It was so nice to be back on the concert stage on Friday night and to see such a wonderful crowd filling out St David’s Hall. It is a deceptively large auditorium - you don’t appreciate how large it is until you see it with a full house.
This week we have a Hoddinott Hall concert with our principal conductor Thomas Søndergård. Thomas brings us a programme of music by his fellow Danes, with works by Pelle Gudmensen-Holmgreen and Poul Ruders.
Thomas Søndergård discusses the two works by Danish composers Pelle Gudmensen-Holmgreen and Poul Ruders.
Alex Ross describes Ruders as a composer who is “a lover of sweet melodies with a yen for dark chords, a comedian with a flair for apocalypse” (The New Yorker, March 2005). On Tuesday evening, we will perform the composer’s Kafkappriccio, a short work of music lifted from his opera Kafka’s Trial.
Thomas conducted the premiere of Kafka’s Trial in Copenhagen back in 2005, and his handling of the score garnered much praise in the European press. He has worked with both composers featured in this concert which is always helpful when approaching unknown works.
I’ve been aware of Poul Ruders for a number of years as he composed an opera based on one of my favourite novels, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale which, living in Ireland at the time, I did not get the opportunity to see. I’ve been listening to quite a lot of his music over the last week. Sometimes, when you don’t know a great deal about a composer, or haven’t had the opportunity to perform any of his oeuvre before it is a good idea to try to get an overview - a little bit of an awareness of his musical language.
I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I was surprised by how melodic Ruders’ writing is. My favourite work was a piece for solo violin called Bel Canto. It is beautifully and mournfully melodic and written very idiosyncratically for the instrument without being facile. This got me very excited about Kafcappriccio - until I read the orchestration list properly and realised I wasn’t required for it!
Symphony-Antiphony by Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmsgreen is, I think, rather cool. It is split into two sections; an opening short symphony movement and six short movements that make up the antiphony. The movements of the antiphony have contrasting moods, some rather strident, some a little flirty (I think), and some tinged with melancholy.
My favourite is the second movement which sounds like overheard fragments from all manner of peoples and events. To me it is like a mixture of the organ grinder music of Stravinsky’s Petrushka, an out of tune piano in a bar and a big band, with a smidgen of Britten’s Lachraymae thrown in for good measure.
The final movement of the antiphony has echoes of Mahler, tying in nicely with our next concert with Thomas - Mahler’s humungous ninth symphony.
In an interview in the Wales Arts Review, Thomas revealed his thoughts on Ruders and Gudmundsen-Holmgreen, and also a little about our upcoming performance of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony at St David’s Hall.
Thomas Søndergård’s contemporary concert takes place at BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff Bay on Tuesday 28 January at 7.30pm. For more information visit the BBC National Orchestra of Wales website.