MUSIC / Note spinning: Edward Seckerson on the Philharmonia in concert in London

Click to follow
THE Philharmonia's Music of Today series - a kind of new music 'happy hour' immediately preceding the main evening concert - appears to be catching on. You can cream off quite a decent crowd from a hot ticket like Pinchas Zukerman in the Elgar Violin Concerto - especially if you throw in the bonus for free. On Sunday at the South Bank, artistic director James MacMillan presided over three works first performed by the Dutch ensemble Orkest De Volharding - for 21 years a hotbed of things raunchy, rocky, and politically right-on. Music of the people, for the people; out of the concert halls, into the clubs, that kind of thing. One look at the ensemble - trios of trumpets, trombones, saxophones and the inevitable electric guitar - sent out the visual message. Why whisper when you can shout?

And so MacMillan kicked in with a 'bit of a bang' - a piece called Arsenal of Democracy by New York-based Julia Wolfe. She makes quite a fist with her hammering, honking, obsessive toccata. It's a gridlock of reiterative, shrieking brass. Somewhere in there, a saxophone lament is trying to get out; aimless piano chords threaten to stop the madness. But why is it that dynamic young composers like this write so passively for the electric guitar? It's nothing if it isn't flying.

Gerald Barry knows how to fly with his feet planted firmly on the ground. His piece, Hard D, is a great respecter of solid, traditional values - good, strong, exuberant counterpoint, folk tunes thrown to the elements. He says he'd like to find more space, subtler shades of colour in his music: the three keening trumpets at the close of this piece were definitely headed in the right direction. Finally 'boogie-woogie' - Dutch style. Louis Andriessen's On Jimmy Yancey is 23 years old and sounding it.

In the main evening concert, Leonard Slatkin was batting for England once more. Images of the Globe Playhouse, of Agincourt, of Larry crying 'God for Harry, England and St George', came flooding back with the shameless movie pastiche of William Walton's Henry V score. Haydn's last symphony (No 104) was unfashionably corpulent and proud of it, Slatkin sporting mellow rotary valve trumpets and divided violins in robust cross- fire. Grand and spirited, rather too mindful perhaps of Edwardian England to come.

Few concertos demand top billing. The Elgar Violin Concerto is one - particularly when you've a star soloist in the offing. Slatkin prepared his entrance with aplomb - a surging, unassailable tutti of promise and heart. Zukerman replied with the charisma but not the artistry (or the intonation) of a star. He played from the music: he looked and sounded detached, riding the virtuosity with a fiery Paganinian arrogance but barely hinting at the fantasy, the reflective subtext of this great work. Here was some of the biggest, ripest violin tone you'll ever hear, yet how vulgar and unyielding it all sounded. Who was it said the music is not in the notes?

Comments