The Philharmonia Orchestra's Composers' Academy is a scheme that gives three emerging composers the chance to work with composer Unsuk Chin, Artistic Director of our Music of Today series, alongside members of the Orchestra. The project culminates with a new composition by each composer, performed in concert as part of the Music of Today series. This year's recipients, Gareth Moorcraft, Lisa Illean and Donghoon Shin, will have their works performed tonight at 6pm.
In this blog post, each of the composers introduce their work.
Reflections (After Gibbons)
My new work Reflections takes inspiration from the Fantasias for viol consort by English composer Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625). I think of the piece as a kind of musical conversation which develops and distorts the sounds and materials of the originals, exploring how they can be re-imagined in new musical contexts. Fragments from Gibbons's works form the basis for five short movements, each of which focuses on a single musical element (lines, harmonic progressions, imitative devices and contrapuntal textures). The movements might be considered as miniature portraits or studies, each posing a new question and exploring Gibbons's materials from different perspectives.
Landscape and natural elements seem to deeply influence my mind, my memory and the way I put sounds together. My piecetakes its title from Southern hemisphere summers, where elements often seem to share two states at once: where air is swollen with water, and where afternoons give way to steaming rain one sweats in. The sensation of this lingered with me as I composed. It coloured re-imaginings of earlier sketches of music written for the Philharmonia Orchestra (so much so, that I eventually titled the work Januaries).
The Hunter's Funeral for Ensemble
For a long time, I have been fascinated by different types of funeral march music in diverse cultures. What intrigues me is the irony in this specific genre - melody and harmony in minor keys express sorrow and remorse while a rhythmic feature repeats itself underneath, evoking slow dance music. For instance, in the third movement of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, what starts as funeral music turns into a sarcastic dance. According to the Mahler scholar Constantin Floros, Moritz von Schwind’s woodcut ‘The Hunter’s Funeral’ (1890) was possibly the inspiration for this music.
The Hunter’s Funeral is my response to the same woodcut. It depicts animals carrying the coffin of a hunter in a solemn march. This paradoxical scene gave me a strong inspiration for the piece. It starts with a very simple and rather mundane pitch cell, C-D-E-F. The harmony structure and the melodies in the piece are all derived from the simple pitch cell, which gradually changes colour from bright to dark.
The music is divided into two movements with no gap in between. The first movement has a fast and rhythmic feature like dance music- groovy, sharp and energetic. The tempo of the dance music gets slower and a funeral march emerges in the second movement. Over the repetitive rhythm of the strings, the melodies in the woodwinds and the brass dominate the movement. In the final section, the melodies become heterophonic and eventually obsolete.
The Philharmonia Orchestra's Composers' Academy is a scheme that gives three emerging composers the chance to work with composer Unsuk Chin, Artistic Director of our Music of Today series, alongside members of the Orchestra. The project culminates with a new composition by each composer, performed in concert as part of the Music of Today series. This year's recipients, Donghoon Shin, Lisa Illean and Gareth Moorcraft, will have their works performed on 21 June.
In this blog post, Lisa Illean gives an insight into the process and inspiration behind her work, Januaries.
I returned to my desk to finish work on Januaries in April, after two weeks in Australia with family in New South Wales and Queensland. I had at this time many, many sheets of manuscript and some recordings: experiments with microtonal harmony and sketches made throughout the past months for our lessons with Unsuk Chin. There were many versions, unwinding across the page in different speeds and densities.
What I inevitably brought to the desk in this final phase were lingering sensations and memories that were awakened while I was travelling. Like the materials on my desk, these memories always settle in pieces and with some distortions, assembled in a logic closer to that of dreams than waking life. But underpinning these was a sensation—simple and precise—and it was this that I worked towards in the final version of the piece.
In a world that seems to prioritise the visual, I’m very interested in the relationship between sounds and sensations (and how much of one’s interior life can be communicated through sound). This is a question that I’ve taken into the many rehearsals, concerts and workshops that I’ve been privileged to attend throughout the Philharmonia Orchestra Composer’s Academy. I’m very grateful for these opportunities to sharpen my imagination and practical understanding of instruments (and disrupt the pull of solitude that accompanies composing).
In considering sensations that elude the eye, I am reminded of a description by Simon Leys (sent to me recently by a friend):
“Australian scenery is of inexpressible beauty, it is true, but it is also utterly inconspicuous and nonspectacular—and impossible to capture with a camera: this worndown immensity, with its halferased profiles constitutes a magic space entirely devoid of focal point; like ghosts, mirages, and supernatural visions, it escapes the photographer, it does not leave any impression on film.”
Januaries will be premiered alongside two other brand new works by Gareth Moorcraft and Donghoon Shin at 6pm on Wednesday 21 June in a free performance. For more information, click here https://www.philharmonia.co.uk/concerts/1596
On 8 June, pianist Mei Yi Foo presents a specially selected set of solo miniatures alongside Abrahamsen's Piano Concerto, as part of our free Music of Today series. Tim Rutherford-Johnson introduces the programme.
Unlike the visual arts, where the study is usually an exercise on the way to a later, finished work, in music it has become a genre in its own right. Yet the set of ten piano studies Hans Abrahamsen wrote in 1984 have played a more preparatory role than usual. Among the last extended works he completed before a long hiatus through the 1990s, they helped him write two works – Four Pieces for Orchestra (2004) and tonight’s Piano Concerto – before the breakthrough success of Schnee (2008). The concerto’s four movements draw on three studies: the Debussian ‘Arabeske’ is revved up a gear for the work’s glittering opening, the clangorous ‘Boogie-Woogie’ forms the basis of the turbulent third movement, and ‘Rivière d’oubli’ provides a tranquil ending.
If the Piano Concerto shows a composer of immense skill and invention, it also shows him at a transitional moment. Within just seconds of that stunning beginning, with the piano’s shimmering arpeggios enlivening a rich ensemble bloom, Abrahamsen yanks the emergency cord, and the movement abruptly grinds to a halt. The second movement – the only one not based on one of the 1984 studies – begins with the piano attempting to reconstruct something from that false start. The music builds once more, step by step, only to collapse again under its own weight. The third movement seems to find a happier home, although it continues to wrestle with dark interjections. Only in the fourth do we reach a compromise, with the piano withdrawing enough to retain control. There are hints of what might have been, but then the piece is finished, a quizzical last interval from the trumpets underlining its enigmatic quality.
Musical studies are also often exercises for the performer rather than the composer, and for players of different ages or abilities. Music for children and childlike music makes up the other half of Mei Yi Foo’s programme. Of these, György Kurtág’s two Játékok (‘Games’ or ‘Playthings’) are closest to educational studies: Kurtág began his eight volumes of Játékok in 1976 at the request of a piano teacher, and the early pieces (both of those this evening are from Volume I) bear some resemblance to Bartók’s Mikrokosmos in their construction of a progressive (if unorthodox) piano method. Kurtág was also influenced by Rudolf Steiner, however, and aspects of Steiner’s pedagogy are clear in the priority Játékok gives to childlike fantasy and physicality.
Elements of both are present in Helmut Lachenmann’s Ein Kinderspiel and Sofia Gubaidulina’s Musical Toys. The latter’s picture-book quality intends to evoke the sorts of pieces Gubaidulina would have liked to play as a child. Lachenmann’s pieces were written for his own children, but he insists that they are ‘Not educational music and not necessarily for children’. ‘Hänschen klein’ transmutes the popular German rhyme into a descent across the piano’s 88 keys and a study in sonority, while ‘Falscher Chinese (ein wenig besoffen)’ (‘Fake Chinese (a little drunk)’) smothers a ‘Chopsticks’-like left hand with parallel triads in the right.
Other pieces engage with childhood in different ways. George Benjamin’s ‘Hammers’ comes from a set of ten short pieces, Piano Figures, that are imagistic, Kurtág-like miniatures. The third of Rzewski’s Ludes harnesses the same bebop roots as Gubaidulina’s bass-playing bear; the first is a pot-pourri of half-remembered tunes and playground rhymes. Chris Harman reimagines piano cycles by Robert Schumann: After Schumann II, No. 2 strips ‘Wichtige Begebenheit’ (‘An Important Event’) from Kinderszenen back to its raw rhythms. Peter Eötvös’s Dances of the Brush-Footed Butterfly evokes dancing wings seen in the garden. Finally, with Unsuk Chin’s scattershot ‘Toccata’ we return to the true compositional étude.
For solo piano:
György KurtágJátékok – ‘Perpetuum Mobile’
Chris P HarmanAfter Schumann II, No. 2
George BenjaminPiano Figures – ‘Hammers’
Peter EötvösDances of the Brush-Footed Butterfly
Helmut LachenmannEin Kinderspiel – ‘Hänschen klein’ & ‘Falscher Chinese (ein wenig besoffen)’
Frederic RzewskiLudes I & Ludes III
Sofia GubaidulinaMusical Toys – ‘A Bear Playing the Double Bass and the Black Woman’
The Martin Musical Scholarship Fund, administered by the Philharmonia Orchestra, has given invaluable support to countless young musicians since 1968. Ahead of the Young Artist Showcase Recital given by recipients of the Philharmonia MMSF String Fellowships on 1 June, cellist Yaroslava Trofymchuk describes her time spent as a member of the programme.
Experience is one of the fundamental ways we learn. One can study the theory of how things work but nothing compares to the knowledge gained through a practical approach. This principle holds true for music just as much as in other aspects of life.
I feel incredibly privileged to have this opportunity to work with such an orchestra as the Philharmonia as part of my Fellowship scheme. There are so many things that you don’t learn at college and that are not written in books, things that you pick up just from being part of the ensemble - each orchestra has a different ‘set of rules’: a certain way of playing, of moving, even turning pages in a right way. As a result, with some groups you can feel restricted, worrying about following the rules rather than being free to enjoy the music.
What I find incredible about the Philharmonia Orchestra is that I don’t feel like this. It somehow works so naturally and all the energies from the different musicians flourish organically into a unique music making experience. As I am not currently a full-time member of an orchestra, it’s wonderful that I’m able to feel so comfortable here, playing side-by-side with such excellent musicians – I’m immensely grateful for all their support and for making me feel so welcome!
While the experience of being part of such an organisation is priceless, the Fellowship programme, in fact, goes even further. All of the Fellows have wonderful mentors from the orchestra and receive regular coaching sessions with them, with an emphasis on orchestral repertoire. This has been one of the most fascinating aspects of the programme, as it has given us the chance to gain in-depth knowledge on orchestral music, beyond the more soloist-oriented focus of typical instrumental teaching. We even had the chance to perform in a mock audition! It gave us both insights into the professional audition process at an orchestra, as well as giving us the chance to play through our audition pieces with immediate feedback from the panel.
As part of our Fellowship we perform in some fantastic recital opportunities as well as in chamber concerts. I’m really looking forward to our next performance, at the Royal Festival Hall, where we’ll be playing works by Kodály and Janáček - I’d like to give an introduction to one of my favourite works in the programme, 9 Epigrams by Zoltán Kodály. Originally written in 1954 for two voices (soprano and alto) and a piano, the composer wrote in the score that it could be performed on string or wind instruments, transposed an octave down or up and even performed in a different order, giving us lots of freedom to create our own interpretation of the music.
We transcribed seven of the Epigrams for cello and double bass with a piano and slightly changed the order, placing the lively fifth movement as an interlude between other movements.
Hazaszeretet (Love of my country) Altató (Lullaby) Tavasz (Spring) Gyöngyvirág (Lily of the Valley) Felho (Cloud) Tavasz (Spring) Bánat (Sadness) Nyár elé (Approaching Summer) Tavasz (Spring)
The rather unusual register of the lower instruments brings something very earthy and human into the sound. Each movement is about 1 minute long and has its name-character. In a very impressionistic manner the music draws pictures from someone’s very simple life in the countryside, with its dreams, love and sadness.
Following two concerts in Taichung, Taiwan, the Orchestra and Esa-Pekka Salonen head on to Japan. First violinist Adrián Varela describes his experience of Taiwanese hospitality.
Taichung proved the most extraordinary official and unofficial hosts. We are sad to leave.
When I was growing up, my father told me stories of how as a young man in remote Uruguay he would go to symphonic concerts of visiting orchestras, and at the end of the show, hang around the artist entrance trying to catch some of the artists for a chat. Often he'd manage to coax a bunch to the nearest bar, restaurant, or even his place. In our music library at home we had Philharmonia pocket scores of every major symphonic work, signed by otherwise anonymous musicians from foreign orchestras, their names placed next to their favourite passage of the work they'd played that night.
Last night some Taiwanese concert-goers had stopped Fabrizio Falasca and myself at the door and made a similar invitation, which we deferred to today, our final Taiwan concert in Taichung. Hours later we emerged from one of the most extraordinary, beautiful nights I've ever experienced on tour, one that fulfilled music's promise of connecting peoples across language, cultural and national barriers.
While the rest of the orchestra was treated to the warmest reception (following two days of mid-afternoon full buffet for the entire orchestra), Fabrizio and I learnt: that one of the ladies had hardly slept the night before from the excitement of our first concert; that another offered her house as a holiday spot; another had seen many of the films to which we have recorded soundtracks.
We talked through the night about music, family, Budhism, borders, politics, life. The evening left us with a fistful of new friends, and three giant canisters, each, of delicously scented local varieties of tea to bring home, courtesy of our unofficial hosts ATC ('Alcohol, Tea, Coffee'). In return, I felt privileged to give away copies of my Tango/jazz CD to them, music which explicitly addresses the coming together of cultures.
Back in my hotel room well after midnight and not many hours from check-out for the journey to Japan, I checked the date and saw, fittingly, that today would have been my late father's birthday.
Both on and off duty, Taichung and the Taiwanese have proved to be of the most extraordinary, generous, sensitive hosts we have experienced in quite a long time.
On Thursday 1 June 2017, British viola player Lawrence Power makes his second appearance with the Philharmonia Orchestra this season. Digital Producer Marina Vidor explains why his performances with the Orchestra are a little bit different.
We meet violist Lawrence Power for a coffee well in advance of filming with him. He’s relaxed and keen to talk about the solo viola pieces he has programmed ahead of the two concerti he is performing with the Philharmonia this season: Julian Anderson’s Prayer ahead of the Walton Viola Concerto (12 February 2017) and Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Pentatonic Étude ahead of the Bartók Viola Concerto (1 June 2017). He is committed to breaking out of current classical music programming trends and trying new approaches – in this case solo pieces that introduce a concerto.
"I have always been fascinated by the cycle we find ourselves in with programming. The whole ‘overture-concerto-symphony’ is very much a sort of fashion we’re in at the moment. Maybe we’re slightly coming out of it now – certainly with the Philharmonia, who are doing some really innovative things. You look at some of the early 20th century programmes, late 19th century programmes, of [Joseph] Joachim, for example… It’s just wonderful what they put together, seemingly incongruous things."
We agree to make a music video featuring Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Pentatonic Étude, written for Power, as a preview for audiences coming to our June concert. Get a sneak peek here – we release a full video performance of the piece on Friday 19 May on our YouTube Channel.
Several months later we film Lawrence performing the Pentatonic Étude in his agent’s gallery space in Wandsworth, southwest London. MaestroArts has a beautiful art gallery with a good acoustic and we are blessed with a sunny winter morning. The gallery’s walls feature botanically inspired prints by the artist Jan Hendrix. The crew is excited because we’re making the first recording of this brilliant solo piece composed by Salonen in 2008, full of dazzling technique and folk-inspired warmth. Power’s Antonio Brenzi viola, made in Bologna circa 1590, fills the room with sound.
Because the viola has fewer solo works written for it than, say, the violin or cello, Power is committed to increasing the size and scope of its repertoire. In this way he continues the rich tradition within Britain of great violists inspiring composers. Lionel Tertis (1876-1975) and William Primrose (1904-1982) were two of the greatest violists who have ever lived and throughout their careers encouraged composers to write for their instrument, resulting in a number of important new pieces for the viola including compositions by Arnold Bax, Frank Bridge, Benjamin Britten, Gustav Holst, Benjamin Dale, York Bowen, Ralph Vaughan Williams and William Walton. Béla Bartók started his Viola Concerto for Primrose, but left it unfinished at his death in 1945; it was finished by violist Tibor Serly, who had been Bartók’s apprentice. Lawrence Power has premiered works written for him by Mark-Anthony Turnage, Julian Anderson, Huw Watkins, Alexander Goehr, Olga Neuwirth and of course, Esa-Pekka Salonen.
"The opportunity to work with composers is an honour, really. It’s the greatest thing. To start from scratch and to present something without any influence, without any history… It keeps you so fresh as a musician, just to be aware of all of those processes at their very infancy. When you go back to classical repertoire and having worked with composers a lot, I take back so much freedom. You’re not paralysed by history, by style, or by what people will think of the way you play Beethoven or Bach."
Salonen’s Penatonic Étude was written to lead straight into the Bartók Viola Concerto and makes reference to the concerto’s opening pentatonic (five-note) scale. Tickets for Lawrence Power performing with the Philharmonia on 1 June are still available. Gustavo Gimeno conducts, with Mahler Symphony No. 1 in the second half. Click here to book: https://www.philharmonia.co.uk/concerts/1622
Watch the full interview with Lawrence Power here:
The next concert in our Inspirations series with Esa-Pekka Salonen and pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, on Thursday 4 May, juxtaposes the music of Debussy and Boulez in an original way. Philharmonia Concerts Manager Natasha Riordan-Eva explains what will happen on the night.
When seen in isolation, colours can look beautiful, but flat. But when we see colours alongside each other, we see the connections between the different shades, the subtleties of how the addition of tones can create warmth or a sense of cold, light and darkness, and how colours complement each other. At our concert on Thursday 4 May, we delve into the sound worlds of Claude Debussy and Pierre Boulez and the beauty of this concert is the order in which the pieces will be performed.
Esa-Pekka Salonen has curated the order of the first half in which the works of Debussy and Boulez will interrupt each other; each piece will lead into the next without a pause and, like seeing colours together, the soundscapes of Boulez and Debussy will complement and inform each other:
BOULEZ Notations IV, for solo piano (1’)
BOULEZ Notations IV, for orchestra (2’)
DEBUSSY 'Gigues', from Images (7’)
BOULEZ Notations VII, for solo piano (1’)
BOULEZ Notations VII, for orchestra (6’)
DEBUSSY 'Rondes de Printemps', from Images (8’)
BOULEZ Notations II, for solo piano (20")
BOULEZ Notations II, for orchestra (2’)
DEBUSSY Fantasie for Piano and Orchestra (26’)
DEBUSSY La mer (24’)
The solo piano miniatures will be performed by Pierre-Laurent Aimard who is no stranger to this concept. In 2010 Aimard presented Collage Montage at the Aldeburgh Festival, a concert in which Pierre-Laurent chose various solo piano works and crafted them together to create a single line of music. Works bled into each other with the fluidity of watercolour paint and pieces you wouldn’t think had anything in common effectively became extensions of each other.
That concert has been at the back of my mind as I’ve been listening to the Boulez and Debussy works we will perform on Thursday. I’ve started to hear things in the music that I hadn’t heard before. Now I hear part of Debussy Gigues in the Seventh of Boulez’s solos piano Notations – is this really my mind hearing something new or am I actively seeking similarities? Do the piano Notations sound less harsh if they are heard in the context of the Debussy works? Does the Debussy sound more contemporary alongside the Boulez? Listen to our Spotify playlist and see what you think:
The beauty of presenting music in this order is that as the listener your ears and intuition are on high alert as you are transported to different sound-worlds. Whether you know these works well or whether you are a first-time listener, this concert will allow you to experience these brilliant compositions in an order that has been curated by Esa-Pekka Salonen, whoknows these scores inside-out and understands how they can be crafted together to create a one-off experience.
To enhance the atmosphere, lighting designer Colin Grenfell has created tailored lighting for the first half. We want the concert experience to enhance the experience, and the different moods of the solo piano and orchestral music will be reflected in the lighting. Surtitles will indicate when each new piece begins.
The opening of the second half is a step backwards in time from the Boulez. Debussy started working on the Fantaisie for Piano and Orchestra in 1889 when he was 27, and whilst there are hints of his later harmonic language the mystery of Images is not yet there. Fast forward a few years and we reach La mer: this is Debussy at the height of his creative powers. Sun shimmers on the water, waves crash and the wind tears through the sea. Salonen has said that ‘no matter how many times you have looked at every note [of La Mer]…it only sounds new.'
Debussy broke ground with this piece, and surprised his contemporaries who had thought they knew Debussy’s ‘style’. A fitting end to a concert devoted to two artists who took music to the edge, conducted and performed by two musicians who in turn continue to push boundaries.
Image: Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts Stravinsky's Les noces, featuring Pierre-Laurent Aimard (right-hand side of the image) on 26 May 2015, as part of the Philharmonia's Stravinsky: Myths & Rituals series.
The Philharmonia Orchestra has appointed two internationally acclaimed conductors, Jakub Hrůša and Santtu-Matias Rouvali, as Principal Guest Conductors.
In this film, meet Czech conductor Jakub Hrůša, a regular guest conductor with the Philharmonia since 2011 and now part of our new-look artistic team.
Hrůša and Rouvali take up their roles at the beginning of the 2017/18 Season. Both artists will conduct several concerts a year – and contribute to the programming for the Orchestra’s major series – in the Philharmonia’s London Season at Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall, as well as in concerts across the Orchestra’s UK programme and internationally.
Hrůša (35), hailed in a recent Arts Desk profile as “a leading light among the younger generation of conductors”, has a wide-ranging repertoire, with the music of Central Europe a particular focus. He describes the Philharmonia as "one of my absolutely favourite musical ensembles worldwide. Every single concert we have experienced together since my debut in 2011 has been special in all aspects – the programming, the atmosphere and, most of all, the quality of the music-making."
He Continues: "I feel truly honoured that I can become a member of this remarkable artistic institution under the inspiring leadership of Esa-Pekka Salonen. To become Principal Guest Conductor and to be in regular touch with the Philharmonia Orchestra’s musicians, and the whole team around, as well as with its public, is definitely one of my dreams come true.”
Jakub Hrůša next conducts the Philharmonia on 6 and 7 April, in London and Basingstoke. See details of all his concerts with the Philharmonia here.
The Philharmonia Orchestra has appointed two internationally acclaimed conductors, Santtu-Matias Rouvali and Jakub Hrůša, as Principal Guest Conductors.
In this film we introduce Finnish conductor Santtu-Matias Rouvali, whom we met during a trip to Finland in February, and who gives us his thoughts on joining the Philharmonia as Principal Guest Conductor.
Hrůša and Rouvali take up their roles at the beginning of the 2017/18 Season. Both artists will conduct several concerts a year – and contribute to the programming for the Orchestra’s major series – in the Philharmonia’s London Season at Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall, as well as in concerts across the Orchestra’s UK programme and internationally.
Santtu-Matias Rouvali (31), is one of the most exciting young conductors working in the world today. He has conducted the Philharmonia in concerts across its UK residencies. In his debut with the Philharmonia at Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall in January 2016, Rouvali conducted the Second Symphony of his Finnish compatriot, Sibelius, alongside Rolf Martinsson’s Trumpet Concerto, with Håkan Hardenberger as soloist. “He is the real thing: music unmistakably flows from him,” wrote The Sunday Times.
Rouvali describes the Philharmonia as "a perfectly-shaped orchestra. Its players can pick up any music, are always prepared and technically very skilful. There are so few orchestras around the world who can get close to that. Now I can conduct them: what more could I wish for?"
He is also looking forward to being a part of the Philharmonia's new-look artistic team: "To be in London with Esa-Pekka Salonen as Principal Conductor is something I can’t wait for. He is a very rich-minded artist, with lots of ideas, and I want to be a part of that. I am looking forward to many future adventures with the Philharmonia.”
Rouvali conducts the Philharmonia in a sold-out Sunday matinee on Sunday 23 April 2017. Following a pre-concert talk in which he speaks to the Philharmonia’s Principal Trumpet, Alistair Mackie, Rouvali conducts The Planets and Elgar’s Cello Concerto, with Alban Gerhardt the soloist. Looking ahead to 2017/18, Rouvali conducts Ravel’s arrangement of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition on 5 October 2017.
1 Mar 2017
New release: Nielsen - Flute & Clarinet Concerto; Aladdin Suite
In our new release, under Paavo Järvi the Orchestra performs three characteristically fiery works by the Danish composer Carl Nielsen: the Flute and Clarinet Concertos, and the Aladdin Suite.
The concerto solo parts are performed by two of our principal players - flautist Samuel Colesand clarinettist Mark van de Wiel - and recorded live at London's Royal Festival Hall.
Following the success of Nielsen's Wind Quintet in 1922, Nielsen set out to write a concerto for each member and instrument of the quintet, starting with the flute. Two years later, Nielsen started work on the second of his concertos for wind, this time letting the clarinet take centre stage. The Clarinet Concerto was sure to ruffle feathers: following an early private run-through it was described as 'music from another planet'.
Have a listen, and let us know what you think:
1 Mar 2017
The Virtual Orchestra: Esa-Pekka Salonen on conducting
As we finish this enjoyable project, we speak to Esa-Pekka Salonen about the art of conducting ahead of the culminating concert of The Virtual Orchestra on 1 October 2017.
Have you ever thought about conducting but been too intimidated to follow through on the idea? Watch this video for Esa-Pekka Salonen's tips on what it takes to become a great conductor and why it's such a brilliant role to have in the Orchestra.
This video is part of The Virtual Orchestra celebration of classical music at Southbank Centre.
Bangalore, India, December 2015. A blog by Digital Producer, Marina Vidor.
Things are not going according to plan. Catastrophic flooding in Chennai forced the change of our destination at the last minute to Bangalore. We’re in a beautiful hotel that has also suffered minor flooding and the conference room they promised us isn’t available. All 10 of us have to pile into a hotel room.
They have moved the king-sized bed out. I’m not sure how they did this, but it’s done. I have just about managed to set up two cameras and some mics without tripping over anyone. We have all left our shoes, bags and other belongings in the small corridor. The elegant Jayanthi Kumaresh, unfazed, has settled comfortably on the floor and is tuning her elaborate stringed instrument, the saraswati veena, while her pupil sits beside her attentively, ready in case she needs anything. Jayanthi is dressed in a stunning sari, the colour of plum, garnet and strawberry, alternating with gold thread that shines. We all group around her in a semi-circle, and so another workshop begins. The crowded, unusual surroundings melt away as the music starts. Everyone plays for each other and Jayanthi teaches the group a composition she and her husband, the violinist, Kumaresh, have written. The tune gets passed around and improvised upon, the musicians becoming more and more fluid on each turn.
I’m here to document (as an equipment-laden fly-on-the-wall) a unique trip for our musicians, a crash course in Indian classical music. Over eight days, Philharmonia members Samantha (Sam) Reagan (2nd Violin) and Samuel (Sam) Burstin (Viola), along with cellist Matthew Barley and composer Fraser Trainer will take part in a series of workshops with a dozen of India’s great classical musicians. We’ll meet flutists, vocalists, percussionists and players of a vast array of stringed instruments.
Conversation ebbs and flows naturally as the session with Jayanthi wears on. Matthew asks her if she ever gets tired when playing long pieces often at a very quick tempo. Tentatively she replies, “Yes… I do,” and she laughs. “That’s the spiritual angle,” she continues, and describes that when she is playing she is actually breathing at a different, slower rate, almost as if she were meditating. It’s a technique she learned so young that she doesn’t remember when it became second nature. “You ask me if my hand hurts. In that statement we made clear that my hand is not me. So my hand may get hurt, but I shouldn’t. Now what is ‘I?’ It’s not my hand, it’s not my body. My mind tells me my hand hurts, it’s distracting me away from the music. But I shouldn’t get distracted, so my mind is not me. And my body is not me. So then what is ‘me?’ That is the supreme consciousness, which is the breath. And that is why we breath slowly when performing, so that supreme consciousness makes sure that it’s all fine.” Discussions like this continue into the night over dinner.
The Philharmonia has partnered with Darbar, the UK’s premier festival of Indian classical music, to make this extraordinary project happen, with funding from Arts Council England and the British Council as part of their Reimagine India fund. Darbar’s director, Sandeep Virdee, is leading our tour of the finest Indian classical music can offer, with stops in Bangalore and Mumbai. Our musicians will learn about the Carnatic tradition from South India and the Hindustani from North India and learn how pieces are constructed and improvised. It will be a lot to absorb and probably quite overwhelming, but this is also a huge privilege and everyone knows it.
The big struggle is of course improvisation. Western classical musicians are not usually encouraged to improvise during their studies, which is why many find it difficult and even terrifying to try it. Sam and Sam have come on board because they want to challenge themselves to work outside their normal comfort zone of the daily orchestra rehearsal and concert. They’re highly experienced musicians, but neither has pushed themselves this way before, especially not in front of a steady stream of virtuosic musicians from a tradition where improvisation is central. Matthew Barley, a cello soloist who has worked quite a bit in India and well beyond the normal remit of Western classical music, will help our musicians navigate this new path, sharing his knowledge and tips and acting as a bridge between the two traditions. Composer Fraser Trainer, who has worked closely with Matthew for years, will gather material on the trip, eventually putting together a piece that will be premiered at the 2016 Darbar Festival in September at Southbank Centre. They are hoping to create a new style of music that doesn’t compromise the strengths of Western and Indian classical music. It’s a goal to move away from jam sessions and fusion styles and really push to create something fresh and meaningful. I admire this courage and I feel privileged to be on this journey with such an ambitious team.
The big struggle is of course improvisation. Western classical musicians are not usually encouraged to improvise during their studies, which is why many find it difficult and even terrifying to try it.
30 August 2016
As we approach the Darbar Festival, which our Universal Notes ensemble will open in a few weeks, I relish looking back to our trip to India. The colours, traffic, noise, food, music and amazing musicians we met stand out vividly in my memory and are being brought back to life as I trawl through hours of footage. (Keep your eyes peeled for a short film on our trip coming out in early September.) As I watch, it’s clear that everyone understands each other on a deep, musical level, but there is also a real appreciation among the group that they come from distinct musical worlds and traditions. I see furrowed brows as our musicians struggle to remember a melody they just learned, and laughs of surprise and relief when a group improvisation comes together beautifully as people start finding their musical voice. In one session sitar player Niladri Kumar nods in approval as Sam Burstin plays a Bach extract on his viola, deeply moved. Everyone gets it, and they are working hard to meet somewhere in the middle, to find those universal notes.
For the final performance we have added two more Philharmonia musicians: Michael Fuller, bass, and Jennifer McLaren, clarinet. Coming over from India for more workshops ahead of the concert are three musicians we met back in December: Rakesh Chaurasia, bansuri, Niladri Kumar, sitar, and Jayanthi Kumaresh, saraswati veena. Workshops in London ahead of the concert will bring this new piece together. We’re all excited to see how the final piece will emerge and hope you will join us on 16 September at Darbar.
Marina Vidor is the Digital Producer for the Philharmonia Orchestra. She looks after the Orchestra’s prolific film programme. Watch more on our YouTube channel, and subscribe for the latest films:https://www.youtube.com/user/PhilharmoniaLondon
Right, well before I launch straight in and describe our workload here in Aix and what we have been doing and what we are about to do, I'd like to describe as floridly as I can my own personal experience of living in Aix thus far!
We have now been here a fortnight and Provence is 'heady'. It's a wonderful corner of France and as I write this, sitting under the boxwood tree in my garden, the keyboard of my iPad clicking in counterpoint with the cicadas, the warm wind blows and the atmosphere is abundant with rosemary, lavender and thyme gently wafting in the breeze. I'm not sure that I need a year in Provence, but I reckon we all need a month!
It seems a good time to be away from the UK at the moment as everything has gone a bit wrong. The weather is bad, people are fighting in the streets, parliament has imploded and England have lost to Iceland.
I am largely immune to feelings of doom and gloom down here in the South of France! We have had a light working schedule this week as Pélleas and Mélisande is now up and running like a well oiled machine and Provence lends itself beautifully to a particular type of inertia that suits me just fine. I seem to have lapsed into the habit of putting off until 'demain' what could be done 'aujourd'hui'.
France is a beautiful country and I can't understand how the UK has managed to remain so backward in it's appreciation of food with such a shining example just across the channel. These thoughts are prompted by looking through the photos of the markets of Aix on my iPhone (pictured), which give a surprisingly comprehensive glimpse of 'la bonne vie'.
So this is an extraordinary but extremely welcome patch of work. We are lucky and I cannot imagine doing anything this special again!
As the days go by, the more usual working schedule of the Philharmonia (punctuated by midnight lane closures on the M1, terrible traffic, troublesome parking and don't get me started on the Northern Line) become a dim and distant memory I'm not sure I would like to return to.
So now I should actually mention the purpose of our visit!
As I've said, we are lucky enough to be here performing at the Festival D'Aix-en-Provence and thus far we have completed rehearsals and started the run of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande. This is an opera which we have performed with Esa-Pekka Salonen before in our home, the Royal Festival Hall, so I already knew that both we and our French audiences would be in for a treat!
Pelléas is an opera in five acts and the only opera Claude Debussy ever completed. It is an important work in 20th-century music and the French libretto was adapted from Maurice Maeterlink's Symbolist play by the same name.
For me, it is a wonderful opera based on a really quite simple love triangle but the controlled passion within the story line and the descriptions within the text make it intoxicatingly romantic. Pelléas and Mélisande say 'I love you' only once which makes the phrase extremely precious and never cheapened.
We, the orchestra are creating the music for an unusual and new concept of the opera here with incredibly imaginative and visually engaging stage scenes. It also helps that I am in the First Violins, therefore getting an arguably better view of the stage than many of my colleagues!
We have had good houses every night, even on Thursday night in spite of France playing Germany and playing them rather better than we played Iceland. The hall was still packed and the sounds of their appreciation and applause encouraging. In my experience the audiences in France are discerning and rightly fussy!
I am completely loving it here and tonight we start work in earnest on a cornucopia of Stravinsky!
Fingers crossed that there won't be a riot at this Rite!