Rhinegold Photo credit: © Shervin Lainez
A fruitful collaboration: Bryce Dessner

Katy Wright

Deputy Editor, Classical Music

Premieres: April’s new music

8:00, 1st April 2018

A chance encounter with Katia and Marielle Labèque in Los Angeles was the beginning of ‘a really important friendship and collaboration’ for Bryce Dessner. ‘I had recently moved to Paris, having lived in New York for 20 years. In France I didn’t have much of a community, so I met up with Katia and Marielle, and we started talking about working together. They almost became like family to me: we were very involved in each other’s creative lives and socially I see them quite a lot because we live quite close. It’s rare that I get to write music for people I know so well!’

This concerto is the second piece which Dessner has written for the sisters; they have already toured and recorded his 2016 work El Chan. ‘What excited me most about this concerto is that the two of them are unbelievably musical,’ the composer says. ‘Everything they do is full of emotion, soul and musicality. They’re really beautiful players. Once the music is in their hands, it just takes on a new sense of life. It wasn’t that I wanted to write a double piano concerto specifically – it was about working with Marielle and Katia.’

When writing orchestral scores, Dessner says he normally works vertically, ‘creating the full picture as I go’. However, given the timeline, he changed to process in order to ensure that Marielle and Katia would be able to give him a lot of feedback. ‘I worked more in short score, where I worked hard on the piano part first, with ideas for the broader picture and the orchestration, and then went back later to fill out. Lots of composers do work that way, but it was the first time I’d done it. It allowed me to have more of an active collaboration with Katia and Marielle, that they were able to see parts as they went along; I really enjoyed working like that.’

Even though the writing is ‘very much driven by the piano’, the composer spent a great deal of time on the orchestration of the piece. ‘I find that some concertos are really over-orchestrated, so I spent a lot of time trying to get mine right,’ he says. ‘The orchestra is joining and responding – it’s quite traditional writing, call and response with the soloists. At other points there are really driving sections, with the orchestra bringing out some of the more melodic and ornamental qualities, but there’s also a lot of percussion writing to bring out some of the rhythmic energy.’

Although Dessner says that he found writing for two pianos to be a challenge, he says he was stimulated by the possibilities offered. ‘It’s really like one big instrument, sonically and in terms of the performative. You can almost do anything!’

Bryce Dessner Concerto for two pianos (Katia Labèque, Marielle Labèque, piano, London Philharmonic Orchestra, John Storgårds, conductor, Royal Festival Hall, 7.30pm)

Although Caroline Shaw has three string quartets to her name, there was one instrumental combination for which she had been longing to write. ‘I love chamber music but had never written a piano quartet. I’d been talking with people from the Britten Sinfonia about a new work, and suggested pairing Brahms’ first piano quartet with a new work of my own.’

© Kait Moreno
© Kait Moreno

Shaw often does not shy away from quoting existing pieces in her own work, but says that the relationship between her new piano quartet and Brahms’ is ‘just loose influence’. However, the composition process was coloured by her background as a violinist: ‘It’s been more personal for me because I’ve been able to remember my own experience of playing Brahms and that particular piece. There aren’t exact quotes, but there are memories of it in the new work.’

The 12-minute work ‘begins extremely simply, to the point I wasn’t sure if I should write it like that’, the composer says. When asked to describe the music, she adds: ‘Simple chord progressions deteriorate and explode over time, and there’s a lot of layering of different chord progressions on top of each other.’

Shaw says that the work has been shaped by the influence of the American visual artist Sarah Oppenheimer. ‘I’ve been reading a lot about her work and thinking about it for many years, and this piece is related to her work in a way. She’s an artist who’s interested in space and architecture, different kinds of openings and walls; the way you can physically pass an opening and see something from a different perspective. Her work is all about different ways of framing things from another side.’

Caroline Shaw Piano quartet (Britten Sinfonia, Wigmore Hall, 1pm; also 20 April, St Andrew’s Hall, Norwich, 1pm)

Tyondai Braxton’s new work has been almost a decade in the making. ‘It’s the culmination of different avenues and processes in my work and after my last project, HIVE, which was for modular synthesiser and three percussionists,’ the composer explains. ‘I knew I was ready to finally take all I’ve learned and do this piece.’

© Grace Villamil
© Grace Villamil

Braxton says the work was the product of a melting pot of influences and ideas: ‘principles learned in generative music, furthering experiments in my work, other artists’ work who inspires me.’ However, it was his interest in science fiction which lent the work its title. ‘I’m fascinated with the idea of Telekinesis, which is the ability to move objects with your mind. All of my favourite telekinesis folklore, like Carrie, Akira and Scanners, illustrate this tragic idea of someone with an awe-inspiring ability that in the end crushes them. I originally wanted to write an Akira opera, but it morphed and changed overtime.’

Combining electronics and orchestra proved a challenge for the composer. ‘It was important for me to not have the electronic element as something that feels superimposed on top of the orchestra, but rather something that’s integrated inside the parts. Both orchestra and electronics seesaw between emphasising texture and harmonic figures in a way where you feel the marriage between the two different ways of working.’ Although the piece also includes a choir, its part is wordless: ‘There is no text in the choir – just “Ah”! Text gets in the way of a world without a message.’

The work also includes a visual element, created by the lighting designer Sarah Frankel and Braxton’s long-term collaborator, artist Grace Villamil. The overall effect, the composer says, is one ‘of space, of environment. It’s something to sit and experience as a living, breathing sound-world.’

Tyondai Braxton TELEKINESIS (BBC Concert Orchestra, André de Ridder, conductor, Royal Festival Hall, 7.30pm)


Peggy Stuart Coolidge Blue Planet UK prem (National Youth Orchestra of Scotland Junior Orchestra, Holly Mathieson, conductor, Albert Halls, Stirling, 6pm; also 20 July, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, 6pm)

Kareem Roustom The Son of Man London prem (Ghada Shbeir, voice, Maria Makhouri, qanoun, Members of Orchestra of St John’s and OSJ Voices, John Lubbock, conductor, St John’s Smith Square, 7.30pm)
Patrick Brennan New work (George Barton, Siwan Rhys, percussion, St John’s Smith Square, 1.05pm)

Martin Suckling Candlebird (Mark Stone, baritone, Charles Owen, piano, Kings Place)
Philip Hammond The Blackbird’s Poet (Robin Tritschler, Adam Walker, Iain Burnside, St Laurence’s Church, Ludlow, 11.30am)
Lewis Murphy Then to the elements Henry McPherson Maud Matthew Whiteside Little Black Lies (Scottish Opera, Chris Gray, conductor, Galvinizers, Glasgow, 2pm, 7pm)

Martin Bussey 1916 (Carolyn Dobbin, Gavan Ring, Iain Burnside, Ludlow Assembly Rooms, 3pm)
Lara Agar, Alex Woolf, Daniel Soley, Henry Ovey New songs (Royal Welsh College of Music students, Ludlow Assembly Rooms, 2pm)

Daniel Kidane Dream Song (Roderick Williams, baritone, Chineke! Orchestra, Anthony Parnther, conductor, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, 7.30pm)

Huw Watkins Piano quintet (Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Wigmore Hall, 7.30pm)

Gerald Barry Organ concerto (Thomas Trotter, organ, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Thomas Adès, conductor, Royal Festival Hall, 7.30pm)
Thomas Adès Powder Her Face Suite UK prem (London Philharmonic Orchestra, Thomas Adès, conductor, Royal Festival Hall, London)
James MacMillan Saxophone concerto (Amy Dickson, saxophone, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Joseph Swensen, conductor, Perth Concert Hall, 7.30pm; also 12 April, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh; 13 April, City Halls, Glasgow)
Julian Anderson String quartet no. 3 (Jack Quartet, Wigmore Hall, 7.30pm)

Philip Venables The Gender Agenda (London Sinfonietta, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, London, 7.30pm)

Raymond Yiu The World Was Once All Miracle London prem (BBC Symphony Orchestra, Sir Andrew Davis, conductor, Barbican, 7.30pm)
Frederic Rzewski New work (Igor Levit, piano, Wigmore Hall, 7.30pm)
Jay Capperauld Endings (James Willshire, piano, National Youth Orchestra of Scotland Symphony Orchestra, Rebecca Miller, conductor, Perth Concert Hall, 7.30pm; also 15 April, City Halls, Glasgow)

Patrick Giguère New work (London Symphony Orchestra, Susanna Mälkki, conductor, Barbican, 7pm)
Vito Žuraj Aftertouch UK prem Ubuquité – farces for soprano and ensemble (new English version) (Nika Goric, soprano, Philharmonia Orchestra, Joana Mallwitz, conductor, Royal Festival Hall, 6pm)
Unsuk Chin Le chant des enfants des étoiles Euro prem (Philharmonia Orchestra, Philharmonia Voices, Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor, Royal Festival Hall, 7.30pm)

Wendy Hiscocks New work (Retorica, Cardiff University Concert Hall, 7pm)

Gregory Rose Five Schwitters Songs, Violin concerto (Loré Lixenberg, mezzo-soprano, Peter Sheppard Skærved, violin, Jupiter Singers, Jupiter Orchestra, Gregory Rose, conductor, St John’s Smith Square, 7.30pm)
Qasim Naqvi The Bad Feelings Rainbow Kaitlyn Aurelia Sith Action of Inaction (BBC Concert Orchestra, André de Ridder, conductor, Royal Festival Hall, 7.30pm)

Helen Grime New work (London Symphony Orchestra, Sir Simon Rattle, conductor, Barbican Hall, 7.30pm; also 26 April)
Jesse Jones Square Dances (English Symphony Orchestra, Kenneth Woods, conductor, St John’s Smith Square, 7.30pm)
Harrison Birtwistle Intrada for piano, vibraphone and xylophone (Nicolas Hodges, piano, Colin Currie, percussion, Queen Elizabeth Hall, 7.30pm)
Francesco Tristano Neihou UK prem (Liverpool Philharmonic, Maxime Tortelier, conductor, Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, 7.30pm)

Mike Walker New work (Mike Walker, electric guitar, Iain Dixon, reeds, Psappha Ensemble, Stephen Barlow, conductor, Stoller Hall, Chetham’s, Manchester, 7.30pm)

Mark Simpson Cello concerto (Leonard Elschenbroich, cello, BBC Philharmonic, Clemens Schuldt, conductor, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, 7.30pm)
Anders Hillborg Mantra – Elegy (London Philharmonic Orchestra, Vladimir Jurowski, conductor, Royal Festival Hall, London)

Daniel Kidane New song cycle (Nick Pritchard, tenor, Ian Tindale, piano, The Venue, Leeds College of Music, 1pm)

Hanna Kulenty Fado (Bukolika Piano Trio, St John’s Smith Square, 7.30pm)

Pedro Faria Gomes New work (Dryads Duo, Cardiff University Concert Hall, 7pm)
Christian Mason Sardinian Songbook (Ligeti Quartet, Firth Hall, Sheffield, 7.30pm)

Laurence Osborn The Mother (Mahogany Opera Group, Jamie Man, conductor, Polish Social and Cultural Association, London, 7.30pm)

Ross Harris Face UK prem (BBC Symphony Orchestra, Gergely Madaras, conductor, Barbican, 7.30pm)
Dorothy Ker New work (Lucas Fels, cello, Firth Hall, Sheffield, 12.15pm)
Nadim Jauffur New work (Sheffield University Symphony Orchestra, Adrian Moore, conductor, Firth Hall, Sheffield, 7.30pm)

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