Premières

Proms 2017: pre-première questions with Erkki-Sven Tüür

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One of Estonian’s best-known composers, Erkki-Sven Tüür, makes his second visit to the Proms this evening, for the UK première of his work for strings Flamma by the Australian Chamber Orchestra (he was last heard at the Royal Albert Hall in 2003, with the Concerto for Violin). Like most of his fellow Estonians, Tüür’s music is rarely heard in the UK, so it’s a superb opportunity for audiences to experience his particular approach to composition (anyone expecting something similar to Arvo Pärt is in for a shock). As preparation for tonight’s performance, here are his answers to my pre-première questions. Many thanks to Erkki-Sven for his responses. Read more

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Proms 2017: James MacMillan – A European Requiem (European Première)

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James MacMillan’s latest religious blockbuster, A European Requiem, was given its first performance in Europe at the Proms a couple of days ago. The piece is a little over a year old (premièred in July 2016 in Oregon), and although its concert hall life has taken place in the midst of Britain’s decision to withdraw from the EU, it was of course composed prior to the onset of that madness. MacMillan has therefore been in the unfortunate position of having to stress that his work is not in any way a response to the UK’s ongoing political inanities. Instead, his concern is very much more generalised, not to say vague; he speaks of the piece looking back to the requiems of Brahms, Fauré and Verdi, and if it responds to anything specific, it’s to Roger Scruton’s book The Uses of Pessimism. Whether or not MacMillan believes ‘Europe’ (however that term is defined) to be ‘dead’ (ditto) he doesn’t say, though he evidently holds the view that it has lost something, which he describes as a “culture of mercy and forgiveness”.

Is there any compelling proof that Europeans are less merciful and forgiving than they were in past generations? Is this a malaise not suffered beyond the bounds of Europe? Regardless of these questions, there are rather more pressing concerns to grapple with in A European Requiem, before one even makes it to any potential subtext and its implications. Read more

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Proms 2017: Anders Hillborg – Sirens (UK Première)

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It’s quite unusual to be sitting down to enjoy the Proms première of a piece you already know quite well. But that was the case with Anders Hillborg‘s Sirens, which received its first UK performance a couple of days ago by Swedish sopranos Ida Falk Winland and Hannah Holgersson with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by James Gaffigan. Fifteen months ago, when reviewing its CD release, i found Sirens to be deeply problematic, so it was good to be able to revisit the piece afresh, in a new performance.

As the title suggests, the work’s theme is taken from Homer’s Odyssey, recounting the adventures of Odysseus as he seeks over a ten-year period to return home to Ithaca, to be reunited with his family. One of the more memorable trials he faces is confronting the Sirens, dangerous beings who entice sailors to their doom with intoxicatingly lovely music. Following advice from Circe (who, in an another memorable scene earlier, temporarily turns half of Odysseus’ comrades into pigs), they survive the encounter by stuffing beeswax into their ears, blocking out the music, though Odysseus, evidently of the ‘look but don’t touch’ inclination, has himself tied to the ship’s mast in order to experience the music while being unable to act upon it.

To experience Hillborg’s Sirens, in a literal sense we the audience assume the role of Odysseus (referred to by his Roman equivalent of Ulysses in the text), and Hillborg – or, rather, the singers and orchestra – become the Sirens. One’s response to the piece entirely depends on the extent to which you either are or aren’t ‘seduced’ by it. i’ll come back to this shortly. Read more

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Proms 2017: Julian Anderson – The Imaginary Museum (World Première)

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Last autumn, at the Royal Musical Association’s annual conference, composer Julian Anderson presented a paper addressing what he described as “the problem of professionals involved in modern music denigrating and otherwise attempting to devalue the music they are supposed to support”. The paper – which unfortunately i’ve not yet been able to read (anyone have a copy?) – was titled ‘Selling Ourselves Short: Inturned aggression and group self-contempt in the modern music sector since 1973’. As it happens, i was born in 1973, and while i doubt Anderson had myself in his sights, after i’ve written the following review, i suspect he may well do.

His new piano concerto, The Imaginary Museum, was given its world première at Wednesday’s Prom by Steven Osborne with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Ilan Volkov. Cast in six movements and lasting around 25 minutes, the piece is by far one of the most insubstantial and ineffectual bouts of professional noodling masquerading as music that i have ever encountered. Read more

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HCMF 2017: complete programme

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Here it is at last, announced in the last few minutes is the complete programme for this year’s 40 edition of the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, which begins in a little under four months’ time, running from Friday 17–Sunday 26 November. In addition to the highlights i’ve previously mentioned, there’s a huge amount to look forward to; among my personal highlights are an interpretation of Lou Reed‘s Metal Machine Music for strings, horns and percussion, alongside a new work (which should presumably fit right in) by Kasper Toeplitz, and zeitkratzer‘s interpretations of Kraftwerk‘s first two albums will receive their only UK live performance. Dai Fujikura‘s new piece for the Polish Radio Choir is titled Sawasawa, forming a second part after Zawazawa (written last year for the Philharmonic Chorus of Tokyo). Swedish violinist Karin Hellqvist will be performing works by, among others, Malin Bång and Natasha Barrett, and there’s a large-scale new piece from Rolf Hind inspired by Hindu writings; considering how impressive was his 2015 work Tiger’s Nest, this promises to be something rather special. The guitar quartet Zwerm will be presenting ‘tableaux’ by Christopher Trapani and Alexander Schubert, while Spanish guitarist Clara de Asis will be presenting a 40-minute work for modified guitar by D’incise (Laurent Peter). Explore Ensemble – who made a hugely impressive HCMF debut last year in Gérard Grisey’s Talea – are back with music by three composers i’m unfamiliar with (which only makes it more enticing), Patricia AlessandriniSteven Daverson and Fausto Romitelli. John Butcher‘s also back in a concert with Austrian group Polweschsel and composer Klaus Lang at the console of St Paul’s Hall’s organ, and at the same console will be Kit Downes, performing some of the works from his album Obsidian. It’ll be good – having seen an assortment of pugilistic related tweets a while back – to have the opportunity to experience Laura Bowler‘s Fight (Not Flight), performed by Bowler with Ensemble PHACE, and another composer/performer, Laura Cannell, will be presenting her semi-improvised exploration of ‘physical and emotional boundaries and liminal landscapes’, FEATHERS UNFURLED.

These are just some of the many, many exciting things to have initially caught my eye – as usual, every day has its fair share of unmissable items – and while i’ve not had time to crunch any numbers yet, it looks at first glance as though the representation of women composers has considerably increased this year, something HCMF has been needing to do.

Below is a complete rundown of what’s happening (* = UK première, ** = world première); for more information, head over to the HCMF website, tickets go on sale tomorrow. Read more

Proms 2017: pre-première questions with Anders Hillborg

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Despite being composed and first performed nearly six years ago, and also being released on CD in 2015, Swedish composer Anders Hillborg‘s Sirens, a large-scale work for two sopranos, chorus and orchestra, hasn’t yet been performed in the UK. Until, that is, this evening, when it finally receives its UK première at the Proms by Hannah Holgersson and Ida Falk Winland with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. In preparation, here are Hillborg’s answers to my pre-première questions. Many thanks to Anders for his responses and to Sam Wigglesworth at Faber for his kind assistance. Read more

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Proms 2017: Laurent Durupt – Grids for Greed (World Première)

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Last Sunday afternoon, French composer Laurent Durupt‘s new work Grids for Greed was given its first performance by the Van Kuijk Quartet at the second Proms Chamber Music concert, in Cadogan Hall. In his answers to my pre-première questions, Durupt made two remarks that are clearly most important to the way the piece operates. First is his comment about feeling “a need to come back to more abstract kind of musical projects such as this string quartet…”. Grids for Greed doesn’t have an imposed extra-musical narrative or programme. Durupt is instead concerned with creating a tense duality between notions of precision – corresponding to the ‘grids’ of the title, here being synonymous with mental, carefully-defined and -executed processes – and more rough, improvisatory elements, corresponding to the ‘greed’ and stemming from the unconscious and more rough and intuitive decisions and impulses.

The second pertinent remark refers to the way Durupt takes “a long time thinking on my project and the meaning of it, trying to match the general concept with a musical technique”. This seeking to encapsulate the modus operandi of a piece within a relatively narrow range of technical expression is extremely clear in Grids for Greed; indeed, it’s arguably the work’s most defining characteristic.

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