Friday, 17 May 2013

A scream and an outrage - 2

A weekend music marathon at the Barbican and other places: curated by Nico Muhly

The Sixteen
The Sixteen
Session 4 began far LSO St Lukes traversing music from the renaissance to present day with The Sixteen, led by Harry Christophers, who were on angelic form.
too early on Sunday morning but we were back in

The first three pieces in the concert, written by the 16th century composer Thomas Tallis (1505 – 1585), were beautifully performed - The Sixteen glided through the trademark Tallis dissonances that could be right at home in a 21st Century composition. Tallis was a local man, living in Greenwich towards the end of his life. A contemporary of Byrd, he managed to survive four monarchs and the switches in religion which claimed many lives. The three pieces performed here were all written during the reign of Queen Elizabeth the first, who, despite being fervently Protestant, permitted the Catholic Tallis and Byrd to write and publish music. This is the kind of music that would have been performed in the first incarnation of St Luke's and is still right at home in today’s rebuilt performance space.

Four centuries after Tallis, Arvo Pärt (1935 - ) was born near Tallinn in Estonia. He composed ‘The woman with the alabaster box’, a setting of Matthew 26: 6-13, in 1997. The sustained tones which characterise this piece contrasted nicely with the Tallis; the constant movement of the first highlighting stillness of the second.

Similarly the ‘Three motets’ by Charles Stanford (1852 – 1924) were beautifully performed. Probably written towards the end of the 19th century these Anglican motets are in a different style entirely, yet still complemented both the Tallis and Pärt.

These were followed by ‘Infelix ego’ composed by William Byrd (1539 –1623) a pupil of Tallis, and Nico Muhly’s (1981-) ‘I cannot attain unto it’ written in 2005. The Muhly was surprising in its sensitive treatment of Psalm 139 and drew together elements of all the composers already heard along with percussive elements and repetitive fragments reminiscent of Saturday afternoon. A modern eclecticism.

‘Miserere’ from Psalm 51 by James MacMillan (1959 - ) continued this drawing together of styles. Contained within a wild wood of primal folk, hymns, chorales and psalms reach out, settling into the plainchant Tonus Peregrinus recognisable from the Allegri. Gustav Holst’s (1874 – 1934) ‘Nunc Dimittis’ completed the morning’s session.

The evening concert (Session 6) began with the same drones as Session 2, starting to play as the audience took their places. This flowed into ‘Drones and viola’ played by Nadia Sirota and ‘Drones and violin’ played by Pekka Kuusisto. These were more in keeping with yesterday’s ‘Three songs’ than this morning’s ‘I cannot attain unto it’, with elements of lyricism interrupted by harsh chords and cadenza-like solo sections. Both of the ‘Drones and ...’ had moments relating to Glass, and both stopped rather abruptly.

The ‘Drones and...’ were followed by ‘Architecture of loss’ by Valgeir Sigurðsson (1971 - ). This Icelandic composer is the founder of Greenhouse Studios and the record label ‘Bedroom Community’ used by Nico and friends. Using the violin, viola and piano, Valgeir transformed, looped, and manipulated sound snippets, to produce an industrial work (which also ended quite suddenly).
The European premier of ‘Death Speaks’ by David Lang (1957 - ) had no such problems. This work came out of the composer’s musings on the personification of Death in ‘Death and the Maiden’ by Franz Schubert. In the songs of Schubert, Death has a message 32 times. These messages David converted into a libretto and a ‘post, post Schubertian song’. Sung by Shara Worden whose voice is delightfully simple and clear, and supported by Nico on piano, plus violin and guitar, ‘Death Speaks’ was a captivating performance.

Throughout the day all 20 ‘Etudes for Solo Piano’ by Phillip Glass were being performed. Nico Muhly played the first four during the morning. Although I didn’t get to hear all 20 it was an interesting exercise in differing interpretations. Nico’s version of Etudes 1 through 4 was impressionistic in style, making much of changes in tempo and dynamic and stretching our phrases.

In contrast, during the evening Phillip Glass himself played Etudes 8, 9, and 10. Not needing any music, he was the relaxed boogie woogie master, who played straight through all three. Nico played Etudes 11 and 12, but in a more retrained way than his previous performance that morning. Finally Timo Andres, an American composer/pianist brilliantly played the last five, perching his ipad on the music stand.

All of the interpretations were adeptly played and all in all they reflected the ethos of the weekend – a group of friends getting together to make a bit of music and to see what was possible.
review by Hilary Glover
For our coveage of A Scream and an Outrage see also Hilary's review of day one.

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