Conductor Brian Current and the Glenn Gould School New Music Ensemble presented three pieces, one of them a world premiere, today in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. The performances were prefaced by a really rather informative and informal chat by Brian on “how to listen to contemporary music”. It was engaging and totally non-patronising.
And so to the music. The first piece was Marco Stroppo’s 1989 piece élet… fogytigian, dialogo immaginario fra un poeta e un filosofo; a piece evoking an imaginary dialogue between a Hungarian poet and an Italian philosopher who never actually met, or so the composer told us. The first movement was bright and aggressive, very much in the European manner of the 70s and 80s with the second even more explosive before, in the third movement, settling into an exploration of string colour. The composer explained this as being like three walls of a house, painted different colours, slowly rotating. It’s the kind of piece one needs to hear more than once.
Then we got Brian Harman’s new work Outlands. This is a piece influenced by music as ritual in general and Japanese gagaku in particular. Shimmering sounds, gongs and drums predominate. It reminded me rather of some of Birtwistle’s music with the way it built up tension in a kind of suspended time and then released it in violent percussive bursts. Very interesting. Posted here so that 200 years from now when historians look to see how audiences first reacted to the piece they will know!
Finally we got what Brian Current described as the masterpiece of the program, Claude Vivier’s 1980 work Lonely Child. It’s scored for solo soprano and a fairly large chamber orchestra; certainly more players than I’ve seen in this space before. It’s structured around the soprano singing a text that is mostly just sounds with the odd recognisable french word in there. The orchestra creates a sort of halo of “light” around the voice creating an effect quite like some of John Tavener’s pieces setting orthodox liturgy. It’s really visceral stuff and rather wonderful. The soprano part was sung by Jennifer Taverner (adding yet another potential Tavener/Taverner confusion). She was really good. I particularly liked the colours of her chest voice but she also navigated the high passages seemingly effortlessly.
All three pieces were played extremely skilfully by the young musicians of the GGS. It was great to see them working with an advocate of contemporary music as persuasive as Brian Current.