Winter 2017

 

A Winter Journey



Lauren Marshall  Suspended between earth and air
Brett Dean              
Komarov's Fall
Szymanowski         Symphony No. 4,
                                      Symphonie Concertante
Rachmaninov       Symphony No. 2 
                                                                                         
John Wilson conductor
Tamara Stefanovich piano

£5 under 25s offer in association with Classic FM 

 

It’s cold outside. But step inside the concert hall and the world’s greatest orchestra of teenagers is fired up and ready to put on a show of orchestral brilliance.

The journey begins in the chilly isolation of outer space, lands in the middle of a lively Polish party and ends in the radiant warmth of a show stopping Russian symphony. Your guide for the evening is John Wilson, charismatic conductor and conjurer of musical magic. 

Brett Dean’s Komarov’s Fall is music that sharpens the senses. Its eerie opening requires precise and fearless playing as sparse, icy strings and woodwind glisten in the silence of space. As the tragic drama unfolds jagged percussion and urgent brass take over the story of the Russian cosmonaut who became a hapless victim of the ruthless 1960’s space race.

For a fun-filled feast of toe-tapping rhythms, joyful dances and cheerful marches look no further than Szymanowski’s Symphonie Concertante. It is a cross between a symphony and a piano concerto and was one of the composer’s favourite pieces. With playful banter between the orchestra and piano, it is energetic and spirited, just like a stage-full of teenage musicians. 

The finale of the evening is Rachmaninov’s Symphony No 2, the ultimate Russian Romantic symphony. With big, bold melodies and lush, glowing harmonies, this music will smoulder and blaze in a performance of irresistible sparkle and flamboyance. 

Totally teenage orchestral brilliance. Come and hear it. 

Thu 5 Jan 7.30pm

Royal Concert Hall, NottinghamBox Office 0115 989 5555
£10-£24.50 / £5 under 25s

Fri 6 Jan 7.30pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Box Office 0121 780 3333
£12.50-£28 / £5 under 25s

Sat 7 Jan 7.30pm

Royal Festival Hall, London

Box Office 0207 960 4200
£8-£22 / £5 under 25s

Praise for our Winter Tour


‘The performance never faltered, never lost energy, never came even momentarily unstuck, and had so many heartstopping moments that I wondered if I should take myself straight to A&E for a precautionary defibrillation.’

★★★★ The Times
 

‘A thrilling display of teenage talent.’

★★★★ The Guardian
 

‘…a surgingly intense performance of Rachmaninov’s 2nd Symphony … as if the music could hardly contain its own passion.’

★★★★ The Telegraph
 

 ‘…the most sumptuous performance of Rachmaninov's 2nd Symphony one is likely to hear … its heart-on-sleeve themes played with all the passion, sincerity and energy which such a super-concentration of youthful talent could muster.’

Nottingham Post
 


‘I have not heard a finer or more penetrating account of [Rachmaminov’s Second Symphony] in more than sixty years of concert-going.’

Classical Source
 

 ‘…an orchestra of marvellous flair and panache, profoundly intelligent, miraculously accurate, immensely responsive to scores of different hues, romantic and modern, producing a thrilling overall sound that is sheer joy to listen to.’

Seen and Heard International
 

 ‘…how music should be played – with verve, panache, and passion.’

Thoroughly Good
 

‘To say the NYO of Great Britain is one of the finest musical organisations in the country is to err on the side of understatement. They are simply wonderful.’

Vin’s Polyphonic Mystical Raincoat

NYO Teen Fest 

 

NYO Teen Fest
6.30-7.15pm
St. Paul's Pavilion, Level 6 Blue Side
Southbank Centre
Free with £5 under-25 ticket, but email booking essential

We're holding a special NYO Teen Fest —a unique pre-concert meet-and-greet for teenagers, hosted by teenagers that are part of the NYO Young Promoters programme. Over snacks, you'll have an opportunity to chat with NYO Musicians and NYO Young Promoters, and discover the stories behind the music and our Orchestra.

If you're interested in joining us for this event, you just need to purchase a £5 under-25 ticket and make sure to email inspire@nyo.org.uk with your full name. If you have further questions, feel free to contact Sumita at inspire@nyo.org.uk or on 020 7759 1249.

 

EXPLORE THE MUSIC

Brett Dean
Komarov's Fall 

 

2006

When last we saw the NYO, they took us to the edge of the solar system, performing Holst’s The Planets at last summer’s BBC Proms. Our 2017 adventure picks up right there, with the distant asteroid named after Russian cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov. You can listen to Brett Dean’s eight-minute miniature in two ways: firstly, as if it depicts the asteroid itself, plummeting towards us through the otherwise chilly, tranquil expanse of space. Secondly, accounting the last hours of the doomed Komarov, the first person ever to die in space, on a fated Soviet expedition in 1967. We begin in silence, from which one solo violin after another utters almost inaudible harmonics. This could signify the pinprick glitter of distant stars, or telemetry signals casting messages from a distant craft to earth. Next, keep your eyes peeled for something you would never usually see in an orchestra, prominently deployed by the percussionists, to further the shimmering effect. Yet something is not right: a woodblock seems to telegraph an urgent message in scrambled Morse Code, avidly echoed by the woodwind, twittering like birds in the trees when a storm is coming. Oboes playing ‘quarter tones’ (pitched in between the familiar notes we know from a piano keyboard) and the edge of a cymbal stroked with a violin bow add to the otherworldly disquiet. The violins begin to squirm, and flurries of anxiety erupt across the orchestra.

It’s said that the Russians knew Komarov’s spacecraft wasn’t safe, but didn’t want to lose pole position in the space race. Komarov’s fall then was like that of Icarus, having reached too far too soon. You feel  

this as the orchestra swiftly surges with confidence, monstrously lurching in all directions, only to collapse spectacularly in on itself. Or maybe this represents Komarov himself who is said to have wildly cursed at ground control on his ​​radio before contact was abruptly, terminally lost. Reflecting this, we find ourselves back where we started – with fading violin notes and tiny iridescent woodwind figures the only light left in a cosmic sea of nothingness.


Did you know?
 

  • Brett Dean’s ‘asteroid’ was one of four commissioned by former NYO member Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic to sit alongside Holst’s The Planets, the others by Mark-Anthony Turnage, Kaija Saariaho and Matthias Pintscher.
  • It isn’t Dean’s only orchestral work to account 20th-century follies: Game Over, in his words, reflects the emptiness of ‘day-glo, prime-time dreams’ and his Pastoral Symphony not only evokes nature but the machines callously destroying it.
  • Just to confuse things, Russia has another noted Vladimir Komarov, who happens to be a prominent composer of electroacoustic music and film scores.

Karol Szymanowski
Symphony No.4, Symphonie Concertante

 

1932

I. Moderato (moderately)
II. Andante molto sostenuto (walking pace, very sustained)
III. Allegro non troppo ma agitato ad ansioso (fairly lively, agitated to anxious)


You’re unlikely to have heard this piece before and, even if you have, it’s one of those works that seems to slither like quicksilver in your ears, resisting familiarity, changing tack all the time. Sixteen years after his previous symphony – itself a daring experiment with solo and choral voices – the Polish composer Szymanowski wanted to try something new again. Here, a piano joins the orchestra, so prominent that you may well class it as a piano concerto, though the composer resisted calling it that, not wanting to draw too much attention to what he felt was his own limited dexterity as a pianist. He wrote the work for himself to play, as a means of securing a double income after a bout of illness set him back financially. It was also his attempt to soften his complex compositional style, deploying Polish folk flavours and new levels of lyricism to appeal to a wider public. In this, you almost sense Szymanowski trying on Rachmaninov’s jacket, and throughout the latter composer is evoked, albeit dancing distortedly in a ballroom of fun-house mirrors.

Over an F major chord, precisely reiterated by timpani and lower strings, the piano enters, drifting freely one way then another, shepherded only by the tiniest nudge of a triangle and side-drum. Left hand and right playing the same notes an octave apart, the piano swaggers from major to minor, a snake being charmed by the rising woodwind. We’re technically in waltz time, not that you’d know it, the orchestra emphasising off-beats, a hallmark of folk music from the Tatra mountains where Szymanowski lived. A trumpet, echoing the piano’s opening phrase, prompts other instruments to assert, and things suddenly sound very Shostakovich as the side-drum ups the action. 

 

 

Nonetheless, throughout the entire symphony, nothing really lasts, the tumult giving way to wistful sighs from a solo violin and flute. The strings surge, smouldering, and we find ourselves in the more impressionistic idiom of Ravel whose own Piano Concerto was premiered months before Szymanowski started this and surely cast a shadow. Flutter-tongued flutes and violins playing ‘sul ponticello’, closer to the wooden bridge of the instrument than usual, add to the dreamy aura. Another gear change leads to a fierce, pneumatic piano cadenza whose high voltage courses through the rest of the orchestra, hurtling the first movement to an electrifying finish. 

this as the orchestra swiftly surges with confidence, monstrously lurching in all directions, only to collapse spectacularly in on itself. Or maybe this represents Komarov himself who is said to have wildly cursed at ground control on his ​​radio before contact was abruptly, terminally lost. Reflecting this, we find ourselves back where we started – with fading violin notes and tiny iridescent woodwind figures the only light left in a cosmic sea of nothingness.


Did you know?
 

  • Just like Rachmaninov, Szymanowski struggled to write this symphony, taking 16 years to find what he wanted to say.
  • Szymanowski’s hopes of finding a decent income by performing the piece himself proved successful. He swiftly went on to perform it in Poland, Russia, France, Italy, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Romania, Bulgaria, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway and the UK – before its dedicatee Arthur Rubenstein performed and recorded it in Los Angeles.
  • On hearing the symphony for the first time, fellow Polish composer Lutosławski said ‘I felt quite dizzy for a number of weeks’. (For the avoidance of doubt, he was being complimentary.)

Sergei Rachmaninov
Symphony No.2

 

1907

I. Largo – Allegro moderato (broad – then moderately lively)
II. Allegro molto (very lively)
III. Adagio (slow)
IV. Allegro vivace (lively and brisk)


Rachmaninov’s stupendously popular symphony is so expressive it’s like the soundtrack for a film that never got made. And yet, if all music represents some aspect or instinct of its maker (whether they like it or not), then maybe there is a film within the music, a story that sets the notes in motion. The protagonist is a young Russian composer, pianist and conductor. It’s 1897 and, aged only 26, he’s on the brink of stardom. Then disaster strikes. The premiere of his first symphony is a shambles, the critics pounce, and – unthinkably – he loses his voice, unable to compose for years. He visits a great sage – the aged Tolstoy – but the inspiration he seeks is tempered with a sense of how far he’s falling short. (It’s an Oscar-worthy part for a young actor like Adam Driver or Ezra Miller. It also has a Hollywood happy ending, but we’ll get to that shortly.)

As a last resort, young Rachmaninov visits a hypnotist – still a relatively new profession – and, after several months of the curious Doctor Nikolai Dahl repeatedly asserting the composer’s strengths over and over, a breakthrough occurs. A new piano concerto takes flight (Rachmaninov’s second) and on its heels, a new symphony, both revered. This symphony in itself chronicles the long, tortured journey from darkness back to light.

Looking for fresh facets of this most familiar symphony, it’s interesting to ask what imprint both Dahl and Tolstoy might have had on the music. It’s well documented how much of the symphony stems for the seven solemn notes uttered by the low strings at the very start. Instantly, the violins twist them another way, and spend much of the first and third movements unravelling the same conjunct figure, like a ball of wool without end. Slowly, subtly, notes so leaden with despair start – through tender reiteration – to glow. Rachmaninov persistently tugs on the same motif, assigning it to more instruments, lifting it into higher registers, till it finally gleams. Isn’t there something of Dahl’s reiterated mantras in this? As listeners, we are certainly entranced. New themes emerge regularly and yet, in their gentle stepping motion, they are mostly echoes of the same phrase.

Sprawling almost an hour, the symphony certainly matches the epic expanse of Tolstoy’s work. In literary style, it’s populated with recurring characters too. There’s the initial motif that we might take to represent Rachmaninov himself, ever present on the journey. There are sudden conspicuous solos that emerge at crux moments in the drama – notably the 

cor anglais midway through the first movement, and the consoling clarinet in the third – who seem to help the music find its way forward. Then there are the characters from Rachmaninov’s other works, little snatches you’ve definitely heard elsewhere. Most noted among these is the ancient ‘Dies Irae’ chant from the 13th century Requiem mass, famously used by Berlioz in the Witches’ Sabbath of his Symphonie Fantastique but abounding on a far larger canvas in Rachmaninov’s canon – often contorted or completely concealed, nonetheless reflecting the composer’s devout and mortal obsessions. It pops up most conspicuously in the questing sleigh ride that opens the second movement, though in its simple conjunct movement, it too seems almost indivisible from the motif that finds life throughout the symphony. Life and death in constant discourse, almost.  

Also unquestionably present is Tchaikovsky whom Rachmaninov admitted was much on his mind whilst toiling with the symphony: he too evolved motto themes throughout his symphonies, and openly wrestled with personal demons through his music. Like Szymanowski, Rachmaninov also finds sanctuary by evoking national idioms. You can’t help but think of dancing Cossacks in the second movement. The historian Gerald Seaman also notes how the endless clarinet melody of the third movement is remarkably redolent of the long, gently evolving folk verses that peasant nannies would sing to the likes of Rachmaninov when they were children.

Whilst looking backwards, the symphony also looks ahead. The swashbuckling finale pre-empts the splendour and effervescence of Hollywood, where Rachmaninov was to make his home years later. Despite this destination, he resisted writing for the movies himself, leaving other composers to try and emulate the emotional potency of his blueprint. They’re still trying, to this day.


Did you know?
 

  • The spectacular failure of Rachmaninov’s first symphony is frequently assigned to the fact that its conductor – the composer Glazunov – was apparently drunk at the premiere.
  • His second symphony did ultimately underscore a film after all: the soaring violin melody of the second movement is the central theme of 2014 Oscar-winner Birdman.
  • Fascinatingly, all Rachmaninov’s symphonies, concertos, sonatas, plus the famous Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini and Symphonic Dances are prevalently in a minor key. Fittingly, his Hollywood neighbour Stravinsky called him ‘a six-foot scowl’.
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