A contemporary premiere is uncompromising;Concert;First night
17 February 2004
(c) 2004 Times Newspapers Limited. All rights reserved
Ferneyhough Day Queen Elizabeth Hall ***
WAS it defiance or ignorance that led the London Sinfonietta to programme
their day of obeisance to the stone heart of contemporary music, Brian
Ferneyhough, on St Valentine's Day? I wonder. For Josephine and Joe
Public there were easily assimilated South Bank delights: a Fats Waller
tribute at the Purcell Room, smoochy popular classics at the Festival
Us, we put aside melody and red roses for the glories of pondering
Seven Tableaux Vivants Representing the Angel of History as Melancholia.
For Ferneyhough buffs the Tableaux was a specially significant British
Here was the first chance to taste a slice of his opera Shadowline,
inspired by the work of the German philosopher Walter Benjamin and
due to premiere in Munich in May (London pants behind a year later).
No singing here: just Roderick Williams narrating poems as blithely
impenetrable as Ferneyhough's composing practises. A double whammy,
then: yet against the odds eloquence poked through, in the changing
chamber textures at least and the ending's quiet collapse. Heavens
knows how you could stage this stretch (the opera's last scene); the
dramatic content could be fitted on the end of a pin.
Not so with 1982's Carceri d'Invenzione I, the densely chaotic and
febrile piece (after Piranesi) that kicked this day of concerts and
workshops into bed. The Sinfonietta and their conductor Martyn Brabbins
(and earlier the Arditti Quartet) displayed the most awesome virtuosity
and stamina in the service of music hard to love. By no means all
music was Ferneyhough's, though the accretion of pieces by youngish
composers scarcely supplied much variety.
Three works were given their first performances. By far the most
individual was Brian Herrington's Symphonia, which put aural memories
of the composer's Texas childhood through the mincer. The spatial
games of Dai Fujikura's Fire Station also packed a punch. But elsewhere
composers pretty much conversed with their own backsides, ladling
out the usual international new music sounds (scurrying strings, sliding
brass, eruptive percussion) while avoiding any contact with real life.
Ferneyhough stayed aloof in his own way -he appeared only in a filmed
interview, rattling off impressive intellectual disquisitions. For
proof that the man is flesh and blood, you need to turn to his recreations
in Who's Who: "reading, wine, cats".
(c) Times Newspapers Ltd, 2004