Wednesday 17 June 2015

François-Xavier Roth, Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Aldeburgh Festival

François-Xavier Roth conducted the Mahler Chamber Orchestra on the second of their concerts at the Aldeburgh Festival.  The Mahler Chamber Orchestra, founded by Claudio Abbado, is one of the finest in the world, connecting to Abbado's network of elite orchestras which include the Berlin Philharmonic and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra. Seriously influential, with exceptionally high standards. They don't come to Britain nearly enough so their visit to Aldeburgh was truly a major occasion. François-Xavier Roth is one of the most interesting conductors around too, a brilliant fit for the ideals of excellence that these orchestras stand for. An absolutely unmissable experience, thankfully recorded for broadcast on BBC Radio 3. Please read my review of the concert HERE.

Roth's background is in baroque. He founded Les Siècles, the brilliant, innovative period ensemble whose performances sparkle with the energy and wit that epitomizes the French baroque spirit. He conducts a great deal of new music, too. His Boulez is exceptionally good. Boulez's legacy is safe in Roth's hands. Baroque and New Music, one might ask? But the connection is very strong indeed. French baroque music,  especially Rameau, was inspired by dance. Hence the physical exuberance of the genre, with its energy and life-affirming vigour.  Dance rhythms are precise for the simple reason that dancers move in formation,  interacting with each  other in  formal patterns, even when they incorporate individuality. Think about formal French gardens of the period, with their clear outlines and intricate forms. Nature seems to be contained, yet it's utterly present. Birds fly free overhead, and within the neat hedges we see an orderly glimpse of natural surroundings beyond the walls.  Thus precision and clear definition are absolutely a part of French style, translating into music. A good orchestra - especially a chamber orchestra - operates as a tightly knit ensemble. The more intricate the steps, the greater the need to observe clear lines, or the kinetic energy is lost. What would modern music sound like if microtonal complexities were reduced to haphazard blur? Accuracy, clarity and precision are fundamental to good performance.  Emotions can be expressed through intelligence, guided by insight into the composer.

Aldeburgh has always been a place for new music. Britten wasn't part of the conventional British world.  He valued the idea of creativity , and the idea that music could forever be born in new forms and styles. Make no mistake, Aldeburgh is, and always was, a place where new music thrives. The best British composers of our time, have found support in Aldeburgh, and through the lively spirit of the Britten Pears Foundation. It's no accident that Britten was fascinated by early music and the baroque. He wasn't alone. Over in Paris, Messiaen taught his students the importance of clarity. In a dawn chorus, thousands of different birds sing, but each bird has its individual voice, which shouldn't be lost.

The Mahler Chamber Orchestra's programmes at Aldeburgh were suitably eclectic. No thinking in little boxes here, but an embrace of  the spirit of creative adventure that's at the heart of really good, original music.  So imaginative indeed, that they deserve being written about in more depth than I can do here. So listen to the BBC broadcast and be blown away, and come back to this site later when I come back from today's trip to Aldeburgh.

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