Rhinegold Photo credit: Ryan Schude
Mason Bates

Lucy Thraves


Premieres: October’s new music

9:00, 1st October 2018

Lucy Thraves caught up with Mason Bates ahead of his upcoming world premiere

It was the magic realism of Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges’s work of the same name that inspired Mason Bates’ Anthology of Fantastic Zoology. ‘I sought a musical form that would encourage the creation of highly distinct music with a surreal element,’ he explains. ‘The challenge of bringing [Borges’] mythological and surreal creatures to life proved irresistible.’

What kinds of ‘creatures’ does this include, and how are they reflected in the music? ‘The sprite is a good example of a narrative provoking new sounds. In conjuring the mischievous movements of a capricious fairy, I shattered the string section into a large group of soloists – with the sprite jumping from music stand to music stand. This creates onstage spatial effects as riffs shoot from the concertmaster to the back of violins.’ He adds: ‘Many composers throw instruments offstage or around the concert hall, but this is one of the first orchestral works engaging with onstage “choreography” – an idea provoked by the astonishing vividness of Borges’ compendium.’

Musically, Bates drew inspiration from ‘glistening’ Russian ballet scores, and specifically the Russian concept of ‘jarkos’ (‘etched’) – music that is ‘so distinctive and memorable that it seems ‘etched’ in your mind.’ He cites Mussorgsky and Stravinsky as examples. ‘Creating recognisable music has not always been a focus in recent music history, especially in the process-based worlds of serialism or minimalism. I like the challenge of creating memorable material because it opens up so many musical possibilities.’

The UK premiere of the work has been programmed alongside Beethoven’s Overture to The Creatures of Prometheus, a piece Bates describes as ‘light-hearted’ compared to the ‘dark fantasy’ of the sort that might be found ‘in Tolkien’s Mirkwood or Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth.’

Bates’ work has been described as ‘reinvigorating’ the classical tradition (he is also a DJ, and a champion of cinematic programme notes and immersive stagecraft). Where does he see the future of classical music? ‘The orchestra can tell big stories in deep ways, as it did in the 19th century with the programmatic approach of Berlioz, Liszt and Wagner. I’ve enjoyed reviving that tradition with entirely new sounds, some of them from the energy of techno and digital studios.’


Mason Bates, Anthology of Fantastic Zoology, UK prem (BBC Symphony Orchestra, Cristian Macelaru, conductor, Barbican Centre, 7.30pm)

(c) Dave Maric
(c) Dave Maric

The title of Charlotte Bray’s new work Invisible Cities comes from Italo Calvino’s book of the same name, in which the author describes what seems like 55 different cities, but what are actually 55 different perspectives on a single city – Venice. ‘This could be thought of as the essence of the musical work,’ says Bray. ‘One “city” is described, with memories and glimpses of this original “place” referred to as the piece progresses.’

The book’s title has influenced the music in another way, too. Bray explains: ‘Separate ideas are presented in each part. They exist alongside each other and are sometimes influenced by each other, but they are, for the most part, invisible entities, inhabiting separate worlds.’ Fragments of a melody form a connecting thread throughout the music, acting as ‘memories and glimpses of the original “place”’.

Invisible Cities premiered in Verbier in 2011, and has since been performed in France and Germany, but has not yet been performed in the UK. In May of this year, Bray made some revisions to the score ahead of a recording being made for her second CD [due to be released in October on the Richard Thomas Foundation classical label]. ‘It would be fair to say that the work has evolved quite a lot since the original premiere,’ she says.

The UK premiere will take place in London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall – a very different setting from the mountain scenery of Verbier. ‘I think the venue and location can have a huge impact on how a piece is received,’ says Bray. ‘Of course the audience (and their expectations) will vary, but it would be difficult for me to pinpoint what changes exactly, since every listener is different wherever the work is heard.

‘Personally I find that the premiere is usually the most challenging performance to listen to, since the work hasn’t had time to breathe and find its feet. But perhaps this reaction is only relevant to the composer who knows the work so intimately.’


Charlotte Bray, Invisible Cities UK prem (Huw Watkins, piano, Mariani Piano Quartet, Ducasse Trio, Purcell Room, Queen Elizabeth Hall, 7.45pm)

Stanford’s Mass Via Victrix was composed in 1919, and intended as a memorial to the fallen soldiers of the First World War. There was one known performance of the Gloria in 1920, but since then, the work has lain ‘dormant in the vaults of Boosey and Hawkes’, says conductor Adrian Partington.

Adrian Partington
Adrian Partington

Partington, along with Stanford expert Jeremy Dibble, are bringing the mass back to life. But why has it taken nearly a hundred years for the work to be performed again? ‘My view is that Stanford’s music was associated with the pre-war, old-fashioned imperial world,’ explains Partington. ‘Nobody wanted that anymore. I recently read Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain, who writes that very quickly after the end of the war, ex-servicemen were snubbed and disregarded because people wanted to disassociate themselves from it.’

The work’s title translates as ‘Way of Victory’; whilst intended as a memorial, it is first and foremost ‘a celebration of victory. At the end of the war the nation was proud. Those men served and achieved. It’s not sentimental, it’s vigorous and triumphant.’

This is reflected in the music, which, according to Dibble, ‘recalls the quasi-operatic music of [Stanford’s] Requiem and Stabat Mater.’ Partington continues: ‘The musical style is definitely military: the Kyrie, for example, begins with an ostinato horn call; the Agnus Dei has an angry outburst and a fierce march with fanfares.’

Partington hopes that Stanford might enjoy the kind of revival that Parry has in the last year, especially since, he claims, ’Stanford is a better composer. He’s more energetic, versatile, and harmonically interesting. And there’s so much still to be discovered.’

As for this piece, he is confident that it will be a success. ‘I’m certainly going to perform it again. I’m really taken with it. It’s engaging and beautiful, and I’m very proud to be associated with it.’

Adrian Partington conducts the BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales in the first complete performance of Stanford’s Mass Via Victrix on 27 October at BBC Hoddinott Hall. The Orchestra also performs Britten’s War Requiem on Armistice Day at St David’ Hall.



World premieres unless otherwise stated.


Francesco Tristano Goldberg City Variations UK prem (Francesco Tristano, piano, computer, RNCM Concert Hall, Manchester, 8pm)


John Joubert Remember (Villiers String Quartet, Rachel Speirs, soprano, John Turner, recorder, Holy Trinity Church, Blythburgh, 10.30)


Michael Ball The Everlasting Voices; Sally Beamish Interlude for Quartet; Gary Carpenter An Irishman Foresees His Death; Naji Hakim He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven; David Horne Those Images; David Matthews Lullaby; Elis Pehkonen Sonnet; Jeremy Pike The Cat and the Moon; Geoffrey Poole The New Faces, Villiers String Quartet, John Turner, recorder, Richard Simpson, oboe, Lesley-Jane Rogers, soprano, Holy Trinity Church, Blythburgh, 10.30)


Mason Bates Anthology of Fantastic Zoology UK prem (BBC Symphony Orchestra, Cristian Macelaru, conductor, Barbican Centre, 7.30pm)

David Matthews Sonatina for viola and piano; Nathan Williamson Cello Sonata (Sarah Jane Bradley, Nathan Williamson, Holy Trinity Church, Blythburgh, Suffolk, 7.30pm; also 8 October, St John the Baptist Church, Little Missenden)


Lotta Wennäkoski Flounce Scottish prem (Royal Scottish national Orchestra, Thomas Søndergård, conductor, Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, 7.30pm)


Patrick Hawes The Great War Symphony (Louise Alder, soprano, Joshua Ellicott, tenor, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, National Youth Choirs of Great Britain, London Youth Choir, Berkshire Youth Choir, Invictus Choir, the Band of the Household Cavalry, State Trumpeters, Fanfare Trumpeters of the RAF, Corps of Drums and Bugles of the Royal Marines, National Youth Choir of Scotland, Cross Border Youth Choir, Ysgol Glanaethwy, Royal Albert Hall, London, 7.30pm)


Stephen Goss Time (Christoph Denoth, guitar, Kings Place, London, 7.30pm)


David Matthews New work (Sarah Connolly, mezzo-soprano, Stephanie, Michael Gurevich, violins, Lawrence Power, viola, Adrian Brendel, cello, Ian Brown, piano, Purcell Room, Queen Elizabeth Hall, 7.45pm)


Julian Grant Out in the Cold; Zoe Martlew Völuspa; Lynne Plowman Woman Dreaming of Escape (Lucy Schaufer, mezzo-soprano, Miranda Fulleylove, violin, Clara Biss, viola, Zoe Martlew, cello, Smedmore House, Dorset, 6pm)


Misha Mullov-Abbado New work (Outcry Ensemble, Middle Temple Hall, London, 7pm)


John Woolrich Badinerie (from A Book of Inventions) European prem (Tesla Quartet, Britten Studio, Snape Maltings, 7.30pm


Charlotte Bray Invisible Cities UK prem (Huw Watkins, piano, Mariani Piano Quartet, Ducasse Trio, Purcell Room, Queen Elizabeth Hall, 7.45pm)


William Bolcom Dinner at Eight European prem (Wexford Festival Opera, Wexford; also 23, 26 Oct, 1, 4 Nov, 8pm)


John McLeod Viola Concerto, ‘Nordic Fire’ (Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Jane Atkins, viola, Joseph Swensen, conductor, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, 7.30pm; also 26 October, City Halls, Glasgow, 7.30pm)


Elisabeth Lutyens Five Impromptus Op 116; James Clarke Untitled No 7, UK prem; Hans Thomalla Ballade.Rauschen, UK prem (Nicholas Hodges, piano, Wigmore Hall, London, 7.30pm)


Giacinto Scelsi Uaxuctum: The Legend of the Maya City, destroyed by themselves for religious reasons UK prem (London Contemporary Orchestra and Choir, Robert Ames, conductor, Barbican, 7.30pm)

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