Monday, 15 February 2010

HK Gruber hits Manchester

Manchester is in for lively times with HK Gruber as composer/conductor of the BBC Philharmonic, one of the BBC orchestras family. Hopefully that means we hear more of him and his zany ways. Håkan Hardenberger is premiering Gruber's latest work, Busking, on 27th February. Boosey & Hawkes describes it as a "jazzy work for concertante trumpet, accordion and banjo with string orchestra. The solo line-up draws parallels with Picasso’s painting Three Musicians, depicting bohemian music-making with carnivalesque overtones. In musical terms Gruber’s soloists function as modern equivalents of a baroque trumpet coupled with organ or harpsichord continuo, perhaps as heard on the streets of New Orleans."

You couldn’t invent someone like HK Gruber. Nothing, I suspect, pleases him more than discomforting the pretentious, even when he himself becomes pretentious. Which he can be when he's on a roll. Sometimes, he's full of it. I remember his South Bank retrospective in the early 80's, which he called the Second Second Viennese School. Schoenberg have no fears.

But Gruber shakes up complacency. I love the motto “Life is too important to be taken seriously”. It could certainly be Gruber’s, too, because under the mayhem there’s purpose. He revives a Viennese and German tradition that used anarchic satire to make serious comments on society. Which is why he's a chansonnier and cabaret artiste (note the last divaesque "e"). His Frankenstein! is amazing - he did it at the Proms in 2006 and it's available on CD. He's less impressive conducting other people's work, but his own music is varied enough that there's probably something for everyone.

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