On Contextualising

The Hallé Orchestra’s new ‘HalléPlay’ page currently has a feature in which Sir Mark Elder talks about the presentation of new music. Click on the above link, then on ‘Performance’ and then on ‘Sally Beamish and Dvorak’. The talk is in reference to a concert in which the Orchestra will perform the following programme:

Prokofiev: Symphony No. 1 (‘Classical’)
Beamish: Cello Concerto No. 2, ‘The Song Gatherer’ (UK première)

Dvorak: The Wood Dove
Dvorak: Slavonic Dances

The clip is well worth watching, being relevant for both the contextualisation of new music and Sally Beamish, who will be judging the competition entries.

The programme is interesting for its presentation of the première alongside not only a well-known symphony and the popular Slavonic Dances, but also The Wood Dove, a rarely-heard tone poem of very programmatic nature. I was very pleased to listen to it for the first time, not least for Dvorak’s use of the timpani practically as a solo instrument. It shows strong contrasts between themes which very obviously refer to the dove and far more earthy, broad sounds.

The underlying theme of the concert is clear; the notes for the Concerto describe strong use of Polish folk song and a Yiddish lullaby. It is also highly reflective of the composer’s close friendship with the soloist, Robert Cohen, for whom it was written. Thus the music throughout the concert has a very specific purpose. In December, the St Andrews Symphony Orchestra will be performing Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, another work highly reflective of the composer’s mood at the time, in both the lyrics and the music (the implications of the fourth movement’s funereal theme in the harp, basses and timpani could not be clearer).

It will be fascinating to see and realise the ambitions of the composers in the competition. Obviously, some music is not so explicit in its message, but to the performer, this presents a wonderful opportunity for reflection and interpretation.

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