Edgard Varèse – Octandre (9’)
Grace-Evangeline Mason – Glass Cathedrals (5’)
Anton Webern – Concerto for Nine Instruments (8’)
Matthew Grouse – wood.pulse (5’)
Mark-Anthony Turnage – Black Milk – World premiere – Psappha commission (10’)
Alban Berg – Chamber Concerto (40’)
Black Milk, the penultimate concert in Psappha’s 2020-21 season, is set to be a special one. At Hallé St Peter’s, the contemporary classical ensemble will tackle a thrilling programme of music including a world premiere by Psappha patron Mark-Anthony Turnage, a chamber group classic by Alban Berg and two works by exciting young composers.
The centrepiece of the concert is a major new work by one of our country’s greatest living composers, Mark-Anthony Turnage. Renowned for his unique synthesis of popular and ‘serious’ culture, the Essex-born composer’s orchestral and operatic music is often forthright and confrontational, unafraid to mirror the realities of modern life, while exuding exhilarating energy. Commissioned by Psappha and written for internationally-acclaimed jazz singer Ian Shaw and a 16-strong ensemble, Black Milk receives its world premiere exactly 12 months after its first planned performance fell victim to the coronavirus. We’ve a feeling this will be well worth waiting for…
Another highlight in this programme is Alban Berg’s Chamber Concerto for piano, violin and 13 wind instruments. Written in 1935 as a homage to Berg’s teacher and friend Arnold Schoenberg, it is one of the Viennese composer’s best-known and most frequently performed instrumental works. As the last piece that Berg ever wrote, Chamber Concerto features a kind of reconciliation between Schoenberg’s 12-tone technique and late-Romantic diatonicm, with the complex geometrical construction of Berg’s music belying a tender human heart. Listen closely, and underneath the expressionist distortion, you’ll hear elements of Mahler and Brahms, as well as reflections on Viennese popular culture in the form of recurring waltz rhythms.
Elsewhere in the programme, we look forward to another Viennese chamber group classic, Anton Webern’s Concerto for Nine Instruments, as well as Edgard Varèse’s vibrant Octandre. In the former, Webern takes Schoenberg’s 12-tone method to an extreme, inventing a perfectly symmetrical 12-tone series, mirrored by a structure that evolves via canons, mirror canons and palindromes. Varèse’s Octandre (1923), meanwhile, is more focussed on moods and colours. Notably, it’s the only work by the French-born composer that does not feature percussion. Instead, Varèse gives those percussive duties to the winds, brass and double bass, who at times articulate nervous rhythmic motifs and at others take on a pounding, weapon-like character.
Fast-forwarding to the present day, we’ll hear two works written as part of Psappha’s ‘Composing For’ scheme. First, it’s Grace-Evangeline Mason’s hauntingly tender piece for solo harp, Glass Cathedrals. Inspired by the conceptual image of a grand cathedral constructed entirely of glass, the work aims to “capture a moment of fleeting, temporary splendour before its great and expectedly enduring structure shatters”. Yorkshire composer Matthew Grouse’s wood.pulse, meanwhile, is an invigorating bassoon solo focussed on gradually evolving, propulsive rhythmic patterns and timbral exploration. Intriguingly, Grouse draws influence from electronic music, writing his parts as if they were being processed by filters and layered with modulation effects.
This typically varied, typically thrilling concert promises to be a highlight of Psappha’s 2020-21 season. If you’d like to attend, we recommend booking early as tickets will be in high demand. If you do decide to book, make sure to get down early (6.40pm), as Mark-Anthony Turnage, Psappha’s Tim Williams and RNCM’s Douglas Jarman are giving an introductory talk that will contextualise the programme.