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Jerry Bowles
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Friday, August 26, 2005
More Proms

On August 16 (Tuesday) Leif Ove Andsnes with Jukka-Pekka Saraste and the BBC Symphony gave the first performance of Marc-Andre Dalbavie's Piano Concerto. A phrase that Donald Martino once used came to my mind: fancy French composing. The piece had all the attributes of a big bad knuckle-busting, crowd pleasing affair, which it was, but it was clear that all that had been arrived at by completely different means than would have been used by, say, Lizst or Prokofieff. In fact very fancy spectralist's-concerns means, which made it all the more interesting.

It began with a big motive in octaves that went all over the piano, like the Schumann or Greig, and the orchestra came in and a lot of the time played busy orchestral music. The piano started the second movement, playing thoughtful music and the orchestra gradually crept in, accompanying and comenting. In the third movement, the piano had lots of scurrying music, acompnying "tunes" in the orchestra. etc,etc. It was in three movements--fast, slow, very fast. Roger Thomson in the program notes went to some length to make the point that it only sounded that way, but it wasn't really (" listeners we are not so much conscious of a traditional blood-and-thunder climax as of a final and decisive interweaving of the work's spectral lines...").

Why it should be embarrasing that it works, and works really well, as a big old fashioned piano concerto is something I don't quite understand. In any case, I thought it was elegantly made and always interesting, and they played the hell out of it. It was my idea of a good time.

In a composer portrait concert that afternoon, students from the Guildhall School, I think (I don't remember and I didn't get a program), played a piece called Axiom for trumpet, clarinet, bassoon, and piano (the instrumentation of the projected and never written fifth Debussy Sonata) and a Trio for violin, horn, and piano. They showed how the same material as the beginning of the first movement (in Axiom) and of the second (in the Trio) could have gone another way. Apparently all three pieces are in turn based on the material of a Piano Sonata.

The Piano Concerto was preceeded by a performance of Fireworks by Stravinsky and the second half of the concert was the Shotakovich 11th Symphony ("The year 1905"), which sure is long, and sort of on the empty side. Like all of his symphonies it had great orchestration and wonderful things everywhere. It just would be better if it had a film with it.

The next night there was a concert by by the Royal Philharmonic, conducted by Daniele Gatti, with the Berg Lulu Suite and the Mahler Fourth Symphony. Christine Schafer was the soprano. The Berg was intense. Shafer sang Lulu's song from the middle of the orchestra and was covered up a lot of the time, and the Last movement, where she sounded glamorous, from above and behind the orchestra with no balance problems. The concern in Mahler to do (which is to say overdo) every little nuance possible, obscured any sense of a long line and ended up making it seem a little tedious, which it isn't and constitutes some sort of crime.

Shafer had a third costume change in the Mahler, showing up in a sort of tuxedo. I think she was probably supposed to be looking like some little waif chimney sweeper, which displays a really serious misconception of the piece, I think. Her singing, on the other hand was radiant and beautiful and moving.

That same night there was a late night concert by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir conducted by Paul Hillier with Christopher Bowers-Broadbent, featuring music by Arvo Part, in celebration of his 70th birthday. The singing was all beautiful, and they avoided a possible pitfall for performers of Part's music. It never sounded self-consciously or ostentatiously "spritual." It was just straight forwardedly serious and always effective and sometimes really moving. I most enjoyed a new piece called Dopo la vittoria, which set a text in Italian about St. Ambrose baptising St. Augustine. It was just as cute as it could be, and irresistible.

Wednesday night, after a concert by the European Union Youth Orchestra, with John Eliot Gardiner conducting, consisting of Ravel Rhapsody Espagnole and Sheherazade and the Walton First Symphony, The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Susan Bullock, with David Atherton conducting, did the Gorecki Third Symphony. I'm probably one of the few people around who hadn't heard the piece. It struck me as it was going on, and some non-musician friends here confirmed it, that the people who like to listen to it probably listen to little bits of it at a time, and probably very rarely if ever listen to it from beginning to end.

The piece creates it aura, of course, and I don't have any problems with that (big of me, I know), but, listening to it from beginning to end, it struck me as being not as effective as it might be as a piece (although I suppose there's no need to argue with that kind of success). Anyway, if Gorecki were my composition student, I'd probably make two suggestions, that the end of the first and thrid movements be trimmed. The beginning of the first movement is a long eight part canonic affair, which, although it's maybe a little long, works fine. When the soprano comes in, it's great. I don't think there's any particular reason to take just as much time winding down the eight part texture as it takes to build it up. The end of the third movement, starting from the recapitulation of the beginning of the poem, is just aimless and long. If it were shorter it might well be more effective. Anyway....

Finally, last night there was the first performance by the BBC Symphony and Joseph Swensen (filling in on short notice for an indisposed Sir Andrew Davis) of Stip an orchestra piece by Morgan Hayes, which was a BBC Proms commission. Hayes is 32 years old, a former student of Michael Finnissy, Simon Bainbridge, and Robert Saxton. He's a composer I had heard a lot about (good stuff), but I had not before now heard any of his music. It's in a modernistic, not especially tonal style. Strip began with a grid of non-tuned percussion music, over which is eventually suspended dissonant longish chords.

Eventually the percussion rythms migrate into bass instruments and acquire pitches, and intense and active melodic lines flower, most memorable for two solo violins for a while. The building up of all that is really pretty impressive. The performance was clearly inadequate, so it's hard to tell exactly how well it works after that. In a better performance the piece might have a clearer and more convincing arc to it. Last night it seemed after a while to become static and a little inconclusive. I did enjoy the beginning alot, though, and I'd like to hear the piece again, and to hear more of Hayes's music--soon.


12/19/2004 - 12/25/2004 12/26/2004 - 01/01/2005 01/02/2005 - 01/08/2005 01/09/2005 - 01/15/2005 01/16/2005 - 01/22/2005 01/23/2005 - 01/29/2005 01/30/2005 - 02/05/2005 02/06/2005 - 02/12/2005 02/13/2005 - 02/19/2005 02/20/2005 - 02/26/2005 02/27/2005 - 03/05/2005 03/06/2005 - 03/12/2005 03/13/2005 - 03/19/2005 03/20/2005 - 03/26/2005 03/27/2005 - 04/02/2005 04/03/2005 - 04/09/2005 04/10/2005 - 04/16/2005 04/17/2005 - 04/23/2005 04/24/2005 - 04/30/2005 05/01/2005 - 05/07/2005 05/08/2005 - 05/14/2005 05/15/2005 - 05/21/2005 05/22/2005 - 05/28/2005 05/29/2005 - 06/04/2005 06/05/2005 - 06/11/2005 06/12/2005 - 06/18/2005 06/19/2005 - 06/25/2005 06/26/2005 - 07/02/2005 07/03/2005 - 07/09/2005 07/10/2005 - 07/16/2005 07/17/2005 - 07/23/2005 07/24/2005 - 07/30/2005 07/31/2005 - 08/06/2005 08/07/2005 - 08/13/2005 08/14/2005 - 08/20/2005 08/21/2005 - 08/27/2005 08/28/2005 - 09/03/2005 09/04/2005 - 09/10/2005 09/11/2005 - 09/17/2005 09/18/2005 - 09/24/2005 09/25/2005 - 10/01/2005 10/02/2005 - 10/08/2005 10/09/2005 - 10/15/2005 10/16/2005 - 10/22/2005 10/23/2005 - 10/29/2005 10/30/2005 - 11/05/2005 11/06/2005 - 11/12/2005 11/13/2005 - 11/19/2005 11/20/2005 - 11/26/2005 11/27/2005 - 12/03/2005 12/04/2005 - 12/10/2005 12/11/2005 - 12/17/2005 12/18/2005 - 12/24/2005 12/25/2005 - 12/31/2005 01/01/2006 - 01/07/2006 01/08/2006 - 01/14/2006 01/15/2006 - 01/21/2006 01/22/2006 - 01/28/2006 01/29/2006 - 02/04/2006 02/05/2006 - 02/11/2006 02/12/2006 - 02/18/2006 02/19/2006 - 02/25/2006 02/26/2006 - 03/04/2006 03/05/2006 - 03/11/2006 03/12/2006 - 03/18/2006 03/19/2006 - 03/25/2006 03/26/2006 - 04/01/2006 04/02/2006 - 04/08/2006 04/09/2006 - 04/15/2006 04/16/2006 - 04/22/2006 04/23/2006 - 04/29/2006 04/30/2006 - 05/06/2006 05/07/2006 - 05/13/2006 05/14/2006 - 05/20/2006 05/21/2006 - 05/27/2006 05/28/2006 - 06/03/2006 06/04/2006 - 06/10/2006 06/11/2006 - 06/17/2006 06/18/2006 - 06/24/2006 06/25/2006 - 07/01/2006 07/02/2006 - 07/08/2006 07/09/2006 - 07/15/2006 07/16/2006 - 07/22/2006 07/23/2006 - 07/29/2006 07/30/2006 - 08/05/2006 08/06/2006 - 08/12/2006 08/13/2006 - 08/19/2006 08/20/2006 - 08/26/2006 08/27/2006 - 09/02/2006 09/03/2006 - 09/09/2006 09/10/2006 - 09/16/2006

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