Classical: Towards the Millennium Symphony Hall / ICC Hall 3, Birmingha m
Tuesday 05 March 1996
Saturday's opening concert in this year's Towards the Millennium festival was as determined a celebration of these riotous colours as you are likely to find: Stravinsky's endlessly fascinating Agon - an exercise in backdoor serialism which, for the attentive listener, remains the most wholeheartedly engaging of his scores; Messiaen's explosive, truculent and unashamed orgy of sonority, Chronochromie; and Stockhausen's Gruppen, composed for three orchestras and designed for the "concert hall of the future", in which the performers surround the listeners in a poignantly contemporary reversal of traditional hierarchies.
As far as Birmingham is concerned, Stockhausen has, to coin a phrase, never had it so good. Sternklang in the park four years ago and a rare performance of Momente two years later have sensitised audiences to the composer's requirements. All credit to CBSO that it did so much to create as authentic an environment for Gruppen as possible, not only presenting the piece in a hall where much of the public was surrounded by the musicians, but also twice on the trot. This certainly paid dividends. Whatever the work's quality, the move across to the International Convention Centre and the sight of three spectacularly-lit orchestras took the listener beyond the realm of conventional expectation.
There are many things to enjoy in Gruppen, particularly in the dedicated performances it received from Simon Rattle, John Carewe and Daniel Harding, but the main focus seemed to be on the occasion rather than the piece itself. As a testament to a vision of the future as seen from the 1950s, it was a real success; divorced from its context, however, it is hard to see Gruppen becoming part of our lives.
Stravinsky's Agon, however, should be on everyone's repertoire list. Its energy and impertinence keep it buzzing in the ear long after the players have put down their instruments. Messiaen's Chronochromie, while more insistent in its demands, provided a perfect bridge to Stockhausen. But, without the sheer enthusiasm and understanding of conductor and orchestra, the event could have been as grey as the conventional image of the decade itself.
In all three pieces, Rattle and the CBSO reminded one that they know how modern repertoire "goes". While never lazily routine, they draw the audience in with the skill of a seasoned guide, secure in their knowledge of the terrain and an infectious belief in its value.
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awardsTheatre
Grace DentChannel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Alan Rickman admits editing 'terrible' script with friends in Pizza Hut behind backs of writers on Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
- 2 Rarest Beanie Baby of them all could be sold for £62,500 on eBay
- 3 Professional big game hunter Ian Gibson crushed to death by elephant during hunt
- 4 Farmer told to tear down mock-Tudor castle after hiding construction behind hay bales
- 5 Rebecca Francis accuses Ricky Gervais of using 'influence' to target female hunters after receiving barrage of death threats
Better Call Saul creator Peter Gould on the creative concerns of a prequel, season 2 and the mind-numbing realities of the small courts
Britain's Got Talent 2015: RSPCA investigating Marc Metral's miming dog after cruelty complaints
Doctor Who film will definitely happen, leaked Sony emails reveal
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
The Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer has leaked – watch
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate