Graham Fitkin found himself in a sea of populism and accessibility for the world première of his new work PK, performed at the Proms on Monday. The title of his work comes from a reference to the Cornish village of Porthcurno—home of the well-known Minack Theatre, and where, coincidentally, i just happened to be a couple of weeks ago. The piece is related to the village’s connections to early telegraphic communications (Marconi’s ground-breaking first transmission took place only a short distance away, at Poldhu, on the neighbouring Lizard peninsula), and Fitkin has therefore turned to Morse code as inspiration for his material.
The pulse is brisk, the music tribal more than anything, driven along by continuous but uninteresting percussion. The choir occupies itself with a strange little text devised by Fitkin, largely comprising signals suggestive of breakdowns in communication, although with an opening question, “What hath God wrought?”, sitting rather incongruously, even weirdly, in this context. Despite Fitkin’s attempts at lightness, its 10-minute duration makes for a laboured listen; at no point does the piece make clear where one’s attention should be focused, leaving the listener drifting around in search of anything that might approximate an idea. This isn’t helped by the mindless percussion, who persist with their incessant din for pretty much the entire piece (pausing only for some faux-grandiose episodes), bludgeoning the textures and pock-marking every sonic surface. About halfway through, the strings look like their trying something; later, some trumpets suggest something too, but neither amounts to anything; the choir seems determined to project their own melodic ideas, but if they’re intended to be important, they were simply obliterated by the orchestra.
The concert was billed as an “evening of English classics and US pizzazz”, but Fitkin’s PK is neither; it’s not witty, it’s not thought-provoking, it’s not engaging and it’s certainly not interesting. Far, far from all these things, the work is a monstrosity and an insult; a lumbering, amateur sprawl of sound offering the audience nothing but a childish, superficial unmusical shouting match. The piece was so awful that i felt compelled to listen a second time, just to give it the benefit of the doubt; don’t try it, life really is too short.
The world première of PK was given by the BBC Proms Family Orchestra & Chorus and the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Keith Lockhart.