Thursday, 12 January 2012

LSO Panufnik Young Composers Workshop

Yesterday I went to hear a colleague's composition as part of this day-long workshop. Two three hour sessions accomodate seven composers (Duncan Ward and Mihyun Woo may have to forgive me for not talking specifically about their own pieces, performed earlier in the session I attended).

Alastair Putt's Tocco is an economical piece. Alastair is interested in the juxtaposition of heterogenous and homogenous sound; Tocco looks to examine a homogenous, 12 note chord through heterogenous perspectives. This is co-incidental with the technique of change-ringing, a logical method for composing a peal of bells, the method by which the heterogeny is constructed. Transpositions to the 12 notes of the chord create rapid figures in the instrumental parts. It makes for effervescent textures. It's fun.

Above all it seemed to sing in the space. A comment from an orchestra's spokesman asked about Alastair's awareness of the LSO ST Luke's space (a rather 'live' or resonant acoustic in general, though it was acoustically adjutsed to be as 'dead' or dry as possible for the session). Though Alastair's preparation of the score had taken a rather more pure path than being prepared for a specific acoustic, it was clear that the music was singing in the space.

This may be ascribed to the aesthetic rigour that Alastair had ascribed to the work through its change-ringing process. The transpositions, which are a series of fifths, open up natural resonsnances. It's no surprise that at the opening of the music one recalls the air and light in the opening statement of Berg's Violin Concerto or Britten's neoclassical cantata Phaedra (this latter work also employing a bell as part of the texture). Interestingly, the piece ends with a sustained low note. A statement of the ecclesiastical character suggested by Tocco (translated as 'touch', it may also mean a short piece for church bells) it also has the advantage of providing space in which the various remanants of the stacked up harmonics created by the preceding music may breathe out. For all its Allegro character (noted by conductor James MacMillan as typical character of works given the three minute compositional limit of this workshop) there is space for Tocco to sound in an almost perfumed manner.

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