Audience concert review: 6 November 2013 (Gubaidulina & Pärt)

The Rest Is Noise: A Timeless Beauty
Richard Lane, 6 November 2013

It must be 20 years ago since I bought Arvo Pärt’s album Tabula Rasa and it remains a favourite disc in my collection. But last Wednesday’s concert was the first time I had heard his music performed live, and fabulous it was too.

But I am getting ahead of myself. The first half was devoted to a work unknown to me, Sofia Gubaidulina’s Offertorium. This was not an easy work to hear for the first time, with its abstract construction, but was worth the 40-minute listen thanks to some truly mesmeric playing by solo violinist Sergej Krylov. His intense tone always carried above the orchestra, thanks to sensitive direction from conductor Tõnu Kaljuste. Gubaidulina composed the work in 1980, which was championed in that decade by the great violinist Gidon Kremer.

The composer, present at the concert and taking a bow to rapturous applause on the work’s conclusion, had a tough time in her native Soviet Union during the 1950s and 1960s; her work was deemed to be ‘irresponsible’ because of its modernist (and presumably west-leaning) nature. She creates a unique sound from the orchestra, often using microtones and glissandi to great effect. No wonder she is often labeled as creating music that is mystical and spiritual.

And so to the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt and his version of musical spiritualism, or rather holy minimalism as it is often referred to. All three pieces were beautiful to behold, creating a sense of calm and reflection after the more intense and abstract first half. After two short works (Magnificat, and Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten), the London Philharmonic Choir joined the orchestra for Pärt’s Berlin Mass. I loved the pure sound of the Choir, never finding the repetitive chant-style dull. I think that is what sets Pärt apart (sorry, bad pun) from other minimalist composers. You keep listening, even though the music seems to cycle around and around. Sometimes you want to hear a noisy, exciting end to a concert, at other times, as with this performance, you can almost feel yourself floating out of the concert hall on a lovely cloud of calm.

Richard Lane is a keen amateur musician and concert-goer, who is be sharing his year of The Rest Is Noise through blogs and podcasts.

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