Tuesday, 13 February 2018 at 18.30
Ruddock Performing Arts Centre
Wind Ensemble: Rhea Takhar, oboe; Lydia Jin, oboe; Nikita Jain, bassoon; Nathan Cornish, continuo
Bronagh Lee, violin
Sanjana Sudeshkumar, voice
Jacob Rowley, guitar
Ella Mason, trumpet
Rhea Takhar, oboe
Tom Hao, violin
Angie Qiao, piano
Samantha Burley, violin
String Quartet: Ivy Lau, violin; Bronagh Lee, violin; Junias Wong, viola; Ami Chen, cello
works by Zelenka, Prokofiev, Donizetti, Handel, Villa-Lobos, Goedicke, Rubbra, Dancla, Rachmaninov, Bruch and Borodin
This concert is presented jointly with King Edward VI High School for Girls
Thursday 8 February 2018 at 13.10
Ruddock Performing Arts Centre
Peter Raven, euphonium
Rhea Suribhatla, bassoon
Piano trio: Renee Chang, violin; Enoch Cheung, cello; Lauren Zhang, piano
works by Kummer/Mead, Newton, Bozza, Saint-Saëns and Rachmaninov
This recital is presented jointly with King Edward VI High School for Girls
Witold Lutosławski (1913-1944): Chain 1 (1983)
Witold Lutosławski (pronounced ‘Lootoswavski’) was born in Poland in 1913. He is considered to be the country’s most important composer of the 20th century. His style both features folk-music influences, and pushes the boundaries of musical form, as we see in this piece. During WW2 he made a living playing the piano in bars. Under Soviet rule, his music was looked down on as ‘formalist’ because the communists saw it as only accessible to an elite, and they even banned his First Symphony. Lutosławski however, strove to maintain his musical integrity and refused to conform to what he perceived as a step in the wrong direction, boycotting the Polish Military Government in support of ‘Solidarity’ by refusing to perform his music.
Chain 1 was written for the London Sinfonietta in 1983 on the requests of Michael Vyner, the conductor, who had wanted to play Lutosławski’s music, but found that it was all for an ensemble either much bigger, or much smaller, than his own. That is why the piece is written for such an unusual selection of instruments. In fact, it was designed simply ‘for fourteen instruments’, but we have chosen to represent the original selection by which it was first performed. It is an intense, brooding work, full of melodic twists and turns to create both discomfort and resolution through its unorthodox structural techniques.
Lutosławski wrote three ‘chain pieces’ related only in their use of ‘chain’ form. This is an attempt to do away with conventional musical structure, creating music that neither exactly begins nor ends. Most of this piece is notated without a time signature, and the musicians rely on the conductor’s downbeats for direction. They play short motifs, in this piece specified exactly by Lutosławski, ‘in time’ according to their own intuition. The idea is that these ‘chain links’ flow into each other by merit of the musicians’ slightly differing tempos to create an unbroken musical line. Hence, every performance of this piece will be different, and yet the effect will be the same. In the later ‘chain’ pieces, Lutosławski wrote complementary ‘hexachords’ from which the musicians could create melodic lines.
The piece is made up of three sections. First, a fragmented introduction featuring overlapping ‘links’. This starts with the whole group (minus double bass) performing an introductory ‘gesture’. The section then moves through a unison passage before diverging into separate parts. This convergence and divergence is a key feature of the work, allowing Lutosławski to create structure through unifying and dividing the musical texture. Another device he uses to change the harmonic density is ‘chord aggregates’ (big piles of notes) to mark out sections. For example, both sections 1 and 2 begin with such a chord aggregate.
After this, the second section continues with a unison passage, and gradually builds up to a climax. This features ad libitum (free) sections whereby the players create their own tempo. Through this, the texture is manipulated to create the ‘chain link’ structure. Through such passages, chord aggregates, and convergence and divergence, Lutosławski subverts the normal way of writing music and constructs a piece that is almost totally original in its form and texture.
The second section ends with a 12-note chord-aggregate by way of a climax, which may be reached by the players at different moments. This will therefore be unique in every performance of the piece. It is followed by a decisive tam-tam strike, which clearly marks out the high point of the composition. From here, the third section winds the piece down through more ad libitum passages as the music slips away into an ‘inconclusive conclusion’.
When this piece was written in 1983, Lutoslawski was boycotting the Polish Government by refusing to play music there because of its repressive attitudes. This went even to the point of letting another conductor make the recording of one of his own pieces, Novelleto, for his home country. However, he did send a recording of his third symphony to be played in a church in the city of Gdansk as a political statement supporting the church and the ‘Solidarity’ movement in Eastern Europe, which was gaining significance at the time in opposition of Russian Soviet influence. He was even awarded, that year, the ‘Solidarity Prize’, which was of high significance. He is reported to have treasured this above all his other accolades as a composer.
Nathan Cornish, Divisions
Jacques Ibert (1890-1962): Cinq pièces en trio (1935)
The Parisian born Jacques Ibert received violin and piano lessons as a boy and later studied composition at the celebrated Paris Conservatoire. During his long and fruitful career, he composed in virtually every genre and, moreover, became one of the best known French composers of the 20th century.
The reed trio ensemble (oboe, clarinet and bassoon) became popular in the early 20th century, particularly after the assembly of the Paris Reed Trio by one Fernand Oubradous (1903-1986), a bassoonist, composer and conductor. Oubradous was somewhat of a polymath with a good sense of humour. When once asked to comment on reeds, he famously said, ‘have a lot of respect for them, but treat them as often as possible with contempt!’
Ibert and Oubradous became acquainted during the 1920s with the latter often conducting the prolific composer’s works. Cinq pièces was written in 1935 and dedicated to Oubradous. The work lasts for around nine minutes and is comprised of two andantes and three allegros, each sharply contrasting its preceding movement. Ibert’s genius lies in his ability to maintain strong musical unity and coherence throughout these contrasting movements, whilst also delivering a compositional style that is firmly neo-classical, charming and lyrical in character. Listen out for the wistful second Andante, which demonstrates more than a subtle nod to Stravinsky, before the final, jaunty Allegro concludes the work.
Peter Murphy, Divisions
Jacques Ibert (1890-1962): Divertissement (1930)
Jacques Ibert was a French composer who studied at the Paris Conservatoire and won its top prize, the ‘Prix de Rome’ at his first attempt, despite his studies having been interrupted by service in World War I. Divertissement is a collection of pieces drawn from the score Ibert produced for the film production of the farcical nineteenth century play, The Italian Straw Hat by French dramatist Labiche. Labiche’s comedy recounts the adventures of a nervous bridegroom on his wedding day as he attempts to find a hat to replace one belonging to a lady that his horse has eaten! His bride to be follows his frantic mission everywhere he goes, along with her suspicious father and the entire wedding party who think they are following the bridegroom to the ceremony.
Throughout the six movements, Ibert, skilfully manages to weave his own music with many other styles including blues, jazz, Viennese waltzes and music hall tunes. There’s even some spiky modernist dissonance too. Hidden within the piece’s light- hearted atmosphere, one can also hear some recognisable melodies, such as Strauss’s Blue Danube and even the parody quotation of Mendelssohn’s well-known Wedding March. These provide yet more of the piece’s many surprises…
Charlotte Howdle, Lower Sixth
There has been speculation that there is, somewhere in the world, a mobile safe haven for violas. Its existence has since been confirmed, as the viola tribe manifested itself in the form of the Cecil Aronowitz International Viola Competition at the Birmingham conservatoire during the penultimate week of November. Violists and other supporters flocked from far and wide to listen and participate in a week of masterclasses, recitals workshops and, of course, the main event: the international competition itself.
Several members of symphony orchestra headed down on Monday to get a piece of the action: Naina played in a masterclass with Timothy Ridout and later joined the rest of the merry band in a workshop hosted by the Absolute Zero (temperature, not skill) viola quartet – yes, viola quartets do exist. The workshop was an amusing time where arrangements for viola ensemble were played and new techniques picked up. They also watched Round 2 of the competition.
The Robin Ireland evening recital included one of his own works, Pairings II for two viola, a Bach Chaconne (played with a baroque bow), Seven Preludes by Shostakovich and Six pieces from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. A magical and inspirational performance by one of the viola greats.
All in all, it was an informative and fun experience – maybe next time we’ll be competing for real! … or not.
Gabriel and Junias Wong