Sunday, 18 May 2014

70, not out



Nyman anniversary concert (Royal Philharmonic Orchestra)

Quite astonishingly, this got 2 stars from someone whom I presume is not an ordinary reviewer for the Guardian. I can at best characterise the Guardian review as inexplicable were they in the wrong room? or simply didn’t they ‘get’ it? The four pieces were all markedly different demonstrating Nyman’s diversity, but at the same time, exhibited some classic Nyman elements. From a hundred paces, you could say it was there, but you might not say quite what it was. Some of the catchy elements for Nyman have served as leitmotifs throughout his work over decades.

The first piece was the wonderful, dynamic and, I think perhaps surprisingly moving, Draughtsman’s Contract suite. This is the piece, I suggested to my friend, she most certainly would recognise. At the same time there was an undoubted thrill to the composer himself conducting. This wasn’t a case of trotting out the same material, but it is a living thing constantly being revised on the score and indeed on the stage by the composer. Of course no music is anything other than alive, unless it is on a shelf in the archive. Even recordings change with transfers and re-mastering at periodic intervals. But here the changes are beyond technology, part of the on-going creative process.

Nyman handed the conducting baton to Josep Vincent. The UK premiere of Violin Concerto No 1 was a sparse, different affair altogether; rendered painfully tender by Alexander Balanescu, utterly visceral.
After an interval gin and tonic, John Harle a most impressive solo performance in the revised version of the Saxophone Concerto (where the bee dances) another UK premiere. 

The final piece of the evening was yet another UK premiere, of Nyman’s second symphony. This was an excellent uplifting piece on which to end. Overall, the concert took me by surprise. Opportunities to hear his music live are relatively rare, so this was the first time for me. I was astonished by how moving it was. Understanding this dynamic better, I will be sure to continue to build my library of his recordings.

The final fillip saw Nyman appear from the audience and leap up on stage: it suggests his projected cycle of nineteen symphonies may well be completed; if they are not it will not be for want of energy. The next will be the one he has prepared, characteristically reinventing and reworking previous material, will by for the Hillsborough memorial concert. He spoke about this on a special Front Row on 5th May, and you may still download the podcast of this. It includes excerpts from the concert. http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/frontrow.  This willingness to revisit is not repetition  as such, but rather I think reflects a continuing endeavour.

Overall: 70, not out.

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