Proms 2017: Andrea Tarrodi – Liguria (UK Première)

Last night saw the second UK première by a Swedish composer at this year’s Proms, this time from Andrea Tarrodi. For those unfamiliar with her work, the key part of her responses to my pre-première questions was the reference to her parallel passion for painting, plus the related fact that she continues to “connect music with images and colours”. Though she didn’t use the term, in essence she’s an impressionist, creating musical canvasses that evoke, allude and suggest, according to an underlying semi-programmatic scheme. She’s also something of a minimalist, not simply in obvious cycling rhythms and consonances (which she uses sparingly and loosely), but in a slim-line approach to material, setting up ideas and motifs that are then re-used and re-worked, sometimes at length. That may suggest that melody is of lesser importance to Tarrodi, yet her use of motifs is often such that they are either a nascent form of a melody or capable of being easily expanded into one. Another way of putting it would be to regard her approach to melody as being compact and somewhat implicit. Highlands, her cello concerto written in 2013, is a revealing case in point, in which the soloist engages in some lengthy passages of melody (particularly the lengthy cadenza halfway through) – generally more lyrical than virtuosic – but most often is involved in intricate, complex textures with the rest of the orchestra which highlight a simple recurring motif, characterised by a falling minor third.

Originally written for the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra (who premièred it in 2012), Tarrodi’s orchestral work Liguria demontrates precisely the same compositional outlook and approach. Named for the Ligurian Sea in the Mediterranean, it depicts Tarrodi’s memories of a time when she visited the area.

Liguria is divided into six relatively short, interconnected sections that together form what Tarrodi calls a “walking tour”. ‘Waves’ immediately launches a series of enormous crescendos, over which the work’s primary motif is presented: a scalic rising fourth followed by (as in Highlands) a falling minor third. It’s used somewhat heraldically here – though if it weren’t so bold and declamatory it probably wouldn’t be heard over the rolling swells – before segueing into the complete contrast of ‘Horizon’. It’s both a lovely moment and lovely place to be: a quiet, hazy vanishing point in the strings, in front of which a second motif – based on the first one, beginning with a rising fourth and falling minor third – is presented by a cor anglais. The horizon waxes and wanes a little, but the focus is on the foreground, where more winds become involved: answers from clarinet and piccolo, echoes from an oboe, forming something of a duet with the cor. In ‘Blue Path’ the strings take over this second motif, sounding like they’re poised to do something with it, but instead Tarrodi ushers in one of her dense, impressionistic, textural soundworlds. There’s some sense of perspective here – chiefly in a languid, arpeggiated idea initiated by the violins, not especially concerned with going anywhere – but if anything this reinforces the episode’s homogeneity, displaying a humid, post-Debussian attractiveness with passing flashes of detail. If it wasn’t so blissed-out one might almost call it glamorous.

Initially i thought that if Liguria had a weak spot anywhere, it was in fourth section ‘Colours’ – a passage that appropriately enough bears similarities to Tarrodi’s Serenade in Seven Colours, composed the following year – which comprises minimalistic repetitions, driven by rapid pizzicati and a xylophone (nicely punctuated by a guiro) over which are placed short wind phrases and brass reports, often performed in pairs. On further listenings, though, it’s won me over: the effect, caught up in the sound of its own cycling machinations, is rather charming. The work’s original motif returns in the brass-fronted climax that is ‘Mountains’, before the piece concludes in shimmer, strings continuing to trace the contour of the motif while distant resonances from metal and bells pick out points of light in the final section, ‘Stars’.

A piece that’s simple, beautiful, communicates directly and doesn’t outstay its welcome – some of the reasons why, whereas i listen to each new Proms piece multiple times because i feel i ought to, in the case of Liguria it was entirely because i wanted to. This first UK performance by the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sakari Oramo was really excellent, superbly judging the balance between clarity and vagueness, teasing out just enough details in Tarrodi’s dense textures to keep one’s ears constantly darting around.

Andrea Tarrodi – Liguria (UK Première)

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2 Responses to Proms 2017: Andrea Tarrodi – Liguria (UK Première)

  1. Bob Berry

    I was there on Wednesday, and thoroughly enjoyed the piece. It’s always a risk/challenge to write something based on a physical location and the feelings you associate with it. My overriding impression was one of freshness and vitality, and I loved the textures and subtle use of percussion. I loved the ‘Colours’ section, and whilst reminding me of Reich it stayed just long enough to make you want more. Keen to hear more Tarrodi based on this, as well as visit Liguria…

    • starry

      Definitely a beautiful piece, one of the best this year. I didn’t know it represented places so I still think it works as a more abstract conception anyway.

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