Friday, 2 May 2014

Julian Anderson - "visual" composer

Julian Anderson's Thebans comes to the ENO Saturday. I'm intrigued because Anderson has always been a good "visual" composer. Eden, for example, translates Brancusi's The Kiss. Two solid figures become one : viola and cello curl sensuously around each other, embracing, so to speak, in melody.

One of Anderson's "Great Hits", The Book of Hours, takes its cue from Les Trés riches heures du Duc de Berry, illuminated painstakingly by hand and gilded with real gold. That rather describes Anderson's technique, too. Not one slipped note, everything intensely coloured, and enhanced by electronic effects applied at first like fine gold leaf over rich painting. Layers of texture and colour again, deftly applied in careful miniature to create a flamboyant yet deeply satisfying whole. The first part is beautiful, an intricate tracery built around four basic notes. Its exotic textures are interrupted two-thirds of the way through by a strange electronic interlude. After a Luftpause, deliberately creating distance from what has gone before, the second part opens with deliberate distortion - people who listen for sound will get a shock! It´s the sound of a scratched LP, a reminder perhaps that recorded music is artificial and ephemeral. Then the distortion clears and the music reveals itself again, reborn and even more vivid. Towards the end there's an apocalyptic electronic cadenza, which fits in with basic ideas in medieval cosmology, such as "the world overturnn'd". In other words, fate, sudden upheaval, etc, ideas which are strikingly modern in our uncertain modern era. Of course you don't need to know any of this, though Anderson is far too literary a composer not to be aware of this extra dimension.

Edward Gardner is conducting Thebans at the Coliseum. Anderson and Gardner go back a long way. Gardner conducted Anderson's Symphony at his big Barbican debut nearly ten years ago. Symphony was inspired by art: Axel Gallen-Kallela´s painting of Lake Keitele. Gallen-Kallela is the best known Finnish painter of his time, and his works will be known to any Sibelius fan. It doesn´t matter what the picture looks like, this is its spiritual atmosphere. For a full minute, all you can hear are vague sounds, like the rushing of a stream almost at freezing point. It´s wonderfully impressionist - you imagine the cold and the stillness, the wind, birds flying overheard. Ultimately, though it´s the inventive, multi-layered orchestration that entrances. Flurries of harmony take off in different directions, and melody starts in one part of the orchestra, to be completed in another. Julian Anderson is the current composer-in-residence at the Wigmore Hall. Read about his concert last year, which placed his music in the context of Hans Abrahamsen and Salvatore Sciarrino, whose music also contains a strong visual element. Read more HERE.

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