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S & H Concert Review

RELATED ROCKS (1): Stravinsky, Lindberg, Berg: Arditti Quartet, Magnus Lindberg(piano), Kari Kriikku(Clarinet), Purcell Room, Friday November 30th (HTW)

It is rare that for an entire concert the music making is of the same high calibre as that of its interpreters. The second concert in the multimedia festival Related Rocks: The World of Magnus Lindberg, devised by Lindberg´s Finnish compatriot Esa-Pekka Salonen in conjunction with the Philharmonia, brought one of those rare London appearances of the Arditti Quartet, the world’s leading exponent for the string quartets of our time and surely one of England’s most important music exports. One would have expected a sold out Purcell Room, but there were many empty seats. It is only too well known that for some time "Something is rotten in the State of Denmark", to quote Shakespeare.

There are far too many contemporary composers, whose work one hears once - and that is it. There are sadly not that many composers whose works one would like to hear far more often. Magnus Lindberg (43) belongs to this second category. For sometime now he has left behind the self-indulgent experiments of others in favour of creating ravishing and explosive music for the 21st century. He has not only learned his craft, he is also one of the most creative and forward looking voices on the horizon. His output is already phenomenal and proves correct the remarks of the great teacher, pianist, conductor and composer Lukas Foss. He wrote how important it is for the young composer not just to sit and remain proud of some first obscure work, but to compose non-stop in a variety of styles, until - hopefully - his own distinctive voice appears. Back in the 1980s Lindberg realised how dangerous and corrupt a new century may be and that classical music, if it wanted to survive, had to overcome any introvert, complacent and backward looking perspective. His music is based on the vast experience of the past while simultaneously creating new, refreshing and even aggressive music reflecting the need to speak direct, to mirror the present and to reach out towards the future. see Interview with Lindberg

The `related rocks´ framing this concert were Stravinsky´s Three Pieces for String quartet (1914), which he had composed for the conductor Ernest Ansermet and which much later featured in some of his orchestral works, and Berg´s gigantic Lyric Suite (1926), in my view the most important string quartet of the 20th century and a prime example of the truism that even serialism can only be a means to an end - in this case absolute music recreating the spirit of the great Viennese school. That this quartet is also the most complex and the most difficult love letter in music history is the other side of this incredible coin. The Arditti Quartet played both works with the insight, vividness and intensity it is know for.

No reasons were given for an unexpected change of programme. Lindberg´s advertised London premiere of his first string quartet - officially still a work in progress - had been replaced with his Six Jubilees, for Solo Piano (2000). This suite of six piano miniatures originated out of Jubilee 1, a short commission, to celebrate Pierre Boulez´s 75th birthday together with commissions from eleven other composers. Lindberg, an excellent pianist, astonishingly, has written hardly anything for his instrument. It was, therefore, fascinating to listen to this partita-like full-blooded collection, a true work of the 21st century, played by the composer himself. Any remarks that another pianist may have played the pieces differently and less energetically are irrelevant. To be able to hear a composition first hand is far more important than any refined interpretation - piano music of magnetic power and controlled drama full of harmonic and rhythmic changes. Lindberg´s one movement Clarinet Quintet (1992) with the Arditti Quartet, joined by the Finnish clarinet player Kari Kriikku, for whom it was written, proved to be overwhelming in its virtuosity - not only for the clarinet, but also for the string quartet. Its energy is breathtaking "physically pushing the music to extreme registers or speed"(Lindberg). It has already been recorded by the same artists on the Montaigne label. This concert had been a real treat and, I am sure, the rest of this well planed mini-festival will be of similar quality.

By coincidence, the Contemporary Music Network presented Kaija Saariaho (49), another Finnish composer (Queen Elizabeth Hall Nov. 19th), while the London Philharmonic had chosen her as its Composer in Focus for the 2001/02 season (first concert Royal Festival Hall Nov.24th). But despite already being an icon her music disappointed me. I could not find any forward looking approach to her music nor anything that would captivate my interest, nor anything, for that matter, that could eventually carry some weight as a directly speaking creative force for our century. Her music is highly intellectual, self-absorbed, slightly introvert and clever, but judging from the two events on offer it does lead nowhere.

At the QEH I heard From the Grammar of Dreams - a visualised concert for 2 sopranos, cello, harp, flute and viola (1999) –a childishly staged song cycle, amplified and with electronic background noise, and one which sounded like an extremely selfish attempt to recreate the atmosphere of medieval madrigals. After seventy-five consecutive minutes my frustration at such a high level of arrogance and kitsch had reached boiling point. At the RFH, Gidon Kremer and the London Philharmonic under the young American conductor Alan Gilbert gave a vivid and remarkable account of her violin concerto Graal Théâtre (1994). She had written it for Gidon Kremer, but this kind of confrontation with all the technical extremes a great violinist is capable of seemed solely to be a theatrical presentation against transparent orchestral textures.

Hans-Theodor Wohlfahrt



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