By Shirley Apthorp
From the Financial Times - March 21 2006 18:04
Vladimir Komarov fell from heaven cursing, the rumour goes. He was the first man to die in space. The Soyuz I mission was a rush job, thrown together for Lenin’s birthday.
Brett Dean believes that the cosmonaut burnt before he crashed. Komarov’s Fall ends like a spent firework. The lonely electronic beeps of telemetry, the mounting rage of the dying man, the grief of his wife and the spectacular combustion of the spaceship form the programmatic bones of Dean’s short orchestral work, one of four “asteroids” given their world premiere by the Berlin Philharmonic under Simon Rattle last week.
Holst’s The Planets needs a bit of ginger if it is not to smack of caricature today. Six years ago Colin Matthews added Pluto, the Renewers to the suite, bringing it closer to our time. But Rattle wanted more, and came up with the idea of asteroids.
Kaija Saariaho, Matthias Pintscher, Mark-Anthony Turnage and Brett Dean were commissioned to write six- minute works for Holst on an asteroid of their choice.
Saariaho chose Asteroid 4279: Toutatis, a potato-shaped celestial body with a peculiar orbit, for an eerie, shimmering orchestral reflection. Pintscher’s Towards Osiris, the beginnings of a larger work for Chicago, explores the Egyptian myth of dismemberment and reanimation. Delicate effects and gossamer orchestration suggest the beating of Isis’s wings.
Ceres is the asteroid most likely to collide with Earth. Turnage tackles the hypothetical catastrophe with glee. Bold sweeps of colour, a touch of melancholy from the lower strings, and the world ends with a spectacular bang.
The four new works were not a collaborative project. Three of the four composers chose to depict cataclysms, which makes for a turbulent half-hour here. But the common subjects and instrumentation bring conceptual harmony. Holst is certainly a winner. Rattle conducts the suite with uncritical gusto, letting the orchestra’s lush sheen show. The new pieces save the evening from stodginess.
This audacious project is carried by Rattle’s flair, and nurtured with the optimal conditions needed to give new works a wider orbit. Watch the musical skies near you for further sightings of these rocky bodies.