Rebecca Saunders is The Real Thing as modern composers go. This isn't at all "musical fast food" which gives an instant kick but rebounds on your system. You have to savour it thoughtfully, to engage with the wonderful range of timbres and colours that emerge: a bit like not rushing a vintage wine, so it breathes and develops on the palate. Look at her photo, where she stares out fearlessly, absorbed in thought. No artifice, no compromise, but a kind of inner purity that promises great depth. Livelier photos HERE
Prom 56 showcased Saunders's Traces, premiered the previous night in Dresden with the Staatskapelle and Fabio Luisi. Listen to this on repeat broadcast and on TV, and read the programme notes which are very informative.
Saunders describes her method as being like looking at a sculpture from different angles, in different light, against different backgrounds. Yet Traces operates on a much deeper level: hence the double basses, sounds as darkly sonorous as it's possible to get with string instruments, legato that curves and stretches and lifts off suddenly, to slide along from a different angle. It's like touching a work of art, "feeling" it intuitively. As a blind person might see, visualizing by instinct and emotion, surprisingly sensual. Such subtle music means players of great sensitivity, but its challenges are met by musicians of the calibre of the Staatskapelle Dresden, one of the great orchestras of the world.
Then the music changes tack in the second part (about 7 minutes into the 15 minute work). Sharper, brighter textures now, very high strings, though the same sense of sweeping curves, sculpting shapes in swathes of sound. It's like glissandi but created by a group of different individuals playing in such connection they move as a unit, stretching the palette beyond what a single instrument could do. Brass and woodwinds form similar blocks, so there's a sense of great forces rotating, revealing different aspects of sound as they move, leaving in their wake ripples of unpitched percussion. Towards the end te keening sounds stretch out, becoming so pure and clean the music seems to float into infinity.
I first encountered Rebecca Saunders's Miniata from the Donaueschingen MusikTage in 2004. For recordings and scores see Editions Peters HERE. Writing about Miniata, Saunders quoted Wassily Kandinsky’s theories on colour, of “feeling the weight of sound…..being aware of the grit and noise of an instrument, or a voice reminds us of the presence of a fallible physical body behind the sound”. Hence the vibrating resonances that follow loud outbursts on timpani, and the echo of percussion sticks as they clatter across the soundscape, imitated in turn by piano. It's about sensations, huge masses of sound, up and turning on a pivot. About half way through, there is a massive crescendo splintering in fragments of fractured sound, transmuted into the vocal equivalent of “white noise”, almost imperceptible variations on a long drawn out sigh. Traces is a more sophisticated and mature version of these ideas, for she's no longer dealing with a spectrum of light infused colour but something much deeper and more emotionally resonant.
REPEAT BROADCAST OF THIS PROM online ondemand for 7 days from 30/12 on the BBC Radio 3 website - see "performance on 3" on 30/12 . And please also read other pices about Rebecca Saunders music on this site, like this : http://classical-iconoclast.blogspot.com/2009/11/simon-bainbridge-rebecca-saunders-music.html"