Proms 2012: Gavin Higgins – Der Aufstand & Gavin Bryars – After the Underworlds (World Premières)

Almost two weeks ago, the Royal Albert Hall was filled with the timbrally distinctive strains of Great Britain’s National Youth Wind Orchestra and National Youth Brass Band. From a new music perspective, the concert seemed dominated by pairs: two orchestras and two conductors (James Gourlay and Bramwell Tovey), performing world premières from a brace of Gavins; and despite having discrete inspirations, these two new pieces sat extremely well together—indeed, they seemed to explore aspects of the same essential idea, but from very different moments.

Gavin HigginsDer Aufstand seeks to harness something of the raw aggression that ran amok in last year’s riots in the UK, exploring “themes of social unrest”. Despite not being helped by its needlessly foreign title, Der Aufstand benefits from a loose but clear sense of structure; within this, Higgins establishes a surly, petulant atmosphere, one that works most effectively in its more nebulous episodes, where there’s a real sense of forces lurking with menacing intent. That’s not to say that the bursts of activity are ineffective—on the contrary, Higgins creates some superbly telling music, such as the garrulous trumpet writing, the occasional loud rasps and shrieks, and particularly the twin climaxes where repeated notes reach their zenith (or should that be nadir?) in a wild siren cry. Timbrally, there’s perhaps a Varèsian aspiration at work here, and while there’s something a little over-familiar about instruments striving for this level of bedlam, it does at least begin to tap into the naked aggression that, for a few nightmarish days, showed Britain more than a glimpse of hell.

Titled After the Underworlds, it’s more than a little tempting to hear Gavin Bryars‘ new work as a counterpoint and afterthought to this. The music is restrained and distant, almost as though heard from afar. The brass move as one, mellow and melodious, but the emphasis on lower registers bestows on the piece a sombre, dignified quality. For some time, there’s no sense of momentum or even direction to speak of, Bryars allowing the band to make their own slow way forward, before a melody of sorts emerges, bringing about a gentle motivic accompaniment and with it, a soft pulse. There’s a wistful and moving moment when the melody, having grown, eventually turns upwards, the rest of the band supporting and surrounding it, made more poignant by being slightly marred by muted trumpets and its subsequent decline. Bryars captures the sense of music that is simple because it is exhausted and spent, hesitant because it is dazed and hurt, fragile because it is distressed and shattered. After the Underworlds offers an eloquent insight into the human reality of loss and bereavement.

Gavin Higgins – Der Aufstand (World Première)


Gavin Bryars – After the Underworlds (World Première)


Posted on by 5:4 in Festivals, Premières
Tags: , , , , , ,

One Response to Proms 2012: Gavin Higgins – Der Aufstand & Gavin Bryars – After the Underworlds (World Premières)

  1. Pingback: 5:4, BBC Proms & A Short Rant About Recordings |

Add a Comment

Anti-Spam Quiz:

%d bloggers like this: