After two decades of annual Composer Weekends, the BBC is going to replace them with more frequent Composer Days. Whether that's a move to inclusiveness or an admission that some have looked exposed by the extended scrutiny, the old format went out on a high. Judith Weir's output has the range of genres and scales, and both extremes were celebrated with a cornucopia of ensemble and solo pieces all over the foyers, building up to a premiere in the main hall.
If there is an unanswered question, it's about range of expression. Enjoyed for its wry humour, admired for its restraint, the music can approach big matters so obliquely that it seems to avoid committing itself. The cycle for Jessye Norman, woman.life.song, revived by Guildhall School forces, says more about being mothered than mothering. Is it shunning the obvious, or shy about the strenuous?
CONCRETE, the new piece, sets a spread of familiar and obscure texts about London for chorus and orchestra. Typically it has nothing on the surface about issues of contemporary city life, centring instead on physical destruction and renewal, with a scherzo-like interlude harking back to the once-popular "Cries of London" that evoked street life and trade. And yet it will join the small list of distinguished works about the capital: Elgar, Vaughan Williams and little since.
It hits on something more universal about the London character, rather as a couple of Haydn's London symphonies do: the will to endure, rebuild and, in hope, improve. The music often moves in block-like chords, but keeps its fleetness of foot through to a perky finale that hints at steely determination. Grandeur? That was left to the imagination as the BBC Symphony Chorus kept its poise.
An earlier, more intimate choral piece, Moon and Star, seemed closer to the Weir essence as it matched high, sparkling textures – beautifully balanced with the BBC Singers enclosed by the orchestra – to the subtly plain-spoken poetry of Emily Dickinson. Yet it was the introductory event, with its epigrammatic beauties, that hit the mark: the bliss of making music for its own sake can take you wherever you want to go. Michael Finnissy, whose Red Earth shared the orchestral concert like a suppressed scream, is Weir's expressive opposite but would surely be at one with her on that.Reuse content