Thursday, 7 March 2013

George Benjamin Wigmore Hall series

George Benjamin's Written on Skin is on at the Royal Opera House from tomorrow.  HERE IS MY REVIEW. There is no way I am missing Written on Skin. To appreciate Written on Skin, get to know Into the Little Hill.   Opera is a relatively new genre for  Benjamin, so it's also good to  approach it in context with his other music. AND HERE IS MY REVIEW OF THE WIGMORE HALL CONCERT comparing Into the Little Hill with Written on Skin.

Benjamin  is next year's Wigmore Hall composer-in-residence, so the Wigmore Hall is doing a Benjamin series culminating in George Benjamin Day on April 6th. The Birmingham Contemporary Music Group will be doing Benjamin's first opera, Into the Lttle Hill, this time in concert performance with Hilary Summers and Susanna Andersson singing. This was a watershed for Benjamin, previously known for his painstakingly meticulous working methods.  Woring with Martin Crimp, the librettist, challenged Benjamin, who worked at what was, for him, breakneck speed. Taking risks makes for highly charged drama. Into the Little Hill is a tightly focussed chamber opera, whose depths reveal themselves obliquely. I love Into the Little Hill. I've written about it extensively. Read my piece on the performance at the Linbury  HERE  Given Benjamin's penchant for detailed embroidery, I wondered how he'd cope with Written On Skin, to be heard in a large House. If the stunning Aix-en-Provence premiere is anything to go by, he's mastered larger form. Perhaps on some level, Benjamin identifies with the artist who creates detailed, glowing illuminations.

The programme will also feature Francesco Antonioni's Ballata and David Sawer's Rumpelstiltskin Suite, based on Sawer's opera Rumpelstiltskin, another BCMG speciality. Read my article "Gold and Straw" HERE about the full opera when it wass staged at the Spitalfields Music Festival.

The concert will be preceded by a talk with John Gilhooly and a concert at 11.30 featuring Benjamin's music for small ensemble (Carolin Widmann, Adam Walker and Marino Formenti)  which will include the beautiful Shadowlines. played by Benjamin himself.
If you can't wait til April 6th, don't worry. On March 20th Benjamin is pianist at a concert with Fretwork, the viol consort, Tabea Zimmermann, Antoine Tamestsit and Susan Bickley. For me the draw will be Upon Silence, a very early piece from 1990 for mezzo soprano and seven strings. They'll also be doing Benjamin's Piano Figures (2004) and Viola, Viola (1999) .  Piano Figures is a series of ten miniatures each built around a mood growing from a simple motivic cell. As in many things in life, "simple" doesn't mean "easy". These pieces don't demand extreme virtuosic technique, but they do challenge the mind. Each vignette builds on a mood or image ("Spell", "In the mirror", "Whirling") but moves on swiftly without exhausting the possibilities. That sense of rapt listening comes through in Viola, viola (1999). Themes bounce between each player, the balance constantly shifting. Long, exploratory lines, countered by affirmative semi-staccato, a pulse connecting, then gracefully receding. The rest of the programme will include works by Alexandcer Goehr, Benjamin's mentor and teacher.

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