Saturday, June 11, 2005

Tippett can still empty a concert hall

It is centenary year for Michael Tippett, and that means the programme makers are having something of a Tippett fest. With all that exposure, and with more A Child of Our Times than Messiahs around the country it would be easy to conclude that Tippett was now 'safe box office'. But the Norwich and Norfolk Festival found that this was very much not the case when they scheduled two concerts with acclaimed pianist Steven Osborne playing the four Tippett Piano Sonatas and contemporary works in a 'Tippett in context' series.

The first of the two concerts in the John Innes Centre (which is out of the city centre, but offers superb chamber music acoustics) didn't just have some empty seats, it was two thirds empty. Here is the culprit programme:

Tippett Piano Sonata No. 1
Gershwin 3 Preludes
Ravel Sonatine
interval
Tippett Sonata No. 2
Ives Three-Page Sonata
Bartok Excerpts from Mikrokosm0s, Book 6

And what a treat the absent concert-goers missed. It was a typically craggy and uncompromising piece of Steven Osborne (photo on right) programming, matched by equally as craggy and uncompromising playing. What wonderful works the Tippett sonatas are. I have to confess to a particular fondness for the rites of passage Sonata No. 1, which probably reflects my fascination with first novels. Although I said in my post What a Facade! that even Gershwin's orchestral jazz writing didn't really come off, his jazz themes for piano in the three preludes show what a master of the jazz form he really was.

It would have been so easy to have programmed the two Tippett Sonatas with two 'popular' Beethoven sonatas. The Festival organisers and Osborne didn't. They got lots of empty seats, and those that did venture outside their personal comfort zones got a marvellous, and thought, provoking evening of live music making.

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