By Andrew Clements
From The Guardian - Thursday May 11, 2006
Theatre is proving a valuable source of inspiration for composer Morgan Hayes. The starting point for his Proms orchestral piece last summer was a National Theatre production of Shakespeare's Pericles, and now his new violin concerto, introduced by soloist Keisuke Okazaki and Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, turns out to have been triggered by an episode in Beckett's Waiting For Godot. The moment in that play when the previously silent Lucky suddenly finds a voice and launches into a stream of gibberish, Hayes reveals, corresponds in his single-movement concerto to the solo-violin cadenza that arrives just before the end of the work, unifying in a coherent musical statement all the virtuoso passage work that previously has only been heard in fragments.
Certainly the cadenza does provide the focal point the concerto previously lacks, though whether it provides a real sense of climax is more questionable. There are sparky collisions, mysterious moments of mechanical repetition and a pervasive sense of unease, but in the end not enough of a sense of a musical whole.
Hayes's premiere was the novelty in a wonderful planned programme conducted by Franck Ollu that ended with more British music - Benedict Mason's bizarrely titled ! from 1993, a wonderfully parade of exotic percussion sounds and quirky, beguiling instrumental writing - but had begun on the other side of the Channel with Debussy's Prélude à L'Après-Midi played in an ensemble arrangement made in 1921 for Schoenberg's Society for Private Musical Performances and Boulez's trill-filled Dérive I. The transition to British new music came through At First Light by the Francophile George Benjamin; first performed in 1982, it's one of his most original early pieces, and still sounds astonishing after all these years.