S&H Concert Review
Dusapin, Keeling, C. Matthews
& Stravinsky Trinity College Contemporary Music
Group/DiegoMasson with Evelyn Glennie (percussion) Old Royal Naval
College Chapel, Greenwich 16 November 2000
The commitment to contemporary music in UK music colleges is exemplified by the regular involvement at Trinity of Diego Masson, one of the best and most experienced conductors for this repertoire, in demand internationally. He is well known in London, having conducted many of our orchestras and opera companies. Add to that the impressive standard of student groups in the colleges and you have a recipe for a great evening, capped by the involvement of Evelyn Glennie, who needs no introduction - and too by the magnificent venue, one of London's great historic buildings, the former Royal Naval College, built by Christopher Wren and associates, now becoming home to this music college, whose profile is steadily increasing (see recent reviews Strauss Alpine Symphony & Purcell King Arthur).
Stravinsky's Octet is a perpetual miracle, a work of which one never tires, and which gives me a frisson of sad apprehension as it comes towards its economical ending; no matter, another chance to hear it will be not long ahead. These young students made a confident impression, yet fragile too, playing it maybe for the first time (some of them may not even have known it as listeners beforehand) with Masson as the experienced pilot steering it into harbour. All went well with this dream that Stravinsky recalled upon awakening and used so productively. One shared the exploration with th Trinity students, more like how it would have been in the 1920s than in these times when crack ensembles are competing to bring CD perfection into the concert hall and establish themselves as 'the best'.
Cascando by the conductor's compatriot, Pascal Dusapin, for a different eight (the same octet as for Varese's seminal Octandre) seemed tighter & clearer than many a work of his I had encountered from this, for me, elusive composer. It was largely built from elaborations of single notes, with a prominent trombone. My notes mentioned, as well as obvious links with the aesthetics of Stravinsky and Varese, Xenakis, Berio and Scelsi, the master of the single note (I do not intend to suggest that it was by any means unoriginal). The performance was vivid, the flute perhaps a little reticent? Two Tributes by Colin Matthews (to Carter at 90, and Chris van Kampen in memoriam) are short but complex and did test the players somewhat.
After the interval Evelyn Glennie gave the world premiere (why so belated?) of Andrew Keeling's percussion concerto Nekyia of 1995, composed in memory of a young musician who died in 1974; more 'musical' than some of her more recent and perhaps more ephemeral commissions. Keeling is not a radical composer, indeed I would describe the concerto's idiom as neo-romantic, with fleeting echoes of English pastoralism, but he is his own man and I have previously enjoyed his independent musical thinking (Opus 20 and KEELING Hidden Streams & Meditatio). Its earlier sections featured metals and marimba; the vibraphone is surprisingly assertive an instrument, absorbing some of the orchestral texture more than one might expect - balance was good in the middle part of the piece, for marimba (those returned at the end in reverse order). There was a serious miscalculation for the most extrovert section, for which Glennie sat at a drum kit and bashed away without restraint. The composer's note specified that this should have been placed behind the orchestra, and undoubtedly that would have worked better; Evelyn Glenn's fans would, however, not be used to seeing her retreat into the background.
This was another auspicious concert to confirm South East London's good luck in luring Trinity out from the West End. Most of the critics were, doubtless, enjoying Rattle & van Otter at South Bank; I was very content to be in the beautiful (and beautifully lit) Chapel in Greenwich in the company of these eager students.
Peter Grahame Woolf
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