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.
Is the comedy album making a comeback?comedy
Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beachart
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Is Gideon Levy the most hated man in Israel or just the most heroic?
- 2 Students offered grants if they tweet pro-Israeli propaganda
- 3 Exclusive: Cameron’s Big Society in tatters as charity watchdog launches investigation into claims of Government funding misuse
- 4 Satellite full of sexually experimental geckos adrift in space, Russia loses control of mission
- 5 Israel has discovered that it's no longer so easy to get away with murder in the age of social media
Fifty Shades of Grey trailer: First look at Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey
Orange Is The New Black season 3: Pornstache isn't coming back
Best movies on Netflix UK and US: 32 films that will end your endless scrolling
Fifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage from US parenting groups
Guardians Of The Galaxy, review: Marvel-lite movie feels half-hearted
The 'scroungers’ fight back: The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Arizona execution lasts two hours as killer Joseph Wood left 'snorting and gasping' for air
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Ukrainian military jet was flying close to passenger plane before it was shot down, says Russian officer
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Massive rise in sale of British arms to Russia
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: victims’ bodies bundled in black bags and loaded onto trains
A day in the life of Vladimir Putin: The dictator in his labyrinth