The end of the BBC Proms and the other high profile European music festivals doesn’t mean we say goodbye to compelling music making. In fact there is a strong case for saying that the real music making is actually happening away from the ‘auto-pilot’ performances that typify the ‘London today, Edinburgh tomorrow’ itineraries of the big name, big ticket, touring orchestras.
Two upcoming concerts really illustrate the exciting things that are happening away from the festival scene, and these performances are also enduring evidence of my recent theme of music beyond borders. American composer, and Harvard alumni, Vanessa Lann (left) has been quietly building a growing reputation from her base in the Netherlands. Refreshingly that reputation is being built by questioning, rather than reinforcing, performance stereotypes, and her high profile premiere with the Residentie Orchestre of the Hague on September 16 underlines this individual approach to composition.
In The Flames of Quietude Lann has not created completely new musical material, but instead places recognizable sounds and gestures (from everyday sources, as well as from well-known works by composers such as Bach and Beethoven) in new contexts and juxtapositions. She uses extensive repetition in all of her works, as well as structures based on mathematical ratios and patterns. These create a sense of expectation, ritual, theatre and even comedy, as part of the shared concert experience. This new work tackles the fundamental questions of how we listen, how we come to understand musical material, and when a performance itself actually "begins". And this is not some dry, academic excercise. Vanessa Lann will pragmatically blur the boundaries of "performance" by playing the orchestral piano part of The Flames of Quietude herself - not only with the orchestra during the orchestral concert, but also as an infinitely repeating solo work. This will be played in the foyer for an hour prior to the orchestral concert, and will form a background as the concert goers enter and are focused on other things. This Eastern-influenced questioning of the perception of ambient sound, and the repetition of continuous background events in music, as well as in daily life, is part of Lann's aesthetic.
The questioning theme continues with a new commission from Chamber Orchestra Anglia for another exciting young female composer, Joyce Koh. The commission is for the opening concert of the BA Festival of Science in Norwich on September 3, the concert uses live performances and discussion to explore the many links between music and mathematics. Singapore born Joyce Koh (above) studied under the husband and wife team of David Lumsdaine and Nicola Le Fanu, undertook postgraduate studies at IRCAM (Institute for Research and Co-ordination of Acoustics and Music) in Paris, and is currently composer-in-residence at the Ecole Nationale de Musique Montbéliard in France. As well as the Joyce Koh commission Chamber Orchestra Anglia’s innovative programme ranges from Bach to Bartok.
* Vanessa Lann’s The Flames of Quietude is being performed on September 16 at 3.00pm in the Dr Anton Philips Hall in the Hague, The Netherlands. The orchestra is the Residentie Orchestra of the Hague conducted by Etienne Siebens, and the rest of the programme is noteworthy; ‘Tango Waltz’ (2003) by Diderik Wagenaar, and ‘Dame Blanche’ (1995) for recorder, orchestra and electronics by Cornelis de Bondt.
* The Maths of Music is given by the Chamber Orchestra Anglia conducted by Sharon Choa at the John Innes Centre, Norwich at 7.00pm on September 3. The programme is Mozart Overture from Die Zauberflote, Bartok Game of Pairs, JS Bach Chaconne, Joyce Koh new commission, and Beethoven Symphony No 5.
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