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Barbican Centre, Silk Street, EC2Y 8DS London, United Kingdom
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These late works from four composers show that even on the brink of death, they were still capable of vital, even surprising, bursts of creativity.
Janácek’s overture from his final completed work circles round a single theme. We hear it again and again and every time, he forces us into a new perspective, to listen deeper and deeper to subtle details. It’s almost suffocating. It feels like there’s no escape. But what better way to put the audience in the place of the prisoners who populate this opera, that is to say: trapped.
So what a relief when Carter’s Instances constantly renews itself with a continuous stream of fresh musical ideas! His last orchestral work, written at the age of 103, no longer poses the aural challenge of his earlier works, which advocate complicated structural ideas with dense, almost opaque scores. Instead, we hear delicate little moments of music, each more beautifully realized than the last, blooming one after the other as isolated instances of hidden ideas, celebrating just the sheer joy of creating something new.
Berg was less than half Carter’s age when he died. And his final completed work, the Violin Concerto, seems to point towards a late period that never was. He struggled all his life with a single question: how to write music that resolved the apparent conflict between systematic rigour and uninhibited emotional expression, between the conventions of tradition and the possibilities of the future. And in this heart-breaking work – dedicated ‘to the memory of an angel’ – he may have found his answer.
Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, while not his final work, offers a similar feeling of personal resolution. Pierre Boulez called the composer ‘the great synthesiser’ because he brought together disparate styles and traditions into a single coherent identity. And that’s exactly what an orchestra does. At its best, it’s a coming together for a greater whole. And this piece celebrates that idea with music that lets every section shine.
JANÁCEK Overture: From the House of the Dead
BERG Violin Concerto
BARTÓK Concerto for Orchestra
Sir Simon Rattle: conductor
Isabelle Faust: violin
London Symphony Orchestra