Monday, June 26, 2006

PREMIERES://Django Bates’s Alison in Space

By Geoff Brown
From - June 20, 2006

The days are long gone when blowing a brass instrument was a male preserve. Even so, the young trumpeter Alison Balsom remains a singular figure. It’s not that she’s long and blonde; it’s the roar of her talent that makes her stand out, along with her knack for breaking down barriers and making the trumpet so much more than a toot machine.
Olympian agility, a liquid tone, immense subtleties of phrasing: all were abundant in the Spitalfields concert shared with another young British firework, the percussionist Colin Currie. His programme note about Jolivet’s Heptade nailed the work’s pleasures exactly: as if the avant-garde pioneer Edgard Varèse was relaxing in a jazz club. Changing moods and scenery come easily to Balsom; bolstered by Currie and John Reid’s piano, she scorched the earth marvellously with Piazzolla and de Falla, and summoned the blue ghost of Ravel in Henri Tomasi’s smoochy Nocturne. Alone, Currie drilled the wood blocks in Louis Andriessen’s Woodpecker: a ferocious and exciting performance.
The disappointment was the premiere of Django Bates’s Alison in Space, a BBC Radio 3 and Royal Philharmonic Society commission, with Bates in place at the keyboards. Easy enough to suggest an interplanetary journey with arpeggiated whooshes and spectral tintinnabulation. But to marshal a satisfying 15-minute composition, the sounds needed stronger structural support.
There were no vacant thoughts from the Royal Academy of Music student composers heard in the earlier RAM Manson Ensemble concert with Peter Maxwell Davies. These world premieres filled fewer minutes and clung tightly to their composition gambits, all involving processes of transformation. Jordan Hunt’s Morceaux Trouvés and Elspeth Brooke’s Spillage easily held the attention; Maxim Bendall’s With flesh, and blood, and small change fell only a little behind.
Weaving in and out were PMD’s pungent Instrumental Motets of the 1970s, reworkings of 16th-century Scottish pieces: a brilliant composition masterclass. All received gutsy performances from the RAM students; this was a concert full of hope.

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