I Hear America Singing
White wavelets rippled the surface of the lake
Everchanging Tracts of Neverchanging Space
Members of the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Martyn Brabbins
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 3 June, 2001
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London
“A good composer does not imitate; he steals”. So said Stravinsky, whose 1952 Concertino ’inspired’ these five new pieces, all around five minutes in length, by post-graduate composition students at the Royal Academy of Music.
“Is it the thief’s role to tell what he has stolen?” asked Stephane Altier, the oldest composer here at 30+ (the others are hovering either side of 25). Sable-Monologue’s blocks of dissonant chords gradually soften to allow an ever-developing melody more air-space: whatever he has taken of Stravinsky, Altier has ’stolen’ it post-Birtwistle.
This Music of Today presentation – one of the Philharmonia Orchestra’s regular early-evening concerts of contemporary music – came before Mozart and Bruckner from Lorin Maazel; it’s premise being the composers should use Stravinsky’s Concertino as a ’springboard for their own music … not write Stravinskian pastiche’. Noriko Motomatsu was the most Stravinskian, her fluid expression ear-catching, albeit the intertwining woodwind arabesques are a tad too close to The Rite’s Introduction – ’One morning, a white wavelet rippled the surface of the lake … The little girl paused and thought she saw something but her youthful heart made it disappear from her into the deep, deep lake … like a dream long forgotten.’ – a sense of fantasy and refined textures informed this attractive piece.
All the composers were required to use the same scoring as Stravinsky’s Concertino – an unusual mix of violin, cello, flute, oboe, cor anglais, clarinet, and two each of bassoon, trumpet and trombone. American Richard Beaudoin utilised a hymn that a New England ’community chorus’ would have sung – Josiah Booth’s When Wilt Thou Save the People? As Motomatsu was too close to Stravinsky, so Beaudoin was too obviously emulating Ives, who himself went over this ground very comprehensively – popular tune surrounded by floating, uncertain, harmony; Beaudoin updated the formula by introducing some West Coast bright lights.
The remaining two pieces occupied a similar terrain, and might have made even more impression separated. Deborah Pritchard’s Waves is a miniature ’double concerto’ for violin and cello – which have lyrical solo lines – while wind and brass present a mosaic of scale patterns (reminding of Stravinsky’s Scherzo fantastique); Waves is irrepressible in its vitality. A similar arpeggiation occurs in Luke Bedford’s piece, the light, space-walking textures are curiously elusive, not of this earth.
Excellent performances by the indefatigable musicians of the Philharmonia Orchestra under series conductor Martyn Brabbins who led vital accounts of these inventive and personable scores. Stravinsky’s Concertino itself ended proceedings in a snappy rendition – Les noces meets Dumbarton Oaks.
- The next Music of Today is on Thursday 14 June at 6 p.m. in the Royal Festival Hall
- Two pieces by Deirdre Gribbin will be played – Tribe and Celestial Pied Piper
- Admission is free – no ticket required
- Read an interview with Deirdre Gribbin
- Read James Larcombe’s review of Lorin Maazel’s Mozart/Bruckner concert
- Following the MOT of 14 June, Roger Norrington conducts the Philharmonia in Mozart and Mahler – RFH, 7.30
- Box Office: 020 7960 4201
- Book Online: www.rfh.org.uk