A blog on gigs, music, art and London.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

London Philharmonic Orchestra, Turnage/Glass/Gorecki, Royal Festival Hall, 17/04/10

Sandwiched in between two nights featuring the music of Edgard Varese was a concert at the Royal Festival Hall by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. The programme featured the UK premiere of 'Texan Tenebrae' by Mark-Anthony Turnage, the European premiere of 'Violin Concerto 2 - The American Four Seasons' by Philip Glass and 'Symphony No. 3 - Symphony Of Sorrowful Songs' by Henryk Gorecki. The concert was part of the excellent current Ether Festival.

Turnage's short piece was inspired by the opera he is currently writing and was a punchy composition, featuring moments of percussive punctuation and a subtle, jazz underscoring courtesy of the inclusion of two saxophones within the ranks of the large orchestra.

I thought Glass' 'Violin Concerto 2' began in restrained style, sounding quite moderate (possibly due in part to the exclusively string-based, smaller orchestra that the piece was played by). During the pre-concert talk conductor Marin Alsop mentioned how the piece referenced certain Baroque music, and whilst not really being sufficiently knowledgeable to comment fully I could see what she was alluding to. Signature Glass threads of repetition slowly revealed themselves. Each movement opened with a shorter 'prelude' of solo violin from long time Glass associate Robert McDuffie which gave the concerto a slightly unusual feel. The thrid and fourth movements saw the pace quicken with weaving violin lines and some ascending, accelerating orchestral passages. Very Philip Glass. The piece ended with a virtuosic violin sign-off. In the concert programme Glass explained how the four movements were not assigned a particular season, it being left up to the listener to interpret them in their own way. It is almost an impossible task but my very loosely-based interpretation would be that it went Autumn-Winter-Spring-Summer. The apparent coldness and relative serenity of the second movement evoked a wintery landscape, whereas the last two movements seemed to contain more in the way of musical regeneration and warmth.

Tonight's concert was supposed to have ended with the premiere of Gorecki's 'Symphony No. 4' but due to ill health he was unable to finish it. Slightly worryingly, during the pre-concert talk Marin Alsop revealed she didn't think it would ever be completed. That would be an enormous shame if true. To see which direction Gorecki would go next in his symphonic writing would be fascinating. His 'Symphony No. 3 - Symphony Of Sorrowful Songs instead closed tonight's concert. It was dedicated to the victims of the recent Polish aeroplane crash. During the pre-concert talk Marin Alsop also revealed that soprano Joanna Wos had travelled from Poland to London by car (over a twenty hour journey) due to the ongoing disruption of flights due to the Icelandic volcano ash cloud.

The symphony is generally considered to be one of the most moving pieces of music, especially given its historical and social context. It might not be a symphony in the traditional sense but it certainly is symphonic in scale and magnitude.

There is not much to say that hasn't already been said before - it is a slow-building, mournful, elegiac, spiritual piece full of soaring orchestral waves and minimalist purity. As the piece progresses it seems to get enveloped in a sense of the eternal. Lyrically it is dark and quite upsetting. The programme notes referred to how it could be seen as three responses by females to death, and I have also heard it being called a meditation on separation (the first and third movements coming from the perspective of a mother separated from her child, whereas the second movement is the prayer from a yound girl, separated from the world). If you want to read a more detailed explanation of the piece you can find it here. Tonight it sounded profoundly beautiful and overpoweringly sad, the vocals from soprano Joanna Wos being particularly moving and poignant (despite the endless coughing from members of the audience during the piece - why can't people control this?)

After leaving the hall I moved downstairs to the Clore Ballroom to see Piano Circus play a fantastic post-concert show of layered, intertwining, cyclical keyboard pieces. The six keyboards were arranged in a circle on the ballroom floor and they played 'Log, Line & Loud' by Graham Fitkin and '6 Pianos' by Steve Reich (and possibly other pieces). Their sound had shades of minimalism but was also quite aminamed and compelling, and reminded me of the great Penguin Cafe Orchestra in places.


sanja said...

I too attended last saturday's concert purely for the third symphony as it is incredibly hard to find anyone performing it these days. It was absolutely one of the most memorable nights of my life, Joanna's performance, or even role-playing, captured the grief, heartache and lonlyiness of each of the pieces. Amazing.

Matt Stevens said...

I really wish i'd gone to this =sounds amazing

Jim Elgar said...

Wow, I admire your stamina!