PROMS BBC Symphony Orchestra / Oliver Knussen Royal Albert Hall, London / Radio 3

Elliott Carter as cheer leader? The 91-year-old composer looked on last Tuesday as his youthful indiscretion enjoyed a rare action replay. His 1944 Holiday Overture was a cheer all right, a last hurrah for the "new deal", the new aesthetic of Aaron Copland, whose "simple gifts" had so eloquently restored pride in America's musical heritage. But, more than that, it was a celebration. Paris, city of Nadia Boulanger, mentor to both composers, had been liberated and Carter was going to kick some ass. Holiday Overture is Walton's Portsmouth Point with rim-shots. Sassy and syncopated. There's a fugue - a mark of respect, perhaps, for Boulanger's quiet classicism - but the pay-off is pure Charles Ives with each of Carter's themes jostling for pride of place in the victory parade. It sounded like something the Dallas Symphony might have left behind, except that Oliver Knussen and the BBC Symphony played it with the kind of muscle and true grit that, dare I say it, was more American than the Americans.

This was a concert about "the special relationship" between them and us. A real hands-across-the-pond affair. Benjamin Britten's Suite on English Folk Tunes, "A Time There Was...", with its strange refractions of a post- Mahlerian sound world, is ultimately retrospective, taking us gently by the hand to that final resting place for the entire English folk tradition. A lament for lost innocence. Meanwhile, across the great divide, across the interval, Ruth Crawford Seeger, Charles Seeger, and Aaron Copland were rediscovering theirs, hitching America's past to its future and railroading the present with feisty arrangements of "songs my forebears taught me". The symmetry was poetic. A difference in attitudes: "lest we forget" versus "like hell we will".

But then, as if to confound our national prejudices altogether, the evening engineered an amazing face-off between two new works. Carter's "Allegro scorrevole", the third and final panel of his orchestral triptych Symphonia, is a winged messenger so refined, so European in its sensibilities that it's almost as if Boulanger has reclaimed Carter for posterity. Mark-Anthony Turnage's Dispelling the Fears, for two trumpets and orchestra, is, on the other hand, an essay so infused with the soul of American jazz blues that its lasting legacy will, for this listener at least, be as a siren song for Miles Davis.

Carter's piece confounds with its sheer airiness, its manual dexterity. The composer is an old man, the composition - to use the vernacular - has just gotten going. Berlioz's "Queen Mab" Scherzo was said to have been the model here, but Carter has taken the sound concept further still. Everything floats, hovers, darts. Woodwinds play at being hummingbirds or fireflies. Heavy brass is weightless and muted, sat watchfully on the columns of air from two rippling vibraphones. The only real moment of tangibility comes with a sudden climax, a fall to earth. But otherwise the spirit (and beyond the music's characteristic abstraction, it moves here with the deftness and agility of a teenager) is buoyant, waiting for that inevitable moment when - like the solo piccolo in the closing minutes of the piece - it will, without fuss or ceremony, simply vanish. Vapourise.

Turnage's piece begins with a pulse. A kind of magnified heartbeat. And almost before you've registered them, two trumpets - the amazing Hakan Hardenberger and John Wallace - are one, spinning off into futuristic baroque-like riffs while cawing soprano saxes - roosting high above the woodwind chorus - imitate and mock. The orchestral colours - and in particular the shadowing of bass and tenor tubas - are astonishingly arresting, and beautiful. The legacy of Britten does indeed live in Turnage. But the heart of this terrific piece - one of Turnage's very finest - is the eternal blues which evolves and re-evolves in a kind of perpetual slow motion. The full-stop at the end of the piece is a sham. Rather like Copland's Billy the Kid at end of the concert. Heroes come and go, but the music goes on.

Edward Seckerson

Sport
Romelu Lukaku
sportChelsea striker sends second teasing tweet of the day
News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Sport
Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura sprays a line after calling for a free kick for Brazil
sport
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

    £600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

    Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

    £65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

    Tax Solicitor

    £40000 - £70000 per annum + EXCELLENT: Austen Lloyd: Tax Solicitor An excel...

    Microsoft Dynamics AX Support Analyst

    £45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: This is an exce...

    Day In a Page

    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
    Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
    Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

    Feather dust-up

    A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
    5 best waterproof cameras

    Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

    Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
    Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

    Louis van Gaal interview

    Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
    Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

    Will Gore: Outside Edge

    The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz