Queen Elizabeth Hall
Georg Friedrich Haas – in vain (London premiere)
Emilio Pomàrico (conductor)
It has taken quite a while for Georg Friedrich Haas’s in vain to receive a performance in the United Kingdom. The London Sinfonietta under Emilio Pomàrico – valiantly, brilliantly standing in for an indisposed André de Ridder – gave this country’s premiere in Huddersfield, before bringing the work to the Queen Elizabeth Hall as part of the final weekend of the Southbank Centre’s Rest is Noise festival. Audience numbers are far from everything. If something is worth doing, it is worth doing in front of a couple of enthusiasts, or indeed simply for its own sake in front of no one at all: for the glory of God, as any mediæval composer would have understood. Yet the claim that contemporary music is of limited interest, that what audiences want is a generic programme of overture-concerto-symphony – a perfectly reasonable formation if done for a good reason rather than out of laziness – was once again belied by a sell-out for a more than hour-long ensemble work by a sixty-year-old Austrian composer. This is not the churned-out pandering of minimalism, ‘holy’ or otherwise, but substantial, substantive, music, which both requires effort and rewards it. Such in any case was my first experience of a work whose renown has steadily grown over the past few years, not least thanks to the advocacy of figures such as Sir Simon Rattle and Alex Ross. An introduction by Rattle, given before a Berlin performance earlier this year, was reprinted in the programme. I am glad I only read it afterwards, since it enabled me to hear the performance without any preconceptions, not knowing at all what to expect, but I should recommend the enthusiasm and intelligence of Rattle’s words to anyone remotely curious.