Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Prom 25: Boulez/Birtwistle (Radio 3/ online)

Pierre Boulez is a composer notorious for reworking his music, sometimes over many decades, and never quite reaching a conclusion (he has commented that works of art are never finished, only abandoned), with the result that his catalogue is full of torsos and "works in progress". Ironic then, that due to the late running of the earlier prom and the vagaries of London's public transport network this late-night offering from the London Sinfonietta and the BBC Singers was already up and running by the time I got home and turned on the radio, so I only heard his recent completion of Dérive 2 as a fragment. I shall certainly be taking advantage of the excellent BBC Radio player to listen to the full work, though, as it was an extraordinary and beautiful work. Boulez is the man fingered by many of those who oppose all avant-garde music since 1900 who ruined it all, and I'll admit I have issues with parts of his aesthetic*, but you'd have to be fairly cloth-eared not to be able to revel in the luxurious sounds he conjures up here. I wonder how the fact that I shall hear the opening of his piece after the close relates to his ideas challenging the idea of a "complete" work?

Coupled with this sensuous, glowing music was another of the bogeymen of contemporary music, Harrison Birtwistle. Again, Birtwistle is a man much misunderstood, as the frequent extreme complexity of his textures belies a thoroughly direct, even blunt, approach. Neruda Madrigals is one of his gentler works, and its more austere sound world, conjuring up thoughts of the Northern landscapes that he inhabits, made an excellent pairing with the Boulez, and made me regret that it was impracticable for me to stay and hear it live. What a shame this sort of thing gets increasingly and timidly relegated to late night slots. One hopes that this is a trend that will not continue when Roger Wright takes over the Proms from Nicholas Kenyon (aka the Doctor out of Star Trek Voyager) next year.

Players and singers were as good as you'd expect, and isn't it good to see in Susanna Mälkki a woman at the forefront of was is still largely a male domain?

* Maybe I'll get round to writing a post about this eventually.

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