BBCSO in Hammersmith: Param Vir Premiere

Creative Work
Fanfare for Cloud Gate [World premiere]
Cradled Between Earth and Sky (A celebration of Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate) [BBC commission: world premiere]
Symphony No.4 in B flat, Op.60

Brass players from Trinity College of Music, the Music Service of the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, Fulham Symphony Orchestra, Full Fathom Five (Trinity College of Music) and BBC Symphony Orchestra
Tim Steiner (director)

BBC Symphony Orchestra
Alexander Rumpf

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 24 November, 2006
Venue: Town Hall, Hammersmith, London

A busy Friday! But your intrepid reviewer wasn’t the only one to hotfoot it from the British Composer Awards on the South Bank to Hammersmith – so too did composer Jonathan Harvey and the BBC’s Petroc Trelawny who was as much on-duty as presenter in Hammersmith as he had been in the Hayward Gallery.

This free-to-all concert was to celebrate the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s third year as the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham’s Orchestra in Association, a laudable enterprise encapsulated thus:
This concert, the second BBC SO concert in Hammersmith Town Hall, underlines the Orchestra’s commitment to its vibrant partnership with the council’s Music Service. The Orchestra’s work in the borough includes extensive work in local schools, a strong ongoing relationship with the Fulham Symphony Orchestra as well as with the Youth Orchestra of Hammersmith and Fulham (YOOHF). Numerous projects have aimed to provide ongoing opportunities for local musicians to work alongside world-class professionals, find out more about the distinctive music-making of the BBC’s flagship orchestra, and experience and perform in high-profile events. Members of the BBC SO have also been mentoring pupils learning ‘endangered species’ of instruments – including oboe, bassoon and double bass – as part of a project funded by Youth Music to boost the popularity of the instruments.

Two world premieres and Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony formed the programme, one that brought a full audience and a tangible sense of interest in what was happening. Among the happy throng was the Mayor of Hammersmith and Fulham, Councillor Minnie Scott Russell.

Beethoven 4 rounded off the concert, a rather relentless, unimaginative and sometimes uncoordinated account that was played with spirit but was not variegated enough to sustain interest; in such a vibrant acoustic more attention needed to be paid to balance and to the quieter end of the dynamic range.

This was surprisingly disappointing after a worthwhile first half during which the acoustic seemed excellent and the music-making had been well-prepared. First on was a “Creative Work”, directed by Tim Steiner, who arrived on the podium to no applause and seemed to be about to start a prayer meeting. From ‘nowhere’ came primeval sounds that developed into a full-frontal attack of brass (20 trumpets, 19 trombones, 6 horns, 4 tubas) and four percussionists – a volume only lessened by the musicians being placed outside and around (at five points) the ‘hall’ we were sitting in. Striking in aural and dramatic terms, if anonymity informed the musical content, what was unquestionable was the teamwork and listening-response of all those involved that made something ‘whole’ out of the part-improvisatory aspect of the piece. A triumph of co-operation, a result of “the gradual refinement of both the processes and material of the early workshops.

Common to both premieres is Anish Kapoor’s sculpture “Cloud Gate”, which is located in Chicago – Kapoor was in the audience and a photograph of his 100-ton elliptical structure (33-feet high and 66-feet long) was reproduced in the programme. Param Vir (born in Delhi in 1952 and now a resident of the borough of Hammersmith and Fulham) has been “greatly influenced” by Kapoor’s works. Vir was on-hand to say a few words before we listened to Cradled Between Earth and Sky. He talked about the use of glissandos to aurally represent the curves of “Cloud Gate” and was looking to create an orchestral sheen. This latter was magically achieved – the ‘performing space’ and the music seemed as one, and although glissandos (and other effects) can, in general terms, pall, Vir ‘gets away with it’ because his 30-minute piece is strong on atmosphere and in its symphonic construction. There is also an intensity that sustains the duration, and with it a fine ear for orchestral density, sonority and blend that uses a full orchestra (including an extensive percussion section utilised for variety not decibels and which requires ‘only’ five players) with sensitivity as well as power, aggression, and much dissonance, which is tempered by mosaic-like scoring and lighter, dancing textures that all eventually come to rest with ‘string trio’ solos (Clio Gould, Caroline Harrison and Susan Monks) that held the attention.

Alexander Rumpf (General Music Director of the Oldenburg State Theatre and with a discography that includes three obscure operas, by Bloch, Pfitzner and Rosenfeld) is clearly a dedicated conductor of contemporary music and led a convincing premiere. Worth catching the broadcast of the new pieces (the Beethoven isn’t scheduled, yet!) for the Vir does exert a magnetic pull.

  • The new works will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Wednesday 6 December 2006 during “Afternoon Performance”

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