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Archives for November 2009

Who's calling the tune? Is there a tune to call?

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Anthony Sayer Anthony Sayer | 09:39 UK time, Monday, 23 November 2009

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Taverner - aftermath or afterglow
How was it for you? For me, it was great - a highlight week. Critical acclaim resounding everywhere. Probably the most expensive concert we've ever put on. Yes, to Andrew Trinick's blog, and yes to fioritura's response suggesting that the thrills were likely to be limited to the actual event - both writing just before the performance. Right on! Now, tell me......how many folk are going settle down at six o' clock on a Saturday 28th November and listen to the broadcast of Taverner.....and have a really exciting experience? Mind you, with the wonders of iPlayer, you don't have to be limited to six o' clock. Here's what is worrying me: Radio 3 gets about 1.4% of the radio listening public - though its accolade of 'Radio Station of the Year' indicates improvement. How many of that 1.4% listen to cutting edge contemporary atonal operas? Here in Glasgow, after an expensive publicity campaign, about 500 people took advantage of the free tickets for the event. That's the City Hall half full - which is good for 'difficult' modern music. Now, I'm not throwing dirty dampeners at any of this - I'm a total enthusiast for Taverner, and for the BBC and the SSO doing it. For me, that week's work - the music, the build up, and the performance itself - all added up to a Really Exciting Experience. (I risk my neck talking like that - colleagues will write me off as a total nerd......maybe I am.) But, the event has left questions spilling out of my little mental cupboard - which'll take a while to tidy up.......

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Time for Taverner...

BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra | 10:31 UK time, Friday, 6 November 2009

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Taverner... What a mammoth undertaking.. 1 Opera, 1 Conductor - 2 Acts, 8 days, 11 soloists, 56 hours of rehearsal... 98 players, 112 choir members, 1 performance and 1 broadcast - to the world..... but it is worth it... I think unashamedly... YES!

What a thought provoking masterpiece.. the more you look at it, the more it makes you not only delve head first into Taverner's 16th century world, but also of the late 1950's when it was written (before the liberalising 60's).. It also it makes you think of religion and the persecuted and persecutor, and reformation and ransacked monasteries, lives destroyed and rapidly changing times.. in rifely political times. How things don't change. The counter point and music in the piece, and the way it changes from one half to the next... and shifts through the opera... subtle and clever.

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When Mahler lost his map - wanderings off context

Anthony Sayer Anthony Sayer | 09:11 UK time, Monday, 2 November 2009

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I'm thinking of beginnings, and thinking back to Runnicles' inaugural Mahler 1. The natural world looms large in this symphony - that's what he intended, he said so on the tin - pastoral scenes, storms, folk dances, birds, usual nice stuff. It opens with a dawn scene. But the very first sound reveals a strangely unfamiliar world. Mahler is wandering into new territory. There's something more here than just the quiet of early morning - maybe it's the dawn of time itself........murmurings emerging from the silence of eternity. The dawn of time! To melancholics like me that phrase is a siren call, beckoning me towards the unknowable, the mysteries of creation. The inquisitive wanderer is lured away from familiar paths. We're only a few notes into the piece, and, for me, Mahler's music is conjuring up visions. Did he intend that as he was composing? Was he just following a serendipitous musical idea, or did he plan to lead us further afield? Was it that the first few random notes that came into his head led his imagination into this philosophical countryside, or did he set out trying to find notes to fit his agenda? Did the song create the idea? Other composers have wandered down these paths. Jonathon Harvey's Speakings (with which we went on to win a gramophone award) visits similar scenery. One of my favourite 'dawn-of-time' pieces is also recent: Tan Dun's Music Theatre II. Tan Dun had groups of woodwind players perched around the high balconies of the Albert Hall, making wonderful bird calls, squawking and twittering on their mouthpieces - I'm surprised that the resident greylags across the road in Hyde Park didn't scatter off in a panic. Melody gradually emerges from the chaos - all the while, a sustained low D, the eternal 'aum', the sound of creation, pervades the whole piece. All of us got to sing this creation act - players, the conductor, and audience alike! (During our first attempt to play it at the Albert Hall there was an inauspicious power cut - we had to empty the hall. We played it the following year - but only to those who managed to get there despite a tube strike.)

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