Music of Today 2002/3 – Opening Concert (17 October)

Suite, Op.11
Idées fixes – Sonata for 13

Margaret Campbell (flute)
Hugh Webb (harp)
Members of the Philharmonia Orchestra
Martyn Brabbins

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 17 October, 2002
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

Following James MacMillan’s ten-year stint as Music of Today’s Artistic Director, this position now passes to Julian Anderson. His first season masterminding the Philharmonia Orchestra’s innovative and always-welcome early-evening concerts has produced a particularly appealing mix of composers. Should you not know about MOT’s easy format, all you need to do is turn up at the RFH for 6 o’clock. The concert is free, there is no ticket needed; you simply walk into the Hall and sit where you like. Anderson (no relation to the writer) talks to the evening’s composer and the Philharmonia and Martyn Brabbins play a couple of his pieces. Further details on this site; just click on the MOT logo.

Alexander Goehr turned 70 this year; he is also a senior composer in terms of status. ’Sandy’ was present to talk about the pieces being played. A lack of microphones meant we – and there was a sizeable audience – had to make the effort to hear the chat: this required a concentration that was perhaps not out of place, a salient (if probably not intended) reminder that listening is an art.

These two Goehr works are separated by 40 years. Impeccable craftsmanship is common to both, so too a timeless expression, especially in the Suite that Benjamin Britten commissioned in 1961. The 20-minute piece for flute and harp with string trio, clarinet and horn is carbon-dated by its formality – as bequeathed by Schoenberg, albeit Goehr’s economy looks more to Webern. The music glints, darts and suspends – inner logic and surface vitality combine for a fresh take on antique forms. Excellent performance, not least from Campbell and Webb

Idées fixes is for a larger ensemble of 13 players – string and woodwind quartets, horn, trumpet, trombone, piano and percussion. This is music quixotic and vibrant; perhaps the scoring itself reminds of Janacek. The ideas are clear, the recurrence and variation of them equally lucid; the lyricism is particularly delicious in this 15-minute jewel of a piece. Again, first-rate realisation.

Richard Causton is up next – on 10 November, same place, same time.

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