilogy of novels by Hans Henny Jahnn. It is scored for a more or less standard large orchestra with triple woodwinds and a lot of brass and percussion. It is meant to evoke water and to suggest several different concrete and philosophical manifestations of it while depicting a mystery journey to an unknown destination. Shoreless River is punctuated by a repeated note figure on tubular bells which represent ship’s bells, marking off the hours of the journey over a day. Starting very quietly it builds in intensity and increases in speed until arriving at slow and noisy climax, followed by a quiet reflective coda. All of it is very clear, effective, and skillfully done in a rather conventional way.
The concert also included, along with the Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, with Denis Matsuev, and the Shostakovich Eleventh Symphony, ‘The Year 1905′. The work is prime evidence for the current view of Shostakovich, which regards him, as Richard Tasukin writes in On Russian Music, as able at the height of the Stalinist terror to perform heroic acts of public resistance (absolutely transparent to all his fellow dissidents but absolutely opaque to those in power).” Ostensibly written to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the brutally suppressed (by the Tsar) October Revolution, (a very officially approved Soviet goal), full of quotations of revolutionary songs, it also can be seen as commenting on the recently brutally suppressed (by the Russians) Hungarian Revolution of 1956 (the same year as the symphony’s composition), all of those songs now taking on a certain ironic quality. The piece is in four movements and last about an hour. Like all Shostakovich’s orchestral music, the orchestration is brilliant (in several senses of the word), endlessly imaginative, wonderfully masterly, and very effective. The piece is, possibly, too long. Stephen Johnson’s program notes were a model of how to be almost completely unhelpful to a listener. They provided a very detailed blow by blow, as it were, description of the symphony, meticulously listing all the revolutions songs used, but neglecting to indicate where in its narrative the different movements began and ended.