Monday, 27 May 2013

Renewal Luke Bedford in Portrait

Luke Bedford made a welcome visit to London for the UK premiere of his recent Renewal (2012/13) at the Purcell Room with the London Sinfonietta, conducted by Sian Edwards.

Renewal it was! The piece has all the inventiveness that makes Bedford's work so distinctive, but now with a tougher, more sophisticated edge. Moving to Berlin may welll be part of the new approach. As Bedford said, prices there aren't  low anymore, now that British composers have moved in. Every composer is influenced by life changes: music doesn't grow out of nothing. Renewal marks a a new, more mature period of growth in Bedford's output.

Renewal feels liberating. An exquisite violin melody rises to a high, almost ethereal pitch : does it evoke flight, freedom  or even a quiet, confident ecstasy? Glimpses of this melody appear throughout the piece, a firm foundation for the four sections which explode in bursts of energy, propelled forward by sheer creative momentum.  "Background radiation", Bedford calls it, more prosaically. Angular, but organic cross-rhythms that suggest a kind of primal life-force, The Rite of Spring, but with wit. All the instruments explode on a single chord at the end of the second section. Thwack! then the direction changes, and the merry dance veers off again. Dizzying changes of tempo, sometimes accelerating to breaking point. Sounds seem to inflate and deflate like breathing organisms, adding a nicely sour suggestion of wry humour   A quietly-beaten small drum introduces the gracefully elegiac final section. It's almost Romantic but definitely of our time.

Bedford's Renewal was preceded by Wonderful No-headed Nightingale,  a reworking of his Wonderful Two-headed Nightingale. The " nightingales" were conjoined twins, Millie and Christine McCoy, born as slaves, who made a living as singers in travelling shows. You don't need to know the story except insofar as the music turns the basic concepts into abstract form.  In this version,  the violin and viola (Joan Atherton and Paul Silverthorne) dialogue weaves in and out of the surrounding orchestra. It feels like a study for Renewal which explores the same concepts of unison and free-ranging invention.

Before the repeat of Bedford's Renewal, the London Sinfonietta treated us to Périodes, the second movement from Gerald Grisey's Les espaces acoustiques .  It was a good choice. Les espaces acoustiques grows outwards from extreme simplicity. A basic melodic cell repeats like in spiral, back and forth, each time with tiny gradations of pitch. The viola part is its heartbeat : the 15 minutes of seamless bowing are like a cry from the soul.  In Périodes, though, Grisey expands the breathing motif with an extra level of “rest” as natural rhythmic as walking. It’s never mechanical but blurred, allowing variations of tempo, stillness and pitch. The logic of the final movement in Renewal clicks into place.

LOTS more on Bedford and Grisey elsewhere on this site - please explore

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