Kirill Gerstein and Thomas Adès, Royal Festival Hall review: A bold, bright soundworld where piano and orchestra vigorously fight it out

All three movements are so intricately packed with incident that one is tempted to simply let oneself be carried along, writes Michael Church

Michael Church
Saturday 26 October 2019 18:40
Comments
Gerstein’s genial domination from the keyboard ensures that the piano asserts its crystalline will throughout
Gerstein’s genial domination from the keyboard ensures that the piano asserts its crystalline will throughout

New piano concertos are thin on the ground these days, and when a composer as parsimonious with his produce as Thomas Adès is releases one into orbit, it’s quite an event.

The way he himself describes it in a programme note makes it sound quite conventional: the interweaving of themes, the mutual interrogations between piano and orchestra, the final resolution it all sounds like standard classical devices being methodically deployed.

It was written for the Russian-American pianist Kirill Gerstein to premiere in America, and here he is presenting its UK premiere with the London Philharmonic under Adès’s direction, and everybody who is anybody in the world of avant garde music is in attendance.

And from the first bar it dispels any thought of neat conventionality as we are catapulted into a bold, bright soundworld where piano and orchestra vigorously fight it out; the tonality is wildly skewed, with the instrumental voices contending exuberantly; all three movements are so intricately packed with incident that one is tempted to simply let oneself be carried along.

There are moments of jazz – the brass blowing raspberries, the high woodwind doing a shimmy – and if the second movement has clear echoes of Bartok’s night music, the spirit hovering over the third is that of Sergei Rachmaninoff.

I’ve never seen Adès conduct in such livewire mode, but Gerstein’s genial domination from the keyboard ensures that the piano asserts its crystalline will throughout. The ecstatic response of the audience suggests that – provided pianists can be found with Gerstein’s authority – this vividly original work may have a prosperous life to come.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in