Composer Portrait – Magnus Lindberg

Piano Jubilees
Steamboat Bill Jr

Magnus Lindberg in conversation with Andrew McGregor

Magnus Lindberg (piano)
Sarah Thurlow (clarinet) & Sarah Suckling (cello)

Arena, Royal Albert Hall, London

Prom 55

Sculpture [UK premiere]
Violin Concerto in E minor, Op.64
Symphony No.5 in E flat, Op.82

Nikolaj Znaider (violin)

BBC Symphony Orchestra
Jukka-Pekka Saraste


Reviewed by: Edward Clark

Reviewed: 25 August, 2006
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Magnus Lindberg is exceptionally busy at the moment. He had flown in from New York having attended the world premiere of his Violin Concerto and settled down to play his six Piano Jubilees, the first of which was written to celebrate the 75th-birthday of Pierre Boulez. Lindberg surprised with his piano technique in these difficult pieces; not that he writes in an avant-garde manner, but he does adopt a Modernist stance in all six, the most effective being, perhaps, the fifth, beginning slow and reflectively, becoming chordal and ending with a moto perpetuo that tests the performer’s stamina. The other pieces were nicely contrasted and reminded that the composer’s compatriot, Sibelius, also wrote short, effective woks for piano that have been overshadowed by their respective composer’s bigger orchestral efforts.

Then came an earlier work based on a silent movie featuring the inimitable Buster Keaton. Not that Lindberg apes the movie in comedy mannerisms, more he takes from the outline story a fantasy of a touring orchestra all of whose members fall ill except the solo clarinet and cello. Together the duo has to “create the illusion of a full orchestra” as described by Lindberg in conversation. Certainly the hardworking players (both Sarahs being members of the Royal College of Music Contemporary Consort) have their work cut out in their attempts to build big sonorities, where trills count a great deal in creating forward momentum. The performance was well prepared and made a stunning impact. This is not major Lindberg but he displays a nice sense of the absurd and carries the day in displaying a droll and dry compositional style.

The Prom itself proved to be a model of concert planning. Programme a new work by a respected composer alongside a tried and trusted concerto and an imposing symphony and, hey presto, you achieve a sell-out.

Magnus Lindberg’s 20-minute Sculpture, written last year for the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and premiered by the Philharmonic under Esa-Pekka Salonen, is most impressive and shows this composer pursuing his chosen path of renouncing unnecessary complexity for a style of open communication. The opening is truly monumental, gathering pace to the first appearance of an ‘idée fixe’ for trumpets. Thereafter abundant detail in the orchestral layout, not least antiphonal brass, did not obscure the long-range thinking behind the composer’s celebratory manner, which is only interrupted by the quiet, enigmatic close. This is a truly effective work, reminiscent of late Tippett in the use of multiple percussion and the vibrant sounds heard throughout.

Links between Mendelssohn and Sibelius are tenuous except that Sibelius did manage to perform the first two movements of the German’s famous Violin Concerto when a student. Thereafter his nerves let him down as a budding virtuoso and he concentrated on composition. (Thank goodness!) Nikolaj Znaider gave a mesmerising performance, quiet and reflective, and ardent and forceful. This truly original concerto deserves nothing less.

Sibelius’s Fifth Symphony – the one with the ‘big’ tune in the finale and the spaced-out chords at the end. That used to be the way this wondrous work was described. But ever since 1978 the stature of this work has assumed epic proportions. Why? Because Sir Peter Maxwell Davies announced then that he had been influenced by Sibelius’s symphony when writing his own (First if unnumbered) Symphony, first heard in February of that year. There followed a series of symphonies by the now Master of the Queen’s Music and a complete re-evaluation of the stature of Sibelius and of his influence on contemporary music.

With good reason – as Saraste’s almost complete mastery of the score showed at this concert. From the unusual clarity of the opening, which linked it to Lindberg’s modernist stance, to the unnerving closing bars this was an exceptional performance of a work that has been properly described as “the masterpiece of the 20th-century”. You really had to be in the audience to understand the experience of being in the presence of a master composer. Max was right: there is a lot to learn from this Finn.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to content