LSO: Always Playing – Steve Reich Quartet & Sextet tonight @ 7pm

Tonight’s installment of the LSO’s online series ‘Always Playing’ is a smaller-scale affair, as the LSO Percussion Ensemble deliver two of Steve Reich‘s more recent works for percussion.

The Sextet, a substantial work from 1993, is complemented by the Quartet completed 20 years later, a more challenging and fragmented composition.

The team – percussionists Neil Percy, Sam Walton, Gwilym Simcock, David Jackson, Simon Carrington, Philip Moore and Joseph Havlat – add works from Joe Locke (Her Sanctuary) and Makoto Ozone, Simon Carrington’s arrangement of Kato’s Revenge.

You can read more about these works in the booklet notes for the concert here – and the performances themselves, given at LSO St Luke’s across concerts in October 2015, March 2018 and February 2019, can be seen on the orchestra’s YouTube channel from 7pm tonight here:

 

Online recommendations – Bergen International Festival 2020

How long is it since you last experienced live music?

For the vast majority of us it will be two months and counting now…the last for Arcana having been on Monday 16 March at the Wigmore Hall.

Thankfully in that time a huge number of artists, organisations and orchestras have stepped into the breach, either with archive concert footage or with online concerts and recitals. One of the biggest contributions to date, however, comes from the Bergen International Festival, which is streaming over 50 events online for free.

These are genuine live events, given without an audience and streamed across the world from the festival’s website – and there is some quality music making coming up.

The evening of Saturday 23 May will see Leif Ove Andsnes and friends giving an all-Schumann concert at 20:00 (19:00 GMT), capped by the wonderfully invigorating Piano Quintet, while Sunday 24 May (21:15, 20:15 GMT) brings the traditional festival performance of Grieg‘s evergreen Piano Concerto. The soloist will be Víkingur Ólafsson, with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra under chief conductor Edward Gardner. Intriguingly, the Grieg will be prefaced by VasksThe Fruit Of Silence, with the Edvard Grieg Kor.

Meanwhile Monday 25 May brings an intriguing concert from ​Leif Ove Andsnes (piano), Sonoko Miriam Welde (violin), Ludvig Gudim (violin), Eivind Ringstad (viola) and Amalie Stalheim (cello). The quintet will perform works by Schubert, Mozart and Jörg Widmann – the composer’s Idyll and Abyss and String Quartet no.3. Nicknamed the Hunt, it will follow Mozart’s quartet of the same name.

These three concerts alone give an idea of the breadth of repertoire and quality we can expect from the festival. Head here to experience it for yourself!

Switched on – Matthewdavid’s Mindflight: Care Tracts EP (Leaving Records)

What’s the story?

Matthewdavid’s Mindflight is the incredibly ambient extension of producer Matthewdavid‘s output. As a composer used to working across genres, this is the area where he really kicks back and lets things evolve at a very natural pace.

The EP comes with a message from Matthewdavid, saying that ‘With your help we will overthrow corrupt capitalistic systems of greed and exploitation in favour of life and love for the benefit of all beings. We will end all war and hierarchy. Love is the gateway to paradise. Love is your way.’

What’s the music like?

The above sentiments come through with the music – but to be honest this is music that is best experienced with the objective of getting a completely empty head. Previous albums from this source have been capable of doing exactly that – and this half-hour set of three continuously mixed and evolving tracks hits the spot unerringly.

It always takes a little while for the dust to settle, but when it does the sonic beauty of these electronics can be appreciated. The sound world is definitely an outdoor one, with a soft breeze and cool blue colours. Best to treat this is one continuous composition with three blissful ‘movements’, and the music will make its most effective impact.

Does it all work?

Yes. With no beats in sight and no specific harmonic movement, this is nonetheless music that continues to evolve. It is the aural equivalent of sitting on the beach and staring at a calm sea, inducing all sorts of stationary and soothing thoughts.

Is it recommended?

Yes, effortlessly. Previous visitors to this source will know just what to expect – and they won’t be disappointed. If you’re new and fancy some warm-weather tranquillity in musical form, then look no further!

Listen

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On record – Yuja Wang, LAPO / Gustavo Dudamel: John Adams – Must The Devil Have All The Good Tunes? (DG)

Yuja Wang (piano), Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra / Gustavo Dudamel

John Adams
Must The Devil Have All The Good Tunes? (2019)
China Gates (1977)

Deutsche Grammophon 4838289 [32’05”]

Recorded November 2019, Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, USA

Written by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes? is John Adams’ first major work for piano and orchestra since 1997. Its world premiere took place in 2019, with dedicatee Yuja Wang taking the solo part in the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, the city’s Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Gustavo Dudamel. The same team are on the money here with the first recording of the substantial new piece – with a contrasting makeweight, as Wang offers one of Adams’ much loved shorter works, the solo piano composition China Gates.

What’s the music like?

In a word, dynamic. The composer’s direction for the first of the three movements of Must the Devil…says a lot – Gritty, Funky, But in strict Tempo; Twitchy, Bot-Like. It describes the music perfectly, for as Yuja Wang drives the music forward with big, block chords there is a great deal of positive mechanical energy – and indeed a bit of funk. The ‘good tunes’ are not quite so obvious, with the through-composed nature of the piece masking any obvious hooks, but there is a strong and assertive drive forward, like the relentless surge of traffic along a Californian freeway.

The frenetic activity subsides towards the end of the first movement and we get a closer look at Adams’ soul, glimpsed through luminous string textures and sensitive, nocturnal piano writing. The mechanical grind is temporarily forgotten and a tender, thoughtful mood evolves. This leads to the Gently, Relaxed direction, which effectively becomes the concerto’s slow movement, with music of serenity and beautiful colours. As the movement progresses the lines become a little more angular, the strings and piano working together while complemented by softly spoken wind and brass choirs.

Then the energy returns, and we move into the finale with clumps of percussive chords from Wang, leading the orchestra in a section marked Obsession / Swing. The cross rhythms sway, generating exciting momentum between piano and orchestra, and Wang throws her all at the piano as it issues massive, repetitive statements, the obsession growing ever greater towards the end and the sound of a bell, with which Adams brings an end to the three rounds.

China Gates is a much-needed repose, its meditative thoughts given in an unbroken, fluid stream.

Does it all work?

Yes, and is hard to fault in this performance. The musical language is familiar – recognisably John Adams in its long lines of busy activity – and it could be argued some of these statements are familiar too, closely related to previous large-scale utterances. But the performance is ideal, a white knuckle ride in the faster sections and a cool reverie in the memorable slower parts. China Gates is the ideal foil.

Yuja Wang is brilliant throughout, a whirlwind of energy in the fast music of Must the Devil…and a model of sensitivity in the quieter music.

Is it recommended?

Fans of Adams’ music will not hesitate – and nor should newcomers either, for not only is the music very listenable it is presented in terrific recorded sound. A DG release with all the fireworks for sure, and if there are no recognisably good tunes to hum afterwards there is plenty to enjoy. John Adams’ positive energy wins through once again.

Listen

Buy

You can purchase this recording from various digital outlets via the Deutsche Grammophon website

Online music recommendations – Chamber Music Scotland, City of London Sinfonia & Sandy Burnett’s Listening Club

The online options for music lovers continue to grow – but here at Arcana we wanted to highlight three in particular.

First is a rolling recommendation, for the City of London Sinfonia and their Comfortable Classical at Home series (pictured above). This has been a really excellent series of discovery, catering for all levels of knowledge including beginners, the musically curious and those looking for fresh insight into familiar pieces.

Members of the orchestra are clearly at home in front of the camera, and the next instalments – from principal clarinet Katherine ‘Waffy’ Spencer (Thursday 21 May) and cellist Becky Knight (Tuesday 2 June) are set to be every bit as enjoyable as the series so far – which can be seen on the orchestra’s Facebook channel. It is well worth considering a donation to the orchestra through that page too, recognising the problems musicians are having finding work in lockdown.

Also well worth exploring is Chamber Music Scotland, who are offering a weekly series of streamed concerts and lectures. Future appearances are scheduled from guitarist Sasha Savaloni and a trio of flautist Georgia Browne, violinist Tuomo Suni and harpsichordist Tom Foster.

The next online event from Chamber Music of Scotland is tonight, Wednesday 20 May. It will be presented by cellist David Watkin, who will be looking for meaning from the solo cello works of J.S. Bach in quarantine. Bach’s music is proving particularly popular in lockdown, presumably due to its suitability for one performer, who can take on the rich part writing to sound like several people at once. You can watch this on the organisation’s YouTube channel, where you can also catch up on previous episodes:

Finally a nod in the direction of Sandy Burnett, who is running a summer-long online Listening Club. Every Tuesday at 11am Sandy, a highly respected broadcaster and musician, will offer his own insights into a chosen classical work in his typically engaging and informative style. The next, on Tuesday 26 May, will focus on Bach and his Sonata for Solo Violin in G minor – while future instalments will include works by Weill, Mozart, Monteverdi, Messiaen and Beethoven. You can join the Listening Club here