BBCSO Invitation Concert – Preview

Michael Tippett: Symphony No.2
Alan Bush: Piano Concerto

Rolf Hind (piano), Ashley Holland (baritone), Apollo Voices.
BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin

Reviewed by: David Wordsworth

Reviewed: 19 December, 2000
Venue: Studio One, Maida Vale, London

I first met Sir Michael Tippett in Aspen, Colorado in 1966. My teacher, Walter Susskind, was honouring him with performances of several of his works. I had the opportunity to do the Ritual Dances from The Midsummer Marriage during that time. Until then I had not heard one note of its composer. What a revelation! Such communicative power, beauty and structural logic. A few years later I heard Sir Michael conduct the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in a performance of his Third Symphony and Piano Concerto. Once again, the listening experience was extraordinary. And what a fine conductor he turned out to be as well. Sir Michael also assisted in my London debut by writing a letter on my behalf. If it were not for him I might not have the pleasure of performing his Second Symphony this season with the BBC Symphony. I look forward to traversing much more of his music.

Leonard Slatkin (Reproduced from “Tippett in Focus” with permission from Schott & Co)

The BBC Symphony Orchestra’s Invitation Concert (broadcast live on R3) also includes a rare performance of the Piano Concerto by Alan Bush – to my knowledge the first performance since the composer conducted it at Morley College in 1966. An attempt was made to perform the work during the latter years of the composer’s life, but the parts could not be found! It is I suppose some sort of consolation that this performance takes place to celebrate the composer’s centenary – Alan Bush was born on December 22nd 1900 and died on the 31st October 1995; I got to know him in his final years.

This is no ordinary Piano Concerto. It lasts just under one hour – it’s pretty much a Symphony with a virtuoso piano solo; like Busoni’s Concerto, Bush’s involves voices – on this occasion a baritone soloist and a male chorus.

The first performance was given by the composer himself (Alan was a remarkable pianist – he was a student of Schnabel amongst others) and conducted by Sir Adrian Boult. Boult created one of the famous events of British music by cutting short the considerable applause after the 1938 premiere by playing the National Anthem – he did, I presume, object to the leftish text by Randall Swingler attacking the power of wealth and privilege.

…and men in hope
Banded together to loosen the collar of oppression
And to beget happiness at the expense of cash profit (etc)
Alan being Alan there was no delicate skating around issues – he composed as he spoke: directly, without any worries about what people would think, or the harm it would do to his career. The Piano Concerto is significant in that it is the first large-scale piece of Alan’s to combine his musical ideas with his political views – views which basically stopped him from claiming his rightful position at the forefront of the British musical scene. This is just one of a whole series of disgraceful prejudices that plagued his entire life.

The conception of the Concerto is huge and awe-inspiring – the fact that it is being revived is cause for celebration and a fitting memorial to a remarkable man.

David Wordsworth

CLICK HERE to Read Colin Anderson’s review of this concert

Tippett Photograph: Nicky Johnston

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