Ensemble 10/10 explore Europe’s 20th century fault lines

Ensemble 10/10 explore Europe’s 20th century fault lines

In the gilded elegance of the Concert Room in St Georges Hall last week, Ensemble 10/10 led a small but enthusiastic audience on a journey through the aesthetic and  political fault lines that shattered 20th century Europe.

As always, Ensemble 10/10 – a splinter group from the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra – was led by Clark Rundell, who always communicates energy and enthusiasm for the pieces on the programme. I like these occasions for Rundell’s concise, informed introductions to each work, and because I get to hear music that is challenging and which I met never otherwise get to hear.

For example, the main event at last week’s concert was to be the world première of Bosnian Voices by Nigel Osborne, unknown to me at that point, whose new work sets to music verses composed by people of all faiths and backgrounds from the town of Srebrenica in Bosnia. Continue reading “Ensemble 10/10 explore Europe’s 20th century fault lines”

Richter/Pärt at the Whitworth, Manchester: no broken hallelujah

Richter/Pärt at the Whitworth, Manchester: no broken hallelujah

Just as the Red Queen in Through the Looking Glass asks, ‘What do you suppose is the use of a child without any meaning?’ so the question might arise, ‘What is the use of art without meaning?’

Richter Pärt
Richter/Pärt at Manchester’s Whitworth Gallery

Should a person enter the room at Manchester’s Whitworth Gallery in which the work of Gerhard Richter is currently on display, and should that person have read no advance publicity about the Richter/Pärt show of which it is a part, they would find themselves confronted by four large abstract paintings in which thick layers of paint have been squeegeed across the surface – scorched black on white, smears of bloody red, and patches of disintegrating green. They might then ask, ‘What does this mean?’ Continue reading “Richter/Pärt at the Whitworth, Manchester: no broken hallelujah”

10/10’s Swedish Smorgasbord: tight trousers, trombones and car wrecks

10/10’s Swedish Smorgasbord: tight trousers, trombones and car wrecks

Christian Lindberg conducting Stockholm Early Music Festival 2012

Christian Lindberg conducting in Stockholm wearing that aubergine shirt

It’s not every night you get to see a a man in impossibly tight trousers and an aubergine silk shirt conducting whilst playing a trombone, adding emphasis to his musical directions with sinuous ballet moves across the stage. But that was what we got at the Epstein Theatre on Tuesday during a hugely exciting evening of contemporary music haunted by the shades of Zappa, Brecht and Weill.

The occasion was a concert by Ensemble 10/10, the brilliant and award-winning contemporary music group of the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. Packaged under the title Swedish Smorgasbord was an entertaining and stimulating collection of pieces mostly, though not exclusively, having Swedish connections.  The Swedish flavour was personified in the lively form of Christian Lindberg, renowned conductor and trombonist and Artist in Residence with the Phil this season, who directed the Ensemble with an infectious energy and enthusiasm.

The concert opened with Stravinsky’s Octet for Wind Instruments composed in 1922-1923 for an unusual combination of wind instruments: flute, clarinet, two bassoons, trumpet in C, trumpet in A, tenor trombone and bass trombone.

The Octuor began with a dream in which I saw myself in a small room surrounded by a small group of instrumentalists playing some very attractive music. I did not recognize the music, though I strained to hear it, and I could not recall any feature of it the next day, but I do remember my curiosity – in the dream – to know how many the musicians were. I remember too that after I had counted them to the number eight, I looked again and saw that they were playing bassoons, trombones, trumpets, a flute and a clarinet. I awoke from this little concert in a state of great delight and anticipation and the next morning began to compose.

That was how Stravinsky wrote about the Octet’s conception, in words that echo Paul McCartney’s account of how the melody for ‘Yesterday’ came to him:

I was living in a little flat at the top of a house and i had a piano by my bed. I woke up one morning with a tune in my head and I thought, ‘Hey, I don’t know this tune – or do I?’ It was like a jazz melody. My dad used to know a lot of old jazz tunes; I thought maybe I’d just remembered it from the past. I went to the piano and found the chords to it, made sure I remembered it and then hawked it round to all my friends, asking what it was: ‘Do you know this? It’s a good little tune, but I couldn’t have written it because I dreamt it.’

At this stage of his career Stravinsky was abandoning his neo-primitivist Russian phase style which had produced works such as The Rite of Spring and The Firebird for works in a neo-classical style that combined formal, structured composition with modern sounding harmonies, rhythms and counterpoint.

The result was a woodwind divertissement piece that consists of a theme and five variations that are exciting for the listener, whilst reputedly offering an exercising challenge for the performers.  Aaron Copland attended the premiere in Paris and later wrote:

I can attest to the general feeling of mystification that followed the initial hearing. Here was Stravinsky now suddenly, without any seeming explanation, making an about-face and presenting a piece to the public that bore no conceivable resemblance to the individual style with which he had hitherto been identified. No-one could possibly have foreseen that the Octet was destined to influence composers all over the world.

Copland later recognised that the piece was destined to influence composers everywhere by openly reverting to the forms and textures of the pre-Romantic era.  The Times reviewer declared that ‘without claiming for it, after the manner of the composer’s more violent admirers, that it is a seventh Brandenburg Concerto’, it displayed ‘a complete mastery of the medium’. Though ‘moments of unaccustomed discords’ prevented him judging it beautiful, the critic concluded that ‘there is so much to admire in the work that it cannot be dismissed as a piece of buffoonery’.

The second piece was a world première by the young composer Patrick John Jones who began his musical career aged seven playing the trumpet, inspired by the Jurassic Park soundtrack. Unfurl was described in the programme notes (as usual at a 10/10 concert, thorough and tremendous value) as ‘a contagious clarinet flourish that spreads through the ensemble’.

The first half culminated in a piece by Swedish composer Jan Sandstrom, and introduced me both to a composer who was new to me, and a painter of whom I had never heard.  Christian Lindberg gave a short introduction before the work – Wahlberg Variations for trombone and ensemble – to explain its background.  Sandstrom is, he said, a close friend, and the work derives from a stressful period in his friend’s life, living in Paris in the early 1980s and being suffocated by the over-intellectual atmosphere of IRCAM the French institute for avant garde electro-acoustical art music, the institute to which he was attached.  Fortunately, Sandstrom fell in with a colony of Swedes living there at the time, one of whom was the artist Ulf Wahlberg, who (in the words of the programme notes) ‘led him to several weeks of euphoric and happy discovery in the Marais and surrounding districts … to undreamed of adventures amid the banality of life’.

Ulf Wahlberg, Landscape, Tijuana, Mexico

Ulf Wahlberg, ‘Landscape, Tijuana, Mexico’

What emerged from this experience some ten years later was Wahlberg Variations, an irreverent tone poem in which each movement is inspired by a certain Wahlberg’s paintings or an experience instigated by him during those bohemian days in Paris. Ulf Wahlberg is most renowned for his paintings of wrecked American cars from the 1960s, and in the first variation, ‘Car Wrecks’, we hear the artist checking the engines, starters, horns and car radios in these beautiful wrecks. ‘La Pallette’ evokes ‘a watering place where the Swedish colony was accustomed to spend many an evening. With its sly humour and debunking of artistic pomposity, this movement brought to mind Frank Zappa because in it we ‘hear our hero experiencing great difficulty in trying to teach a group of musicians from Ensemble Intercontemporain, Pierre Boulez’ world-famous contemporary music ensemble (who were based at IRCAM), to play the jazz tune ‘On A Slow Boat to China”.

This eccentric music lesson does not progress without certain complications, and ‘to create a new pedagogical perspective’ the artist takes his c0mpanions with him to the Paris Zoo. In the next variation, ‘The Gibbon Ape At Vincennes’, an ape dances a proud tango, following an indescribable pattern of movements. ‘The zoo in the woods of Vincennes was a popular haunt of artists in their thirst for experience’.

‘Les Chimeres de Notre Dame’ references the terrifying gargoyles of the cathedral. The music counterpoints their hoarse cries with the prayers of the nuns of St Gervais. There is more than one portrait of the chimeras in Ulf Wahlberg’s work, and in the final piece Sandstrom makes reference to another feature of Wahlberg paintings in which he often adds a pointed nose to the figures he portrays – ‘to make people take notice of them’. Perhaps this is why the piece ended with Lindberg and members of the Ensemble barking like a penguins.

One of composer Sandstrom’s most-performed works is the Motorbike Concerto and, like the machine to which the piece is dedicated, Sandström is constantly exploring whatever aspect of life and music takes his fancy: ‘Every morning when I wake up, I want to be surprised by whatever I might think up today!’

Nothing could have been more surprising during the performance of Sandstrom’s piece, than the sight of Christian Lindberg energetically conducting whilst also playing the trombone.

Ulf Wahlberg - 001

Ulf Wahlberg, ‘Classic Chevy  in the Granberg Dals Foundry’

After the interval we were treated to another world premiere – Eyeliner Suite, an arrangement by Jarle Storlokken of pieces by Lars Hollmer, a Swedish composer, keyboardist and accordianist who died in 2008.  In the late sixties and early seventies Hollmer played with a progressive rock band, and later collaborated with experimental guitarist Fred Frith and several Japanese jazz musicians. Eyeliner ranged between lyrical, folk-based melodies and complex passages with a rock feel.

Christian Lindberg in Poland

Christian Lindberg in Poland

The final piece was conductor Christian Lindberg’s tour de force: the second part of his own on-going trilogy, Kundraan’s Karma for narrating trombonist and ensemble.  This time, Lindberg not only conducted and played trombone, he also narrated the piece which had echoes of Stravinsky’s Soldier’s Tale in its Faustian story of the disillusioned conductor Kundraan who is constantly tempted by Lucifer.  There seemed to be something deeply-felt in Lindberg’s satire of the international music business. As the piece begins, Kundraan is perilously balanced on a narrow bridge above hell.  He falls into the clutches of Lucifer, who bribes critics and journalists into boosting his reputation.  As a result he gets a prestigious gig in New York, conducting Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.  But the unimpeachable critic Messerschmidt demolishes Kundraan’s lamentable performance.  At the end Kundraan is back on the narrow bridge, but someone – an angel, maybe? – hovers close by. Is he saved? We’ll have to wait for part three.

The whole thing was witty and thoroughly enjoyable: both for the music, and the dynamic multi-tasking of the irrepressible Lindberg, who was called back by an enthusiastic audience for four ovations.

Remarkably, this concert was reviewed in the Guardian, though I think the review fails to communicate the excitement of the music and the atmosphere of an event at which the audience gave every sign of appreciating the energy and musicianship displayed on stage, calling back Lindberg and the 10/10 Ensemble members for repeated ovations.  This is music that I think you must experience live in order to enjoy it to the full.

Here’s a YouTube video of Christian Lindberg performing trumpet concertos by Mozart and others, with the Swedish Radio Orchestra:

And another, very much in the spirit of Tuesday night, in which Christian Lindberg and pianist Roland Pöntinen perform a czárdás, a traditional Hungarian folk dance:

A Mozart Celebration at St Martin in the Fields: the silence between

A Mozart Celebration at St Martin in the Fields: the silence between

Mozart

The music is not in the notes,
but in the silence between.
― Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

On the first evening of our recent long weekend in London we went along to St Martin in the Fields for A Celebration of Mozart.  The St Martin events are always good value, and this programme, apart from consisting of performances of several Mozart favourites by the acclaimed string ensemble London Octave, had the added bonus of readings by the actor Donald Sumpter from Mozart’s letters and eyewitness accounts of contemporaries.

London Octave

London Octave

The highly enjoyable programme opened with the Presto from Divertimento for strings in F (Salzburg Symphony No.3) and also featured Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik, the Flute Concerto in D (with soloist William Bennett), Symphony No 29 in A, and an orchestral arrangement of Ave Verum Corpus.  Each piece was preceded by two or three readings by Donald Sumpter.

The excerpts from Mozart’s letters proved to be poignant, humorous and eloquent.  I was staggered, first by the quality of the writing (though Mozart is also renowned for some mightily dirty, scatological screeds, Sumpter had chosen ones of a different sort); and second by their apparent length and frequency.  If Mozart was typical of his social class, members of the educated elite must have spent a fair amount of time each day engaged in correspondence.

Donald Sumpter

Donald Sumpter

Sumpter had selected letters and contemporary accounts that revealed how, from very young childhood, Mozart was recognized as a musical genius. From his very earliest years, his talent and precocity staggered his contemporaries. By the age of four, he was playing the harpsichord with flair. By five, he had written his first minuets. At nine, he had written his first symphony, and by twelve, he had completed his first opera.

His father, Leopold acknowledged his young son’s special gifts when he wrote that he was ‘a miracle, which God has allowed to see the light in Salzburg’. The 18th-century music historian Charles Burney confirmed this opinion by writing that the young child possessed ‘premature and almost supernatural talents’.

Mozart’s first biographer, Franz Xaver Niemetschek, recalled that, when the six-year-old Mozart played for the Empress Maria Theresa ‘people could hardly believe their ears and eyes at the performance’ and called him a ‘magician’. The Empress rewarded the Mozart family with 100 ducats and gala outfits for the two children.

By 1763, when he was 7, he and his family had left his native Salzburg for an extended three-and-a-half year concert tour of Europe. In fact, between the ages of six and seventeen, Mozart was on tour for over two-thirds of the time. In every city and at every court where Mozart performed, the prodigy played for the most important people in the musical establishment.

His father Leopold acted as Mozart’s manager, agent, promoter and teacher: he seems to have had an overbearing relationship with his son that makes you think of modern parallels, such as Murray Wilson (with Brian and other Beach Boys) or Joe Jackson (with Michael and the rest of the Jacksons).  Mozart had a short and fairly tortured life, yet in those 35 years he composed some 600 pieces of music, and his musical and creative genius never flagged.

This announcement for a London concert illustrates the manner in which Leopold marketed his talented children:

Miss Mozart of eleven and Master Mozart of seven Years of Age, Prodigies of Nature; taking the opportunity of representing to the Public the greatest Prodigy that Europe or that Human Nature has to boast of. Every Body will be astonished to hear a Child of such tender Age playing the Harpsichord in such a Perfection — it surmounts all Fantastic and Imagination, and it is hard to express which is more astonishing, his Execution upon the Harpsichord playing at Sight, or his own Composition.

Mozart’s own assessment of his gifts comes in a letter to his father on 8 November 1777, when he was 21:

I cannot write Poetically; I am not a Poet. I cannot arrange my words so artfully that they reflect shadow and light; I am not a painter; I cannot even express my feelings and thoughts through gestures and Pantomimes: I am not a dancer. But I can do it with the sounds of music; I am a Musikus [musician]

For the young Mozart, playing the harpsichord and composing were equally important forms of making music. His elder sister Maria Anna wrote:

From early childhood on he liked best to play and to compose at night and in the morning. If he sat down at the clavier (or keyboard) at 9:00 PM one couldn’t take him away before midnight; I think he would have played through the whole night. In the morning between 6 o’clock and 9 o’clock he wrote, mostly while in bed; then he got up and didn’t compose throughout the entire day, except when he had to write something quickly. At 8:00 PM he always played the clavier or composed.

Most of the letters read by Donald Sumpter were from Mozart to his father; one of them was rather strange, written when his father was close to death, in April 1787.  It seemed to rapidly shift from standard expressions of concern for his father’s health to expressions of Mozart’s own feelings of mortality:

As death, when we come to consider it closely, is the true goal of our existence, I have formed during the last few years such close relationships with this best and truest friend of mankind that death’s image is not only no longer terrifying to me, but is indeed very soothing and consoling, and I thank my God for graciously granting me the opportunity…of learning that death is the key which unlocks the door to our true happiness. I never lie down at night without reflecting that – young as I am – I may not live to see another day. Yet no one of all my acquaintances could say that in company I am morose or disgruntled.

Presto from Divertimento for strings in F K138, Salzburg Symphony No.3: from the programme notes

The Divertimento in F is the last of a set of three written in 1772 in Salzburg. The short last movement shows Mozart at his wittiest, most lively and most charming.

Eine Kleine Nachtmusik: from the programme notes

Although Eine Kleine Nachtmusik can claim to be Mozart’s most popular work, not much is known about the circumstances of its composition. We do not know for whom he composed it or whether Mozart intended it to be played by an orchestra or by single players. There is no record of a performance during Mozart’s lifetime. Alfred Einstein thinks Mo~ composed it for his own enjoyment.

We do know Mozart composed it in 1787 while also working on the second act of Don Giovanni (Most composers would have been kept quite busy enough only working on Don Giovanni!). We also know that in Mozart’s own thematic catalogue he indicated that he had written five movements. We now only have four, and opinions are divided as to whether it was Mozart or someone else who dropped the extra minuet and Trio.

Eine Kleine Nachtmusik is often described as a supreme example of Mozart’s mastery of balance and economy. Some experts think Mozart cut out the movement himself to preserve this balance. There is no doubt that the tunes themselves and the sound Mozart creates have a unique “rightness” which immediately appeals to the listener and ensures the piece’s perennial popularity.

Eine kleine Nachtmusik: performed by the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Kamerorkest

Flute Concerto in D: from the programme notes

Mozart loved and understood wind instruments like no other composer. However it is said that he did not like the flute. So it is no surprise that his two flute concertos were written on commission for a Dutch amateur flautist. In fact the second concerto is a simple but very effective transposition of an oboe concerto which Mozart had written before.

Mozart’s genius ensures that no one hearing this concerto could guess that the work is an arrangement, nor be convinced that Mozart did not like the flute. The music is full of natural, memorable tunes. The energetic first movement with its optimistic opening theme includes episodes that could come straight out of a comic opera. The reflective and slow movement provides a serene contrast. The final allegro is full of sparkling rhythms to close the concerto in high spirits.

Flute Concerto in D: soloist Emmanuel Pahud

Motet Ave Verum Corpus: from the programme notes

This very short motet was intended to be used in a Corpus Christi service in Baden near Vienna. It was written at the end of Mozart’s life just before the Requiem and has become one of Mozart’s best known compositions. He originally composed it for choir and orchestra. We heard an arrangement for solo violin (played by David Juritz) accompanied by strings.

Motet Ave Verum Corpus: arrangement for violin and piano

This YouTube performance is by an unnamed pair of musicians, but gives an idea of the transcription from the choral version.

Symphony No. 29: from the programme notes

Symphony No. 29 is an outstanding work of genius from Mozart’s early period. He wrote it in 1774 aged only 18 while he was Concertmaster to the court of the Archbishop of Salzburg. The mystery, simplicity and the forward movement of the opening bars astound the listener and the interest is sustained throughout the remainder of the symphony. In this work we never hear decoration for its own sake, every note leads inevitably to the next. The symphony is in the usual four movement form. The first movement is marked ‘Allegro moderato’ and so we hear more reflective music than would have been usual at the beginning of a symphony. The last movement ‘allegro con spirito’ not only has a vibrant energy but also stark drama in the remarkable development section.

Symphony No. 29: performed by Orquesta Clásica de Asturias

Bach’s Art of Fugue: London Octave with William Bennett, flute at St Martin in the Fields

See also

The Rest Is Noise: Britten and Shostakovitch cornered

The Rest Is Noise: Britten and Shostakovitch cornered

shostakovich and britten

Dmitri Shostakovich (left) and Benjamin Britten in 1966

Last Friday evening Vasily Petrenko and the Liverpool Philharmonic treated Liverpudlians to a preview of a concert that was to be repeated two nights later as part of The Rest is Noise festival, the series of concerts and events bringing to life Alex Ross’s survey of 20th-century music that has been running at London’s Southbank Centre throughout 2013.

The concert featured three pieces, all from the  early 1970s – Luciano Berio’s Four Versions of the Retreat from Boccherini’s Night Music of the Streets of Madrid, Benjamin Britten’s Suite from his opera Death in Venice, and Dimitri Shostakovich’s last Symphony, the Fifteenth.  Britten’s opera was first performed in June 1973, and the programme notes helpfully highlighted some musical landmarks of 1973 (including the release of Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon on 1 March) and provided a box headed, ‘1972 in context’. In that year, the context included such milestones as: British unemployment exceeding 1 million for the first time since the 1930s, the introduction of Access credit cards, and the UK joining the EEC.

The implication of this information was that the pieces we were hearing somehow reflected their time.  It’s possible, I suppose, though not in the sense of commenting directly on current political or social concerns in the way that Pink Floyd’s album set out to do.  A more likely way in which these works by Britten and Shostakovitch suggest their time might be found in the observation by Alex Ross that:

Both men seem almost to have been born with a feeling of being cornered.  Even in works of their teenage years, they appear to be experiencing spasms of existential dread.  They were grown men with the souls of gifted, frightened children.

The two composers had been firm friends since the mid-1960s, each living a marginalized existence within his own culture and wrestling with an acute personal dilemma.  For Britten, pacifist and homosexual who lived openly with Peter Pears his personal and professional partner, this was not his sexuality per se , but his longing for the company of underage males. For Shostakovitch, it was his precarious position in relation to Soviet cultural demands and a lifetime of denunciations by and personal accommodations with the Soviet communism that tormented him.  Ross remarks:

Britten’s psychological landscape, with its undulating contours of fear and guilt, its fault lines and crevasses, its wan redeeming light, made Shostakovitch feel at home.

1972 was the year in which Britten was composing the opera based on Thomas Mann’s novella Death in Venice; it was the year, too, in which Shostakovitch – then 66 years old and in constant pain from various illnesses that included heart trouble, lung cancer and Lou Gehrig’s disease – finally made the journey to the Red House in Aldeburgh, where Britten and Pears had lived and worked from 1957.  In his book, Ross tells how Britten allowed his friend and fellow-composer to see the score of what was to be his final opera, Death in Venice, something that Britten usually kept utterly private.

Britten and Pears

Benjamin Britten (left) with tenor Peter Pears in 1946.

So, what of the music and the performances?  Each one of these three pieces was entirely new to me, but it was clear that the evening was another triumph for Vasily Petrenko as the Phil’s Chief Conductor, and there were excellent performances by the RLPO musicians, especially from those in command of the extensive battery of percussion and timpani ranged across the stage.  For each of these pieces require a lot of percussion (I realised that in programming a concert, making economical use of the soloists you have marshalled is as much a factor as thematic or musical considerations).  There were castanets and kettle drums the fore in the opening piece by Luciano Berio, written in 1975 but modelled on an 18th century work by Boccherini that depicts the Madrid city watch at midnight curfew hour, the music growing louder as the watch draws closer, then dying away as the parade passes (reminding me of ‘Saeta’, the processional piece from the Miles Davis album Sketches of Spain.

Percussion in the form of bells, vibraphone, glockenspiels, xylophones, gong and timpani – pervaded the score of the Britten piece, reflecting the powerful impact which hearing Balinese gamelan music had had on Britten a decade earlier.  The Suite from Death in Venice is accepted as being one of the most impassioned and poignant pieces of Britten’s career:

Death in Venice, Britten’s last opera (1971-73), is in many respects his most personal, even confessional. Based on the novella by Thomas Mann, it tells of Aschenbach, an internationally-celebrated writer of austere lifestyle, who has dedicated himself to the Apollonian pursuit of beauty but seems to have lost inspiration and the capacity for feeling. He takes a holiday in Venice, where he becomes fascinated and obsessed by a beautiful Polish boy, Tadzio (a non-singing role, portrayed by a dancer), whom he observes from afar. Although he learns that a fatal epidemic is rife in the city he stays on, giving himself up to his long-suppressed Dionysiac impulses and dies of the disease, finally admitting to himself that he loves the boy. Aschenbach recognizes and confronts his hitherto latent homosexuality in terms of anguish and eventual decay, and the opera – deeply effective and moving – appears as Britten’s own most direct statement concerning his own sexuality. As Britten was having heart surgery by the time of the first performances in June 1973, he was unable to attend, and responsibility for final realization of the score devolved onto the conductor, Steuart Bedford.
– Philharmonic programme notes

The opera was Britten’s most public statement of his long-term relationship with tenor Peter Pears, who originally performed the demanding lead role.  Like the character of Aschenbach, Britten died in middle age – in December 1976 – from heart failure brought on by tertiary syphilis, according to Benjamin Britten: A life in the Twentieth Century, by Paul Kildea, who records that as Britten exhausted himself on research for Death In Venice in 1971, he said to his assistant: “First of all I’ve got to finish this one, then there’s a big work, then an opera, and then I’ll be ill.”

Dmitri Shostakovich

Dmitri Shostakovich

Britten’s great friend Shostakovich also died in middle age, writing his final symphony in 1971 at the age of 65 following a heart attack. The work is generally interpreted as the composer’s reflection on his life and music, which had been repeatedly – sometimes oppressively – overshadowed by Soviet politics. There are quotations from his earlier symphonies and other works by Rossini, Mahler and Wagner, and great opportunities for soloists to shine  – from the trumpet quoting the William Tell overture in the first movement to a beautiful cello passage in the second movement (that reminded me how much I love Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto) and clarinet and violin solos in the third.

Shostakovich’s last symphony was composed in July 1971 at a composers’ rest home in Repino, 20 miles north-west of Leningrad, and first performed in Moscow on 8 January 1972. Shostakovich died of lung cancer on 9 August 1975.

We had heard music by two composers, each one ‘born with a feeling of being cornered’ and living a marginalized existence within his own culture.  If there are any parallels with Pink Floyd’s phenomenally successful Dark Side of the Moon, they lie in the album’s central theme that flowed from the band’s loss of founder member and lyricist Syd Barrett as his mental state deteriorated.  An extended meditation on conflict, greed, insanity and death, the album contains the song which might be considered the theme for the decades to come:

Money, get away
Get a good job with more pay and your O.K.
Money it’s a gas
Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash
New car, caviare, four star daydream,
Think I’ll buy me a football team
Money get back
I’m all right Jack keep your hands off my stack.
Money it’s a hit
Don’t give me that do goody good bullshit
I’m in the hi-fidelity first class travelling set
And I think I need a Lear jet
Money it’s a crime
Share it fairly but don’t take a slice of my pie
Money so they say
Is the root of all evil today
But if you ask for a rise it’s no surprise that they’re
giving none away

And, finally, the album asks, who is sane, and who is really mad?

The lunatic is in the hall.
The lunatics are in my hall.
The paper holds their folded faces to the floor
And every day the paper boy brings more.

Rostropovich conducts Shostakovich Symphony No.15

Colin McPhee and Benjamin Britten play Balinese Ceremonial Music