Voyage into the Golden Screen
After Onement, I [world premiere]
Mark David Boden
Shadows of a Changing Land [world premiere]
3811 Nautical Miles [world premiere]
As Echoes Subside [world premiere]
Les Courants de l’Espace
Tristan Murail (ondes Martenot) & Sound Intermedia (sound projection) [Les Courants de l’Espace]
Foyle Future Firsts
Members of the London Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 12 June, 2012
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall
Continuing from his promotion of new music when Artistic Director of the Philharmonia’s Music of Today series, Julian Anderson here assembled an absorbing programme as part of Debut Sounds featuring members of the London Philharmonic and the Future First performers, with four pieces by young composers framed by two contemporary classics.
Although it has long been accorded classic status, Per Nørgård’s Voyage into the Golden Screen (1969) has had precious few performances in the UK and the opportunity to hear it in the composer’s 80th-birthday year was not to be taken for granted. Its two movements encapsulate just where this most questing of musical figures had reached at that point in his composing: the first reducing the acoustical aspect of his preceding orchestral works down to the intense examination of an overtone chord and its quarter-tone equivalent, while the second elegantly unfolds a melodic blueprint of the ‘infinity series’ that was to underpin Nørgård’s music over the next decade – making for a diverse yet perfectly balanced whole.
Placed on either side of the interval, the four new commissions offered a welcome insight into the preoccupations of and challenges faced by their composers – all of them in their mid-20s – as they sought to balance the by-no-means opposing tenets of individuality and communicability. With After Onement, I, David Currington drew on the canvas of that name by the American abstract expressionist Barnett Newman in a piece whose six continuous sections juxtapose a number of contrasting procedures while making discreet reference to several totemic works from the past century. For Shadows of a Changing Land, Mark David Boden took photographs depicting the Lake District National Park as starting-point for an exploration of timbre and texture which generates overall continuity seemingly in spite of itself. Momentum as such was far from lacking in 3811 Nautical Miles, Laura Jane Bowler’s musical translation of the journey from London to Calgary (Canada) in which ideas of strongly differentiated character were informed by a purposeful evolution towards a decisive while unexpected conclusion. If Hollie Harding’s As Echoes Subside gave the impression of a study for a further piece yet to be written, the sense of diverse techniques brought together in a dynamic overall continuum was always evident. All four pieces benefitted from evidently sympathetic performances under the perceptive direction of Clement Power.
The concert ended with a welcome revival (some 25 years after it was last given in the UK) of Les Courants de l’Espace (1979), among the most thought provoking of Tristan Murail’s earlier works in its wide-ranging electronic transformation of the timbral possibilities of the ondes Martenot within the context of a chamber orchestra whose contribution is one of mutual interplay and enrichment. What might once have seemed oblique or even hermetic, moreover, now feels capricious and even playful in its traversing of the gamut between pure tone and white noise towards the tantalizingly inconclusive close. Murail was on hand as soloist in an account which risked a few rough edges in the desire for impulsive spontaneity.
It brought to an end this judiciously planned and finely executed programme that was undoubtedly a high-point on the London new-music calendar. To which end it was a pity that BBC Radio 3 chose not to broadcast or record the concert (for Hear and Now) or, more inexplicable still, that the event received not a mention in the pages of the Southbank Centre’s June brochure.