SoundState, the Southbank Centre’s celebration of new music, crams a lot into five days, with programmes ranging across the globe and throughout the stylistic spectrum, from soft-centred minimalism to hard-edged complexity. Nearly all the Southbank’s resident ensembles are involved, and it was the London Philharmonic that got things under way, with five new or nearly new orchestral works, expertly introduced by Marin Alsop.
Three had been specially commissioned. Burr, by Arne Gieshoff, who emerged from the LPO’s young composers programme in 2014, proved an eventful concert-opener, with enough striking ideas – frantic, tangled orchestral tuttis; ghostly, unsettling reflective moments – to justify a piece several times as long, while Anders Hillborg’s Sound Atlas was an expansive, five-part movement, predominantly slow and coloured by a glass harmonica, its string textures suggesting Vaughan Williams’s Tallis Fantasia with a helping of microtones.
Helen Grime had composed a bespoke Percussion Concerto for Colin Currie. It certainly puts him through his paces in the expected way, with tuned percussion dominating the outer movements and the untuned instruments reserved for the central section, but it seemed rather formulaic.
The biggest impression was left by the two works performed in the UK for the first time. Erkki-Sven Tüür’s 2017 Solastalgia used a solo piccolo (the LPO’s own Stewart McIlwham) to spark off confrontational ideas in the orchestra in what becomes an increasingly angry protest against climate change. And Louis Andriessen’s latest score, Agamemnon, first performed by the New York Philharmonic last October, is a rare orchestral work from a composer who has avoided such things for most of his career. With aggressively martial outer sections and a lyrical core of solos – especially for saxophone and oboe – it comes with a list of “dramatic personae”, though none of those Homeric characters is specifically identified in the music. At the very end, though, after the final savage chord, a woman arises from the orchestra (the LPO’s cor anglais player Sue Böhling here) to identify herself as Cassandra and speak a few lines of Aeschylus in Ted Hughes’s English version foretelling the fate of the protagonists in Andriessen’s musical drama.
Broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on 21 January. SoundState continues until 20 January.