LPO/Alsop review – SoundState festival opens with Homer and a glass harmonica

Royal Festival Hall, London
Erkki-Sven Tüür’s climate change protest and Andriessen’s Homeric musical story were the highlights of a varied and challenging opening night for the new music festival

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.


Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Clyne: Dance; Elgar Cello Concerto review – calm, motoric energy and gorgeous fusions
Anna Clyne’s impressive new work is a cello concerto inspired by Persian poetry and outshining the familiar Elgar work in Inbal Segev’s performance

Andrew Clements

18, Jun, 2020 @2:00 PM

Article image
SoundState festival review – buzzing with ideas
From the sonic possibilities of a ping-pong ball to Rebecca Saunders’ terrifying timbres, the five-day new-music festival offered plenty to fascinate and outrage

John Lewis

21, Jan, 2019 @6:13 PM

Article image
Let’s not ‘get back to normal’: the Southbank Centre will reflect our changed world
From postponed Meltdowns to melted icecream, shutting down an 11-acre multi-venue site has made for a challenging 15 months at London’s Southbank Centre. But, as it reopens, there have been gains as well as losses

Gillian Moore

25, May, 2021 @1:24 PM

LPO/Alsop – review

Though not technically 20th-century, Dvořák's final symphony helped American musicians forge an original classical-music culture, writes Guy Dammann

Guy Dammann

21, Feb, 2013 @5:43 PM

Article image
'He was high-brow, low-brow, every-brow!' – the genius of Leonard Bernstein
Composer, conductor, inspiration, FBI suspect … Leonard Bernstein was born 100 years ago this August, and this summer’s Proms will celebrate his work. Musicians, critics and his own family remember an astounding talent

Interviews by Imogen Tilden, Fiona Maddocks

12, Jul, 2018 @5:00 AM

LPO/Alsop | Classical review

Royal Festival Hall
Even Marin Alsop's devotion to Leonard Bernstein couldn't make his second symphony feel much more than an average film score, writes George Hall

George Hall

23, Apr, 2010 @10:30 PM

Article image
Siegfried review – Jurowski showcases Wagner with wonder and excitement
Vladimir Jurowski and the LPO make the third part of Wagner’s Ring a thing of wonder, raising the bar with an astonishing performance

Tim Ashley

02, Feb, 2020 @4:07 PM

Article image
Philip Glass completes his David Bowie trilogy with Lodger symphony
The long-discussed adaptation of the late singer’s 1979 album Lodger will premiere at the Southbank Centre in May 2019

Imogen Tilden

30, Jan, 2018 @2:00 PM

Article image
Mahler Chamber Orchestra/Uchida review – immaculate yet routine
The pedigree pairing of orchestra and pianist brought beautiful moments to these Mozart concertos, but felt uninvolving

Andrew Clements

08, Feb, 2019 @12:24 PM

Article image
LPO/Gardner/Ehnes review – next principal ignites the spark
There were poised accounts of Walton and Bartók, but it was in Nielsen’s ‘Inextinguishable’ Symphony that things caught fire

Erica Jeal

10, Oct, 2019 @1:55 PM