Thursday 30 April 2015

O/Modernt Kammarorkester – from festival to concert hall

 O/Modernt Kammarorkester
 O/Modernt Kammarorkester
Tüür, Pärt, Glass, Pérotin; O/Modernt Kammarorkester, Hugo Ticciati, Thomas Gould; Kings Place
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Apr 18 2015
Star rating: 5.0

'possibly the best chamber orchestra I have ever heard.'

Two minimalist concerts in two nights... After seeing the Labèquesisters play Glass and Moondog, tonight's concert at Kings Place by O/Modernt Kammarorkester brought Estonian minimalism into the mix. Directed by Hugo Ticciati (who also played violin) and featuring Thomas Gould on violin, performing Tüür and Pärt alongside Glass and Pérotin, O/Modernt Kammarorkester were possibly the best chamber orchestra I have ever heard.

O/Modernt Kammarorkester has developed from the Swedish festival O/Modernt (un-modern), also directed by Ticciati, which is interested in reinventing past musical ideas for the modern times. As part of this exploration this concert looked at "The art of repetition in sound, from the thirteenth to the twenty-first century". Here musical processes from the 13th century Notre Dame School would be used as to examine some of the well-known and well-loved minimalistic masterpieces of the 20th century, as well as guide improvisation – music so new it hadn't even been written.

Thomas Gould
Thomas Gould
The concert began with Erkki-Sven Tüür's (1959-) 'Show for string orchestra: Action. Passion. Illusion' (1993). Tüür began his musical career playing progressive rock - an interest which can be still heard in his more recent compositions. Studying composition with Jaan Rääts at the Tallinn Conservatoire and with Lepo Sumera he wrote his first symphony in 1984. From 1989-92, he taught composition at the Estonian Academy of Music, but since then has been able to focus on his composition.

'Show for string orchestra' was precisely that – a show. Swathes of repeated down bows at the start added drama and contrasted with the tight quiet spiccato. The short bow strokes then became longer and trills emerged. With the treatment of ideas always driving forwards, this architectural piece was very well thought out and beautifully executed.

The second movement began with cello duet of drone and slow tune, before being joined by double bass, then solo viola, more violas, and so on up through the strings to reach a whimsical drifting tune and an eastern vibe. Continuing crescendos and accelerandos reached a climax which made the concert hall feel closed and pressured, and beat radiated off the walls. Just at the right moment the pressure relaxed as the instruments calmed and stopped one by one. Ending high on violins, the rest of the orchestra returned for the last chord.

The final movement was a contrast, being fast and rhythm led. Harmonically this reminded me of Tippett's 'Double concerto for string orchestra', but a version where the rhythms had been deconstructed. The final rhythmic repeat was taken to pianissimo before a final loud motif.

'Minimalistic Improvisations' by the orchestra focussed on gentle slides and squeaks with percussive effects, forming conversations, and slid seamlessly into Arvo Pärt's (1935-) 'Tabula Rasa for two violins, prepared piano and chamber orchestra' (1977).

'Viderunt omnes' by Pérotin (c. 1200) had been arranged for them. The drone and folk tune of Pérotin was well suited to this medium. The performance was slippery and shiny making the most of the concurrent different speeds, rounds, and repeated motifs with lots of shaping. Here, all those centuries ago, Pérotin was using the same ideas about rhythm and progressive alteration of recurring motifs that are threaded through the more modern compositions. The double bass had the final plainchant giving it a gentle drifting feel to complement the Pärt.

The orchestra's performance of Philip Glass' (1937-) Symphony No. 3 (1995) for solo strings was very physical, with sharp contrasts between the different blocks. Exact playing in the second movement made clear all the details of addition that Glass put in, and again made the most of rhythmic contrasts. The third movement is reminiscent of Satyagraha (1979) – here the solo violin was a quiet triumph and again the double bass had a lovely tone with all those long held notes. The Jets and Sharks of the final movement brought chromatic ideas into the Glass rhythmic framework.

'Silouans Song for strings' (1991) – gentle space filling meditation by Pärt - rounded off the concert, with the lights slowly dimming and going out.

From what I have seen/heard tonight I cannot recommend O/Modernt Kammarorkester highly enough. Their performance of 'Tabula rasa' was better than any recording I have heard and the Tüür was just beautiful. Their choice of standing throughout the performance made each of them a soloist, something to be watched as well as heard, and each was more than up for the challenge.

Minimalism Unwrapped continues throughout the year at Kings Place. With debut performances like tonight there is much to look forward to. O/Modernt Kammarorkester returns in October with its own take on Vivaldi and Pink Floyd.
Reviewed by Hilary Glover

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