BBC SO / Knussen, Barbican, London
Thursday 10 February 2005
A new piece by Oliver Knussen is invariably an exciting prospect.
A new piece by Oliver Knussen is invariably an exciting prospect. Unfortunately, less than two weeks before his Cleveland Pictures was due to receive its UK premiere, it was replaced by a work from his former teacher, Gunther Schuller. In the event, the alchemical talents of Knussen the interpreter alleviated any disappointment caused by the late substitution.
Making a disturbing curtain-raiser, Michael Tippett's Praeludium for Brass, Bells and Percussion (1962) resonated with muted horn calls and agitated trumpet flourishes. Scored for the back desks of the orchestra, it gave rise to the spectacle of Knussen conducting across several rows of empty chairs, a visual effect which complemented the distanced celebrations of Praeludium's muffled fanfares. Uncharacteristically wanting in warmth and immediacy, this remote and unsettling work amounted to enigmatic shavings from the workbench of Tippett's recently completed King Priam.
In contrast, Gunther Schuller's Seven Studies on Themes of Paul Klee, from 1959, communicated instantly. The most memorable movement, "Arab Village", skilfully incorporated Arabian folk tunes, evocatively breathed into life by an off-stage flute. "Little Blue Devil" entertained with its bluesy main theme, conductor and orchestra both urbane enough to pull off the jazz elements and avoid the usual knees-up-in-a-morgue effect produced when classically trained orchestral players attempt to swing.
After the interval, Oliver Knussen was presented with the Association of Orchestras Award. Nicholas Kenyon rightly praised Knussen's work as a tireless advocate of modern composers, and in particular his championing of British music. In reply, Knussen paid tribute to the BBC SO, describing them as one of the "undersung treasures" of the orchestral life of this country, claiming they could "play anything anybody chooses to hurl at them".
As if to prove the point, the concert continued with the UK premiere of Elliott Carter's three-minute fiendish firecracker Micomicon (2002). The conductor seized the opportunity to play the compact but richly resourceful work twice, teasing out the complex strands of Carter's teeming invention still further.
Micomicon is inspired by an episode from Don Quixote, and the concert ended with Richard Strauss's vivid depiction of the Spanish knight. Knussen's laser-like dissection of the score cut through decades' worth of accrued interpretational stodge. Strauss originally notated the solo cello part to be played by the principal cellist of the orchestra, and Paul Watkins created a delightful sense of collaboration with his BBC colleagues, while grabbing the big solos with swaggering charisma tempered by a poetic sensitivity. The ending of the work, with the dying Quixote reflecting on his ideals, was artlessly moving.
Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants
Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards
TV ReviewThe intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron
Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days
Oscar voter speaks outfilm
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 The black and blue dress: Makers considering a white and gold version
- 2 Husband and wife die holding hands within hours of each other after 67 years of marriage
- 3 What color is The Dress, white and gold or blue and black? An eyewitness gives a definitive answer
- 4 The remarkable archaeological underwater discovery that could open up a new chapter in the study of European and British prehistory
- 5 Fearne Cotton quits Radio 1 after ten years for 'family and new adventures'
Seinfeld is laughing all the way to the bank: TV show generates $3.1bn in repeat fees since final episode
Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl: First look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Blade Runner sequel: Harrison Ford confirmed to return with Denis Villeneuve directing
All fiction follows one of six basic storylines, according to new research
House of Cards season 3 premiere, review: Has Frank Underwood gone soft?
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
Half of Ukip voters say they are prejudiced against people of other races
'Cash for access' scandal: Sir Malcolm Rifkind says 'unrealistic' for MPs to live on £67,000 salary
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
Aqsa Mahmood branded a 'disgrace' by her parents after claims she recruited three UK girls flying to Middle East
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia