Monday, 9 September 2019

Oramo Prom : Judith Weir, Sibelius, Mussorgsky, Andriessen

Judith Weir

Two modern works bookended by two standards in Sakari Oramo's Prom 67 with the BBC Symphony Orchestra - Louis Andriessen's The Only One (2018, UK premiere) and Judith Weir's The Forest (from 1995, recieving its Proms premiere) with Mussorgsky A Night on the Bare Mountain and Sibelius Symphony no 5.  The "Henry Wood Novelties" tag imposed by BBC Proms management is increasingly threadbare, but the connections between the pieces were deep enough to make this a coherent programme on other terms.  Nature, and the human response to Nature, and to powers beyond the conscious ? While there's no programme in Sibelius 5, there is one in A Night on Bald Mountain, not that it matters all that much since the music's so compelling. There's no actual programme in Judith Weir's The Forest either,  but so much of her music expresses deep connections to landscape and "earth magic".

At a push, Andriessen's The Only One, based on poems by Delphine Lecompte, might suggest animal instincts in a "forest" of sound, but it's not one of Andriessen's most distinctive works. It's music theatre  - De Staat for non-demanding club performance. In that sense it connects to the ideals of the 60's and 70's  when "art for the people" was a watchword. But "art for people" can mean many things - from De Staat to Luigi Nono to Henze and much more.  The Only One perhaps speaks to a world where "the people" whoever they are, want validation, not radical change. A sad commentary on present times, not on the composer.  As music theatre, The Only One is a far cry from, say, The Seven Deadly Sins : the protagonist starts out young and playful, but gradualy gets absorbed into corporate anonymity.  Though there's plenty of vocal tricks, I suspect part of the impact lies in the costume changes and cutesiness. Nora Fischer (daughter of Ivan) was the soloist and quite pleasant, but I can't think Hannigan, the Komsis or Claron McFadden would have gone near this.

Judith Weir's The Forest ,on the other hand, feels natural, evolving from very deep sources, growing organically, endlessly renewing iutself. In the broadcast Weir speaks of the "wooden" instrumentation. That's so true - string instruments resonate when air vibrates against wood : and  string techniques use the very resonance of wood when they make sound without strings.  Murmuring and mystery - swathes of strings against woodwinds, again wood resonating with breath control.  Textures at once dense and tantalizing, drawing the listener in further and further.  Flashes of brightness - shining brass - and dark murmurs, timpani suggesting danger. And suddenly, silence.  If this was "music theatre" perhaps we've been absorbed into the forest by the earth spirits that might lurk within.  Judith Weir is one of the great British composers of our time, and very individual.   Talent has nothingb to do with gender. Weir is good because she's good.  Why doesn't  BBC R3 policy give her the prominence she is due ?  There has been some shamefully bad music this season, seemingly picked to fulfill artificial quotas. But Weir is the genuine article.

A rousing Sibelius Fifth. Oramo and the BBCSO have this imprinted in their genes, so to speak. A satisying and intelligently put together Prom all round.

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