Per Nørgård

Proms 2018: the premières – how you voted

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Many thanks to all of you for the comments you made and votes you cast during my coverage of the premières at the 2018 Proms season. A total of 1,467 votes were cast this year, an increase of 34% on last year’s ‘turnout’.

Once again, there was something of an imbalance in the extent to which certain pieces attracted more votes than others. For the last few years, whichever new work is played first in the season – often in the first night of the Proms – has usually attracted the largest number of votes, which isn’t necessarily surprising, both in terms of the amount of time people have to express a view about this piece being longer than any other, as well as it generally tending to attract more attention as it gets the Proms ball rolling. That was again the case this year, with Anna Meredith’s opening night première Five Telegrams receiving the most votes (97). Aside from this, the ‘turnout’ figure for most of the pieces was broadly consistent, though as ever there were one or two that stood out due to apparent voter apathy, the worst affected this year being Iain Bell’s Aurora, curiously attracting a mere 17 votes.

It’s perhaps worth mentioning in passing that, in addition to establishing what you’ve deemed to be the best and worst new works, my number-crunching also looks at the most divisive and most uninteresting (i.e. ‘meh’) pieces as well. This year, Ēriks Ešenvalds‘ choral work Shadow proved the most divisive, with the positives and negatives exactly matched, and the piece that left the majority of you shrugging with indifference was Luca Francesconi‘s weird WWI commemoration We Wept. But let’s turn our attention to the real winners and losers this year. Read more

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Proms 2018: Per Nørgård – Symphony No. 3 (UK Première); Rolf Wallin – WHIRLD; Bushra El-Turk – Crème Brûlée on a Tree (World Premières)

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Quite apart from anything else they may embody, this year’s Proms premières have occupied pretty much the entire span of the profound—trivial continuum. At its most extreme, this has been exemplified by the most recent new works, which have ranged from a compositional exploration of infinity culminating in a state of enraptured transcendence invoking mysticism, Rilke and Rückert, to a recipe for making custard.

The source for British-born, Lebanese composer Bushra El-Turk‘s short, culinary song Crème Brûlée on a Tree is a Thai cookbook by chef Andy Ricker that includes a recipe for custard using the smelly, so-called “king of fruits”, durian (the title possibly comes from this NPR article about the fruit). Read more

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Mixtape #39 : Days

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The new 5:4 mixtape takes as its theme the days of the week, charting a slow progression from Monday to Sunday. That might not sound like a particularly promising theme, but i’ve been noticing in recent months just how many tracks in my music library contain either specific or more general references to days, which led to the idea for this mixtape. Perhaps unsurprisingly, due to it being (from an aural perspective) such an abstract concept, the music in this mixtape is more than usually eclectic, but once i again i’ve been able to navigate what i think is a convincing, interconnected sonic pathway through exceptionally diverse material. This exercise was revealing in the extent to which some days of the week have received a greater amount of musical attention, while others are much more neglected. This clearly has more than a little to do with our cultural experiences and exploits: plenty of music to choose from for the weekend – when we’re more likely to be away from work, enjoying ourselves – while Tuesday and Wednesday in particular provided relatively few options (though good ones).

Once again, the mixtape includes some of my favourite music, old and new, and i’ve divided it up into sections for each day, demarcated with interludes. A couple of composers appear several times: there are various excerpts from Nordvargr‘s 8-hour epic Sleep Therapy and some pieces from Gesualdo‘s Tenebrae music. i’ve drawn on my love of easy listening on a number of occasions too, featuring some delicious slices of fragrant cheese from Charlie Byrd, Orchestra and Chorus, the Polish Radio Orchestra and The Cavendish Ten. Songs of a multitude of stylistic persuasions litter the mix, encompassing electronica (Yazoo, Client, SPC ECO, Bat For Lashes, Kate Havnevik), ballad (Emiliana Torrini, Get Well Soon), dream pop (Emmy Rossum, Tori Amos, Mitski, Desire), manic pixie dream pop (CocoRosie), light rock (Chrysta Bell, Asobi Seksu), experimental chamber rock (Chrome Hoof) and lo-fi (Leah KardosRose Elinor Dougall). Devoid of words but packing diverse beats are tracks from Christ., The Flashbulb, Free*Land, Cemeteries and tomandandy. At the more abstract end of the continuum, i’ve included a range of more free-form electronics from the likes of Ulrich SchnaussColin Andrew SheffieldNovellerTetraSaddleback (Richard Skelton), Brian EnoaTelecineThe Noisettes and Stray Ghost. There’s also a burst of Thomas Newman‘s luscious score for Less Than Zero and a gorgeously potent movement from perhaps Per Nørgård‘s greatest symphony (No. 6) towards the end of the mix. i’ve featured a small selection from my now vast collection of renditions of Gloomy Sunday – one of my favourite songs, about which i really ought to write a book sometime. In case it isn’t obvious, Venetian Snares and Tsukimono are reworking Billie Holliday’s classic recording, in both cases coming up with something wonderful, whereas DJ Phoenix reinterprets the song within a torrent of squelch, grime and bass. And the whole thing kicks off with a tantalising six-minute introduction from Marco Blauuw & Yannis Kyriakides.

So, a highly eclectic week condensed into three hours of music; here’s the tracklisting in full, together with links to buy the music. As ever, the mix can be downloaded or streamed via MixCloud. Read more

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New (Nordic) releases: Vilde&Inga, Nordic Affect, Trio Aristos, Iceland Symphony Orchestra

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There’s been a number of very interesting new releases recently featuring composers and performers from the Nordic countries. At the most unconventional end of the spectrum are violinist Vilde Sandve Alnæs and double bassist Inga Margrete Aas, a Norwegian duo who perform free-improvised music together as Vilde&Inga. Their new album Silfr, released last month on the experimental Sofa label, features ten pieces that demonstrate the fascinating way the duo utilises their instruments to explore a single idea. This in itself is quite refreshing. So much contemporary music seeks to cram shedloads of invention into even relatively short works that to hear such a single-minded approach as that on Silfr is somewhat novel, even courageous. The most extreme pieces are so unwavering as to seem almost behaviourally solipsistic. ‘Røykkvarts’ (“smoky quartz”) comprises an essentially unpitched texture of assorted scratchings and scrapings – so anonymous it’s hard to tell it’s being executed on string instruments at all – with occasional pizzicato pitches allowed to resonate. Though ostensibly more rapid, ‘Sprø Glimmer’ (“crazy glimmer”) is similar, placing high, unstoppable, glistening arpeggiations against an only slightly less intense tremolando, riddled with overtones, while ‘Aurum’ is located in weak, bleak territory, the instruments barely able to speak to the point that the background ambience becomes a distinct presence in its own right. The title piece is the most immersive of these, setting up a moto perpetuo of tremolandi and ricochets, stretching out notes at various points until the whole thing has its pitch content erased towards the end, culminating in the noise of frantic physical movements. Fantastic. Read more

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New releases: symphonies by Paul von Klenau, Peter Maxwell Davies, Andrzej Panufnik, Xiaogang Ye & Per Nørgård

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It’s high time i got back to appraising some of the more interesting new releases. No fewer than three contemporary pieces bearing the title ‘symphony’ were performed at this year’s Proms, and coincidentally quite a few of the CDs i’ve been sent have also featured 20th and 21st century symphonies. What constitutes a ‘symphony’ these days is a good question, one that these six albums don’t so much answer as offer an assortment of interpretations of what it might mean. Read more

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Per Nørgård – Three Nocturnal Movements (World Première)

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It’s Constitution Day (Grundlovsdag) in Denmark today, the closest the country gets to a national day, so i thought i’d mark the occasion with a piece by one of the country’s best-known composers that i’ve been spending time with lately. It’s a re-thinking by Per Nørgård of one of his earlier works, Remembering Child, a viola concerto written in 1986 in commemoration of Samantha Smith, the 13-year old American girl who became famous for contacting Yuri Andropov to express her fears about the possibility of a nuclear war between Russia and the USA. Material taken from that piece, in conjunction with some “nocturnal sketches”, resulted in a new double concerto for violin, cello and chamber orchestra simply titled Three Nocturnal Movements.

Concertos, whether composers intend them to or not, inevitably raise the question of the nature of the relationship between soloist(s) and orchestra, with concomitant aspects of influence and power-play, the individual pitted against the mass. But in the Three Nocturnal Movements, the answer to this question is obvious: from start to finish the two soloists are emphatically at the helm of the entire musical argument. This stems directly from a generalised atmosphere of somewhat lugubrious vagueness, from which even the soloists are not exempt. On the one hand, it’s apparent that violin and cello have something important to say, from the outset tripping over themselves to articulate it (literally, the two lines overlap each other throughout). Yet on the other hand, it’s also apparent that a predetermined sense of direction is seemingly very far from anyone’s minds. Pensivity reigns. Read more

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The concerto reinvented: Jakob Kullberg – Momentum: Nordic Cello Concertos

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i’ve commented in the past about the number of contemporary composers drawn to writing violin concertos—they’ve been a regular fixture among the works premièred at the Proms in the last few years—but personally, i’ve always been more drawn to the cello concerto. Composers exploring this medium seem, almost unavoidably, to feel the urge to tap into things deep and profound—or at least, profoundly mysterious. This is definitely what pervades one of the more interesting CDs i’ve been sent recently, a disc that has been strangely ignored by most commentators. Showcasing the seriously impressive talent of Danish cellist Jakob Kullberg, together with the Poland-based New Music Orchestra conducted by Szymon Bywalec, the disc explores cello concertos by arguably the three most renowned Nordic composers, Per Nørgård, Arne Nordheim and Kaija Saariaho. Nørgård’s second cello concerto lends its name to the album as a whole—Momentum—and it’s a wisely chosen title, as the concept of momentum—or more specifically the way it manifests itself within a larger dramatic dialogue—seems to be of central importance in all three pieces. Read more

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