The LSO Panufnik Young Composers Scheme was devised by the orchestra in association with Lady Camilla Panufnik, in memory of her husband, the composer Andrzej, and is funded by the Helen Hamlyn Trust. The Scheme is now in its ninth year, and Colin Matthews’s booklet note for this release confirms that more than fifty composers have taken part. Six composers per year are selected to write a short piece for the LSO. This gives composers and orchestra a rare chance to collaborate, a great experience for both, and one in which conductor François-Xavier Roth has been instrumental. This release, in superb sound, brings together a selection of pieces from the first five years and makes for very satisfying listening.
It is very rare to get the chance to hear new music in this way, and the LSO deserves huge credit both for the initiative and also the quality. The booklet gives extensive biographies and notes on each of the pieces, penned by the composers. Performance standards are very high, the composers getting the best possible vehicle for their writing. Each piece deserves a proper mention.
Incentive by Andrew McCormack (born 1978) opens the disc, a bold construction with tight constraints on its structure. Its opening salvo reveals the three-note motif on which the piece is based, but also pans out to a ‘widescreen’ orchestral sound. McCormack’s teacher is Mark-Anthony Turnage. Incentive is a piece of which McCormack’s teacher would surely approve, with its jazzy inflections and weighty chords.
Christian Mason (born 1984) wrote …from bursting suns escaping…’ using the idea that sound, though not as essential to our existence as light, plays a hugely important part in our everyday life. This inadvertently raises an important point, as he does not mention the role of melody, which is often sacrificed for texture in new pieces. When it is, the sounds themselves need to have greater interest, and that is mostly the case here, with a sudden jarring chord from the trumpets, bright woodwind choirs, then quiet and mysterious chords from the brass that are of uncertain pitch. At 2’10” there is a nice effect where the bottom effectively drops out of the orchestral sound.
Flēotan is an old English word, meaning “to float”, and forms the basis of the piece by Charlie Piper (born 1982), itself a sketch for a larger work, The Twittering Machine, written for the LSO in 2008. The piece generates an impressive kinetic power as it builds from the Stravinskian woodwind textures of the opening, and the resultant bright orchestration and melodic inflections suggest an Eastern influence.
Sakura, by Eloise Nancie Gynn (born 1985), is a mysterious utterance, beginning from a reverie its composer experienced in Nantes. She uses the alto flute to evoke the shakuhachi
(a Japanese flute), and to accompany this there are some exquisite moments of quieter writing for the orchestra, describing cherry blossom floating on the breeze. Sakura reminds us of the intensity of quieter music, making just as big an impact as its more muscular counterparts.
The two-movement Parallels of Edward Nesbit (born 1986) also offers some quieter thoughts at the beginning of its first movement, but these are troubled utterances, increasingly extinguished by brash trumpet stabs. There is also a Japanese influence at work, in the second movement, which explores the outer reaches of the orchestra with effective writing for bass clarinet and percussion, before the trumpet interventions return.
Jason Yarde (born 1970) wanted to present a “real time happening” for Rude Awakening! such as running for a bus or boiling an egg, and used this as the stimulus for a piece that mixes different moods. That explains the slumber in which the music begins, with the obsessive repeat of a memorable seven-note motif. There is a gradual crescendo as the waking moment approaches, but then the sleeper is plunged into a turbulent dream – before another crescendo and the waking moment. Yarde recreates these sensations with uncanny vividness for the most descriptive piece here and with a standout melody.
Fanfare for a Newborn Child is a musical christening present from the appropriately named Martin Suckling (born 1981) to his nephew and godson. His refreshing approach to a fanfare is not the standard brass and drums. He opts instead for softer sounds, “fairy trumpets” in the composer’s words. These are teamed with woodblock and high violins, perhaps indicating the fragility of early life. This charming piece is subtly scored, using small cross-sections of the orchestra rather than its whole, and ends with a gurgle courtesy of the bass clarinet.
By contrast, Therma, by Christopher Mayo (born 1980), has an instant and weighty gravitas. It is a compression of an earlier, unperformed piece titled “List 1; the since and again”, and that editing process has forced its statements into a powerful singular experience. The Brittenesque introduction ushers in a march of Mahlerian proportions, the initially leaden tread becoming a purposeful walk, during which Mayo displays a striking grasp of the orchestra.
Sudden Squall, Sudden Shadow is a pictorial piece by Elizabeth Winters (born 1979) that responds to two images from Japanese poetry, and also uses their Haiku structure. It’s a concise and descriptive work, using primary colours and quickness that captivate the listener.
The final piece is Halo, a larger-scale work by Vlad Maistorovici (born 1985) of just over ten minutes. Initially underpinned by a low, sawing bass note the orchestral writing becomes chaotic and includes a glacial passage for far-off percussion to describe the circular band of light itself. The music then builds inexorably, harnessing power.
All this on one disc! “The Panufnik Legacies” is an extremely valuable release, demonstrating the London Symphony Orchestra’s commitment to contemporary music, François-Xavier Roth’s dynamic and committed conducting, and that music being written right now is in very good health. Hopefully this release is the first of many.