Proms 2015: Christian Mason – Open to Infinity: A Grain of Sand (UK Première)

One of the smaller Proms premières, Christian Mason‘s Open to Infinity: A Grain of Sand was commissioned as a part of this year’s 90th birthday celebrations for Pierre Boulez. Fittingly, its world première was given by Boulez’s very own Ensemble Intercontemporain at the Lucerne Festival; its first UK performance at the Proms, a few days later, was given by the London Sinfonietta, conducted by Thierry Fischer. Mason describes the work as having a twofold connection to Boulez, first in terms of the work’s engagement with twin perspectives, focussing on both intricate detail and broader structural durations (the title derives from this, drawing on the opening line of Blake’s Auguries of Innocence: “To see a World in a Grain of Sand”), as well as the use of crotales, involving all 15 players, a reference to Mason’s recollections of Boulez’s orchestral work Le Visage nuptial.

The work comprises three brief movements, each existing in a different kind of relationship to a fundamental tone row. The first, heard through piercing bursts of metallic percussion clatter, treats it from a more harmonic angle, lines of melody that feel essentially unstable, their pitches sliding and undulating such that they regularly come undone, resulting in more static, pensive moments of reflection. The central movement strikes a gruff, rambunctious pose, passing through a variety of different forms and rates of regularity; it’s a nicely complex environment, affording a pointed, solitary glimpse of melody at its close. The final movement extends and expands the reflexivity from earlier into a broad, rather hypnotic music revolving around a cycling motif with prominent plucked pitches. Slow and restrained, it develops into a strange descending scale from which a solo flute detaches, seemingly trying to go off in the opposite direction, or at least stay aloft. It’s subsequently caught up in a mass acceleration that propels the ensemble through an elastic episode that approaches stasis before being kickstarted again by the brass. The scale becomes a torrent, climaxing in crotales from all directions.

i think it would be misleading to suggest that the three movements sound strongly materially connected; yet they sit well together, and perhaps succeed best due to their brevity, which seems to heighten both their intensity and sense of focus. Ephemeral but highly enjoyable.

Christian Mason – Open to Infinity: A Grain of Sand (UK Première)

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