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
Tonight saw the UK première of the latest work by Rebecca Saunders, her violin concerto still. Saunders’ music has been a growing musical passion of mine for a while; as such, i’ve already begun a longer article surveying her work, but i’ll leave that for another day, & for now focus on the concerto. It was composed for soloist Carolin Widmann, & the performance, which took place at the Barbican, was given by her with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, directed by Lionel Bringuier. These same forces (directed by Sylvain Cambreling) gave the première of the work last September at the Beethovenfest in Bonn.
The piece is in two movements, together lasting around 20 minutes. In the preamble, Widmann interestingly notes how the piece bore the provisional title rage, a title that seems in keeping for a composer who’s twice written pieces called fury. However, both of those pieces (for double bass solo & double bass plus ensemble respectively) avoid hackneyed tropes of aggression, their protagonists engaged instead in a music that is surprisingly restrained, but pent-up & seething. Read more
Last year, in my article about the Total Immersion day devoted to the music of Unsuk Chin, i didn’t say much about the Violin Concerto, which was omitted from the BBC’s broadcast. However, in November they finally got round to broadcasting it, so here it is. The performance, at the Barbican in London, was given by Jennifer Koh with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Ivan Volkov. In the concert hall, Koh’s violin often struggled to be heard above the considerable orchestral forces pitted against it, so it’s good to hear the balance so nicely restored in the broadcast.
Despite being composed in a familiar, four-movement plan, it’s a piece rather difficult to unpick. In some ways, the textures are simpler & more defined than usual, but this is countered by material that is highly organic. It opens in a dense place, lower notes moving vaguely while the soloist draws a high line filled with open strings & natural harmonics. The brass are the first to become apparent, chords shifting in the background, their movement causing everything momentarily to swell, & then halt. The soloist’s first cadenza is wiry & (in the best sense) aimless, its twists & swoops more a result of fun than purpose. But Chin is just as concerned with momentum as with reverie, & she soon pushes the violin back into a pace that becomes ever more swift, culminating in a moto perpetuo that’s urged on by orchestral stomps. Another cadenza ensues, more rapid than before, & a sustained brass chord ushers in the movement’s climax, which sends the frantic soloist plummeting. The slow second movement places heavy emphasis on Chin’s trademark use of percussion. Read more