Friday, February 03, 2006

Turnage's Hidden Love Song Premiered

LPO/Marin Alsop, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

By Andrew Clark - February 1 2006 02:00
From the Financial Times

We know what a harpsichord and a soprano saxophone sound like, but can you imagine them together? We are used to seeing composers take a bashful bow at the end of a first performance, but can you recall a "serious" composer explaining his/her new piece immediately before it was premiered? It is not unusual for performers to look drained after a show, but have you seen a conductor in tears at the end?

All this happened at the latest London Philharmonic Orchestra concert. It broke rules - but breaking rules is how music moves forward. Marin Alsop introduced each piece and did it so wittily, with such intelligent musical examples, that any reservations about pre- programming the audience's sensors were swept away. The LPO played brilliantly for her and the choice of music - a new Mark-Anthony Turnage saxophone concerto, modern classics by Thomas Adès and James MacMillan, plus deceptively "light" ballet scores by Satie and Stravinsky - played to her strengths.
As a Bernstein pupil Alsop understands the sexy, rhythmic language and smoochy glissandos of Adès's Chamber Symphony, resulting in a performance of unexpected feeling. Having encountered prejudice in the music world she clearly identifies with the story of persecution that inspired MacMillan's The Confession of Isobel Gowdie, delivering it with punch-in-the-stomach intensity. Satie's Parade was dispatched with aplomb, Stravinsky's Jeu de cartes with rhythmic wit - despite this being clearly the most dispensable item.
That might have left space for a repeat performance of Hidden Love Song, the first fruit of Turnage's LPO residency. It is a 12-minute lyric meditation - unashamedly romantic, subtly coloured, seductively textured, with ample scope for the saxophone voice (Martin Robertson) to "bend" the notes. This is Turnage at his most personal, and the result is a miniature masterpiece.

Dadaist jokes and moody Americana

By Ivan Hedwett - 02/02/2006
From the

It was a brave move on the part of the LPO to programme three recent works by living British composers alongside two little-known 20th-century ballets. And it was a long listen - as conductor Marin Alsop said to us wryly at the mid-point, "I hope you don't have any plans for later this evening."

She made an engaging presenter of all five pieces, and her nicely judged tone certainly helped to ease along a programme that was strenuous in variety of mood as well as length.
I can't remember a concert with such a stark contrast as the one between Erik Satie's Parade, which is all silly Dadaist high-jinks, and James Macmillan's Confessions of Isobel Gowdie, which ventures into areas of sorrow and hysterical cruelty most of us would prefer to leave unvisited.
Frankly, I could have done without the Satie, which, despite its historical importance as one the founding events of surrealism, hasn't worn well - largely because the joke instruments such as the typewriter and the tuned bottles can't hide the leaden orchestration and thin invention. Even Alsop's normally vigorous hand seemed deadened by the piece.
But the fact that Stravinsky's Jeux de Cartes also got off to a sluggish and uncertain start showed that Alsop wasn't at her best this evening. However, by the wonderful third tableau, with its comical Battle of Spades and Hearts, she'd risen to the music's jaunty brilliance (as had the orchestra, whose sound started fat and ended lean).
As for Macmillan's piece, Alsop and the LPO did complete justice to its overblown rhetoric, which pits keening string chorales (mourning the executed witch Gowdie) against brutal hammering chords and fanfares, though it was dispiriting to see a bunch of fine musicians being forced to be so unsubtle.
Mark-Anthony Turnage's brand-new Hidden Love Song set a smokily passionate solo saxophone (beautifully played by Martin Robertson) against a moody background of strings, bells and harpsichord.
"Bluesy" is the word often applied to Turnage, but to me this touching if rather slight piece was more an American nocturne - I kept imagining a 1970s Oldsmobile drifting along a badly lit street.
Then, as if to prove the amazing variety of British new music, came Thomas Adès's Chamber Symphony, written when the composer was a mere 18.
Alsop and the 15 players from the LPO - all cruelly exposed by this devilishly tricky score - made it sound as indecently brilliant as ever.

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