Friday 16 January 2015

Sinfonia Student review - At Lunch 2

Sinfonia Student David Roche shares his experience of our At Lunch 2 programme, which was performed on Tuesday 13 January 2015 in West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge, and featured a new work by Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho...


Kaija Saariaho’s instrumental writing is incredibly exciting and sophisticated, Nocturne is especially so and it proved to be an awesome opener. The rhythmically-loose, choppy, folk-style music moves into and out of broad musical gestures concomitant with spectral music: diaphanous trills between open strings and harmonics at a pace that prevents the lower pitches from ‘speaking’ properly; playing extremely close to the bridge in order to coax out a shimmering, unpredictable range of overtones (violist Garth Knox* calls this ‘irising’); looking to the sounds themselves to find an organising principle– all completely mesmerising in performance. The very strong hints of Scandinavian folk music were almost as striking, check out Benedicte Maurseth’s latest release Overtones to hear what I mean - similar soundworlds! Violinist Jacqueline Shave brought the work to life: a moving interpretation of a hefty composition.
Light and Matter was the second of two Saariaho pieces on the programme. The composer notes the influence of ‘the changing light and colour of Morningside Park’, especially ‘the continuous transformation of light on the glinting leaves’. The beautifully intricate, delicate instrumental writing and its evolution into dense, nebulous music certainly invites the listener make comparisons between the programme note and the composition - the hidden complexity of musical sound being used as a metaphor for light. The looming, resonating piano made me much more aware of the temporal nature of timbral sound: the attack and decay of its’ sounds drawing attention to one of the central precepts of the composition – gradual transformation. The trio gave a superbly assured performance of a difficult composition, the same being the case with the remaining works.
Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho
The Debussy suffered from a slight tuning issue with the cello’s low C but this did nothing to detract from the performance as a whole. I was particularly fortunate as I heard the sonata performed in rehearsal prior to the concert where there was no such problem, it was played impeccably on the first attempt and I was the only audience member at the time… which was nice (no iPhones or whispering). Caroline Dearnly’s vivacious performance and Huw Watkins’s perfectly-matched pianism cut through the bricky tone of the concert hall with ease, an extremely secure, visually-engaging performance that, along with the final piece, served to concretize the concert as a success. 
The Fauré was, along with Nocturne, the best performance of the concert.  Well-paced, gorgeously subtle rubato in the strings; crystal-clear, perfectly appropriate accompaniment from the piano; the visual presence and fantastically lyrical performance from the cellist, especially in the first movement, really brought the piece to life. The interplay of the cello and violin gave the work a wonderful narrative drive, the performers responded to each other’s phraseological nuances, a dialogue that set their parts away from the piano – refreshingly liberal.
As excellent as the performances were, I was far less concerned with the Debussy and Fauré. To my mind there’s something considerably more interesting in the compositions created by living, working artists: they are able to defend and discuss their works, contribute to new depths of expression, new ways of making, and new ways of thinking. There is so much music one can engage with and the major, most frequently performed repertoire constitutes a very, very small piece of an outrageously tasty, terrifyingly large, yet-to-be-fully-discovered pie. 
It is extremely reassuring to see a successful professional ensemble commission works and dedicate so much to contemporary classical music. It was particularly pleasing to hear, firstly, a living composer’s music as the centerpiece of a concert and, secondly, a female composer’s music as the centerpiece of a concert – living composers and women are woefully underrepresented in classical music** (see Bachtrack’s most recent survey). It seems outrageous that the two things are uncommon enough to be worthy of notice. Also, having lived in a few other cities I can say with some certainty that new music does not get its deserved share of performances, especially performances by musicians as committed and excellent as those in Britten Sinfonia. The people of Cambridge are very lucky to have this music available and should endeavor to make the most of it, however demanding it may seem on first hearing!
*Explore Garth Knox's Viola Spaces here.
**Click here to read a
n article from The Guardian exploring our current male-dominated classical music industry.
David Roche (Sinfonia Student 2014-15)