In concert – ORF Vienna Radio SO / Marin Alsop: Musikprotokoll 2020 – Hidden Sounds

Joonas Ahonen (piano), ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra / Marin Alsop

Saariaho Chimera (2019) Austrian premiere
Maintz Piano Concerto (2014) Austrian premiere
López Disparates (2004-06) Austrian premiere

Helmut List Halle, Graz
Friday 9 October (review of the online broadcast)

Written by Richard Whitehouse

Now into its 53rd season, the Musikprotokoll festival in Graz has long been synonymous with some of Austria’s most innovative music-making, with this evening’s concert from the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra and its current chief conductor Marin Alsop being no exception. Notable too was the sizable audience – notwithstanding the needs of social distancing – and its enthusiasm for a programme, as concise as it was uncompromising, which contained music by a younger Austrian composer and one who has been resident in that country over the past three decades.

First, though, a curtain-raiser by Kaija Saariaho – the Finnish composer who has long resided in Paris, whose output features harmonic subtlety and timbral finesse as its hallmarks. Both of these were present in Chimera – an oblique homage to Beethoven in the 250th anniversary of his birth, in which material from her earlier orchestral piece Orion was (almost) book-ended by the beginning and ending of that composer’s Second Symphony. The result was diverting if insubstantial, redolent of Berio’s re-imaginings while assuredly not outstaying its welcome.

Among the leading Austrian composers of his generation, Philipp Maintz (b1977) evidently wrote or at least began several piano concertos prior to completing the one heard tonight. He has spoken of admiration for the Ligeti and Lutosławski concertos, as well as his nonplussed regard for the Schoenberg; yet this latter soon came to mind in a piece whose four continuous movements take in a gradual accumulation of energy, followed by two contrasting intermezzi then a further and more rapid gathering of momentum toward the emphatic close. Connecting the whole are brief recitative-like passages as cede the foreground to a soloist whose dextrous pianism is otherwise embedded into the overall texture. Joonas Ahonen was an alert and agile soloist in music that requires, and received, acute coordination with orchestra and conductor.

Championed by such conductors as Michael Gielen, Peter Eötvös and Ilan Volkov, Jorge E. López (above) eschews both the gnomic intricacies of new-complexity and ironic self-regard of post-modernism in drawing resourcefully on the past for a provocative challenge to the future; not least those symphonic works as dominate his recent output. Leading into them is Disparates, described as a ‘Goya / Beethoven homage’ that draws parallels between the artist’s desolate late sketches with the composer’s equally gnomic Six Bagatelles from much the same time.

The sequence is no mere orchestration or paraphrase of piano originals. Its sepulchral textures thrown into relief by glassy asides from Stroh violin, the first piece merges reluctantly into the militaristic march-past of its successor, then on to those stark pathos and disjunctive contrasts of the two that follow. Fusing aspects of the final two bagatelles, the fifth piece veers between fraught eloquence and glowering recessional as it lurches on to an ending bereft of meaningful closure: Goya’s ominous imagery and Beethoven’s flights of fancy united in unwitting accord.

An engrossing and disquieting sequence, which yet offers a direct way into López’s singular musical ethos. The VRSO responded with verve and no little virtuosity to Alsop’s animated prompting, so rounding off what was an intriguing fixture in this always enterprising festival.

This concert can be seen and heard at the Musikprotokoll website

Happy 70th birthday to Christopher Rouse

Christopher Rouse is 70 today!

The American composer, although enthusiastically championed by Marion Alsop, has not yet enjoyed the exposure his music deserves.

His studies with George Crumb and Karel Husa, not to mention a thorough grounding in rock music history, have led rise to a fiercely individual voice in American music, one that is notable for its bold writing for orchestra.

Rouse has surely written some of the loudest modern music there is, and yet he does so with a sensitivity and intensity few of his piers can match. Listen to the playlist below and see if you agree:

Ask the Audience at the BBC Proms – Sam Hogwood on Verdi’s Requiem

Ask The Audience Arcana at the Proms
sammi-2This is the final installment of this year’s series where Arcana invites a friend to a Prom who does not normally listen to classical music. In an interview after the concert each will share their musical upbringing and their thoughts on the concert – whether good or bad! Here, it felt right to bring the editor’s wife along! So Samantha Hogwood (above) gives her thoughts on Prom 74.

Soloists, BBC Proms Youth Choir, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment / Marin Alsop

Verdi Requiem (1874)

You can watch this Prom on the BBC iPlayer here

Arcana: Mrs Hogwood, what was your musical upbringing?

Well a lot of it was from my father, who’s now a silver fox…and we were brought up on things like Pink Floyd, Queen and Fleetwood Mac, and lots of blues and jazz – though no specific names jump out at me. He used to play things like Rick Wakeman, Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, Jean Michel Jarre’s Oxygene – all that kind of stuff – and all sorts of what might be considered wacky music! There was one particular album – Rick Wakeman I think – where it was like a battle. King Arthur I think it was, and there was a cover where there was a horse being stabbed, I remember lying on the floor behind the sofa with my dad’s headphones on, imagining what it was like to do battle, and feeling sad that so many horses must have died. I was completely knocked out by things like that.

king-arthur

The cover of Rick Wakeman‘s King Arthur

There are so many amazing bands, but things that stick in your mind…and music I used to hear when sharing a flat with my dear friends Kate and Jan. I think of Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Nicks, Judy Tzuke, then bands like Hawkwind, The Clash and loads more. Listening to Abba with my dear friend Anne as well. I used to hate the Sex Pistols though because they used to gob on everyone! I love Orb-type stuff, the Chemical Brothers, Basement Jaxx, and Underworld had a massive influence on me when I moved down to London. I used to listen to loads of music then, in my room.

Could you name three musical acts you love, and why you love them?

Well we’ve seen the Super Furry Animals together a lot, and I love them so much because they’re wacky, original and colourful:

I used to love David Lee Roth, and had a poster of him over my bed. It wasn’t that I fancied him necessarily – well, I did! – but it was the cockiness he portrayed, the glint in his eye, the kind of music he sang and the humour as well – like the song Just A Gigolo, with his band mates onstage – a bit like Magic Mike. I went to three or four concerts on my own to see him!

I would say Joni Mitchell too, because every time I hear her voice she takes me to a place that I completely identify with, whether it’s Big Yellow Taxi, Blue or Heartbreak – stuff that you’ve done that you know you can’t get back, you have to accept it. It’s joyous but heartbreaking too, and every time I hear her I just want to melt. I know all the words, all the nuances, and all the notes, and I love her songwriting.

What has been your experience of classical music so far?

Well quite a lot from the beginning, because my mum and dad used to listen to stuff like Strauss – the music to 2001 – or Holst‘s The Planets­ – but there was a whole lot more. Apparently I kicked off about learning classical guitar, so they took me to do that, and I got to grade 8. Mum and Dad do like to regale the fact that I was so frustrated with practising that I once bit my guitar! There were chew marks around it! That’s basically what they will remember. I did very well in exams but I used to bite my guitar a lot and was locked in my room and made to practise. I gave it to a woman in London.

Then I met you – my husband now! – and we realised we had a lot in common. You would suggest stuff to go and see. We talk about music a lot, and I used to regale the music I listened to – and still do now. After a period of time I went to the Proms with you, but I haven’t been very often. I love listening to classical music, and we’ve been to see Holst’s The Planets and Britten’s War Requiem, which was incredible but more depressing – but the voices lifted you up. I’m really lucky to have seen that, but I do find it difficult to sit still while I’m listening for a long period of time at concerts, where I would like to move around. If I was watching a film it would be different.

How did you rate your first Proms experience?

It was mind blowing. It made my hair stand on end, as soon as I heard the orchestra and the singers I was blown away. There was one particular part that they use a lot in the X-factor, that we’re all familiar with – which is really annoying – but I loved it. It was colourful and beautiful. There were dips on occasion when the soloists were singing, which is what seems to happen, but I would say I was really listening to it, and at times I was closing my eyes and feeling the music.

I absolutely loved it, but I’ve been to a few concerts with you and so I guess you knew I would like it! I’m very good at switching myself off and on again from the day, because you can’t go somewhere in a bad mood and enjoy a concert, so I find you do have to do that sometimes.

I haven’t been to the Proms as often as you have but I think it is an amazing cultural institution that has been going for so long. I think they have been good at introducing new things, and having the tickets where you can stand is really good. I definitely think they could do more to introduce classical music to the greater public though, because I know for a fact those who have heard it on advertisements or TV have no idea where it’s come from, or the context, and they would love to go and see it. They could do more to introduce the more general classical music to encourage people.

That’s where I think your website could be the most amazing thing. Nobody makes enough of an effort to introduce people to new kinds of classical music. We’ve got loads of friends who love the classical music we’ve played at parties, from 1 o’clock in the afternoon, people who have loved it but don’t know an awful lot about it. It would be amazing if we could encourage more people like that along to the Proms to experience the environment, because tonight was absolutely gorgeous and amazing!

Would you go again?

Definitely. I loved it!

Verdict: SUCCESS