Best concerts of 2009

2009 was a really strong year for new live music, I felt, and that’s despite effectively taking 2 or 3 months off in the middle while I was moving house. (During which time I missed all of Spitalfields, all of the Proms, two-thirds of Music We’d Like to Hear and probably more besides.)

Here, in date order, are my top five:

Ian Pace, King’s College, 4 February

B.A. Zimmermann: Capriccio: Improvisation über Volksliederthemen; Konfiguration: Acht Stücke für Klavier; Boulez: Sonata no.3 (Trope, Constellation–Miroir); Henze: Variationen; Otte: Tropismen I; Stockhausen: Klavierstück X

Easily the most thoughtfully-programmed concert of the year. Pace’s selections were designed to emphasise continuities between the pre- and postwar German avant gardes, connections that are (perhaps too conveniently) obscured in the conventional narration of postwar European music. On the purely aesthetic level, Zimmermann’s Konfiguration was the discovery of the evening. What I said then.

Richard Haynes, Shunt, 13 and 14 April

David Young: Breath Control; Richard Barrett: Interference; Chris Dench: The Sadness of Detail; David Lang: Press Release

A complete original. Some of the best playing I’ve seen all year (although I admit I saw Richard quite a lot in ’09 …) and a richly conceived, multi-layered show that challenged but ultimately won over a non-new music crowd. Points too for finding a way to bridge the gap between European post-serial and American post-minimal traditions. What I said then.

Polish Radio Choir Kraków, National Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra, et al, cond. Krzysztof Penderecki, Canterbury Cathedral, 2 May

Penderecki: St Luke Passion

Closure: my first chance to see St Luke live, at the end of a conference on Polish music at which I probably presented my last piece of work on the piece for some time. It is a hugely flawed work, and one that I had lost patience with some long time ago (PhD research will always kill the love), but this performance was much, much better than I had hoped for, and momentarily convinced me that this really is one of the great works of the late 20th century.

ELISION, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, 20 November

Richard Barrett: Opening of the Mouth

Another moment of closure (ha ha). Every year there seems to be a piece that occupies my thoughts more than any other; this was never more true than with Opening, which tickled my brain more or less constantly between March and November. The chance to hear it live was another very special opportunity, and ELISION didn’t disappoint. The acoustics of Bates Mill may have messed with the ensemble balance a bit, but this was, nevertheless, the year’s stand-out concert for me.

Geneviève Foccroulle, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, 20 November

Anthony Braxton: Compositions no.1, 10 and 32

This was one of the most remarkable piano recitals I’ve ever been to. I only knew a little Braxton beforehand, and most of that read not listened-to. No.10 wasn’t that interesting: sounded like a run-of-the-mill graphic score to me, but No.32 was unforgettable: 30 minutes of relentless fortissimo clusters that overrode any conventioanl idea of sense in favour of an undeniable, and utterly original, expressive force. On its own this was more than enough, but the careful, jazz-inspired unpicking of serial plinky-plonk cliché in No.1 – that nevertheless remained as absolutely serious in its purpose as any Structure or Klavierstücke – was a revelatory exposition of the power of non-thematic, atomised, parametrical musical thought. Stunning.

Update (5 Jan 2010): No.10 from this concert was broadcast on Saturday on BBC Radio 3’s Hear and Now programme, and is available to listen again through iPlayer for the next four days (until 10th Jan).

But this only tells part of the story: see my next post for those that bubbled under.


4 thoughts on “Best concerts of 2009

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