The concerto form is a popular one for new works at the Proms, and the most recent, Luca Francesconi‘s Duende – The Dark Notes (originally intended for the 2014 Proms), has, i think, set the bar higher than any of the last few years. ‘Duende’ is a somewhat complex Spanish term implying aspects of heightened emotional response to artistic stimulus, which the work’s soloist, violinist Leila Josefowicz, summarises as a “hypnotic, demonic zone in which a performer loses themselves in the feeling and emotion and in the physicality of what they’re doing […] and it can also be angelic”. To tap into this, and also partly to obviate the pitfall of rehashing conventions, Francesconi has sought to revert “back to primal matter […] something which is hidden energy; [an] unknown, uncharted land which is within each one of us, beyond originality”. Read more
It would be pretty remiss of me not to make some mention of the Rarescale summer school, which was my home and my entire focus for the entirety of last week. Rarescale is a chamber music ensemble founded by flautist Carla Rees, which specialises in new music for the deeper members of the flute family (alto, bass and, most recently, contrabass) alongside works for woodwind in general. Rarescale’s contemporary focus extends to a yearly summer school, where a small group of flautists and composers are thrown together for an intense five-day period of creation and collaboration. The composition side is overseen by Rees’ long-term collaborator (and Rarescale’s composer-in-residence) Michael Oliva, enabling composers to explore a variety of aspects of electronics alongside acoustic writing. i described the school as intense, yet the entire setup is extremely relaxed; classes are timetabled each day, but performers and composers are free to shape the week according to their needs and whatever direction seems fruitful; the only caveat being that everyone’s labours are channelled towards a Friday evening concert showcasing everyone’s work. This unavoidably leads to an acute intensity of focus, but in the best and most beneficial of ways.
i’m away this week, living it up in Lincolnshire on the Rarescale composition/flute summer school. Proms reviews will continue at the weekend.
Last Saturday’s Proms Matinee concert given by Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, conducted by Franck Ollu, featured several world and UK premières, which together gave one pause for thought with regard to the relationship between surface materials and their deeper impulsion. Their respective points of inspirational departure were extremely varied, encompassing a peripatetic storytelling cellist, an examination of a parasitic fungus and an intense miniature song-cycle.
Proms premières come in all shapes and sizes, and last week’s new works from HK Gruber and Hugh Wood were larger and more aspirational specimens. Scale and stature are different things, though, and despite their respective composers’ demonstrative ambition (and experience, composing veterans both), each of these pieces were hobbled by considerations that would have been less problematic in smaller-scale forms. Read more
Relatively few of the Proms premières include vocal elements, which makes Cheryl-Frances Hoad‘s new work From the Beginning of the World, first performed last Monday, a very welcome exception to the norm. Initially billed as ‘Homage to Tallis’, her piece was nestled amidst a concert otherwise dedicated entirely to the great man’s music, a context that throws down a pretty substantial gauntlet. For inspiration, Frances-Hoad turned to Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe’s detailed account of the “great comet” visible across Europe in 1577. Insodoing, she is appealing both to an innate sense of wonder as well as to more polemical ends, setting words with connotations pertaining as much to present-day resource-depletion and asinine political shenanigans as to 16th century shock and awe. Read more
Right, let’s get (belatedly) cracking. For a few years, the annual Proms season began with a première, which was nice but reduced the piece (or, at least, reduced composers’ aspirations) to a mere curtain-raiser. Gary Carpenter‘s Dadaville, which received its first performance in the opening Proms concert last week, did not begin the concert (that task fell to Nielsen), but the piece would in fact have worked wonderfully well as a concert-opening overture, but one with considerable chops and ambition. Read more