Charlie Piper: Flēotan (2007)
Ayanna Witter-Johnson: Fairtrade? (2008)
Betsy Jolas: Well Met Suite (2016)
George Stevenson: Vanishing City (2020, world premiere)
Mark Simpson: Violin Concerto (2020-21, world premiere with live audience)
Nicola Benedetti (violin)
Another return to old musical friends at an old musical haunt: in this case the LSO at the Barbican. It proved as moving and thrilling as any other, although quite different in nature, the earliest music here being the first of three LSO Panufnik Composers Scheme commissions, Charlie Piper’s Flēotan, from 2007, the newest two premieres of works from this year and last. Patricia Kopatchinskaja and François-Xavier Roth having been unable to travel here on account of interminable travel restrictions, the British premiere of Francisco Coll’s Violin Concerto had to be postponed, replaced with the live audience premiere of Mark Simpson’s Violin Concerto. The rest of the programme was unchanged. Ryan Wigglesworth stepped in at five days’ notice to learn and conduct five pieces new entirely new to him. Wigglesworth, Nicola Benedetti, and the LSO did all five pieces—and themselves—proud.
Flēotan’s title comes from an Old English word, meaning ‘to float’ or ‘fleeting’. (It would later form the foundation for a larger LSO work, The Twittering Machine.) Its glistening, somewhat metallic colours, seemingly born as much of French orchestral tradition as anything closer to home, were married, both in work and performance, to a sharply rhythmic profile. It came across as an extended fleeting moment: perhaps evoked more than merely represented. It was followed by Ayanna Witter-Johnson’s Fairtrade?, which aims to bring to the audience’s attention the high cost of ‘fast fashion’, encouraging us ‘to consider our economic choices and the cost of our convenience at others’ expense’. Whirring, whirling, the machine-like sounds here, aptly enough, came across as necessity rather than choice. A sense of going inwards, of highlighting humanity crushed by such processes, concluding this unsettling, finely crafted piece.
George Stevenson’s Vanishing City remembers those who, over the winter of 1941-2, successfully undertook the well-nigh incredible task of camouflaging Leningrad’s skyline against German attack. A hard-edged opening gave way, via Russian-sounding brass, to fantasy and still darkness. Bells recalled to us not only what was being lost, but what was being kept. Like everything else heard here, there was fine command of the orchestra as instrument and as collective of instruments: testament to the excellence of performances from the LSO and Wigglesworth, as well of course as to that of the work of composers young and old.