09 January 2014

Benjamin Britten's 100th Birthday Concert

Back in November, I attended a performance in the Berliner Philharmoniker of Benjamin Britten's works. Benjamin Britten is a composer that I am not very familiar with; until then my encounters with his music all involved symphonic works. I don't think I came across his music when I was studying the piano, and given that the piano literature is the ones I know the most, I really have no clue about what he was about. So, when I saw that the Berliner Philharmoniker was doing a concert in commemoration of his 100th birthday, I decided to buy tickets.

The concert was more a chamber concert; the 6 pieces they performed did not call for the whole orchestra, after all, if I have read correctly, most of the members of the Berliner Philharmoniker were on tour in Asia during that period. Still, there were members who were in Berlin who performed during that night.

There were 6 pieces that were performed that night. Canticle III "Still Falls the Rain" Op. 55 was for tenor, horn, and piano. Lachrymae was for viola and piano. Six Hölderlin Fragments, Op. 61 was for tenor and piano. Sinfonietta Op. 1 was for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, and string quartet. 6 Metamorphoses from Ovid. Op. 49 was for solo oboe. And finally, Serenade for tenor, horn, and string orchestra, Op. 31 was performed.

Most of the pieces they performed were bordering on "modern" classical music. These were works that were written in the 1940s and 1950s. And as such, they don't sound traditionally classical, in the sense that Beethoven and Mozart's music did. My companion, who doesn't have a background in classical music, admitted that he didn't get half of the stuff that they performed. Well, I cannot claim that I did, as I was unfamiliar with Britten's works as well. That being said, it was almost impressionistic, as if the composer was trying to paint a picture, but instead of using ink and paper, he was using music. There were plenty of dissonant parts, but overall, it was beautiful still.

I was very much impressed by the tenor. His vocal control was phenomenal. He would be singing these coloratura passages, and he hit those notes perfectly. I was specifically impressed with their performance of the dirge in the Serenade; that was a very powerful piece, and a good way of setting to music an anonymous piece of poetry.

I also liked the ending of that piece; the horn exited the stage, but as an epilogue, the horn plays unseen, outside the hall. That was an interesting experience, something that I do not see often. Overall, I loved the fact that I attended this concert. Now I have a little bit more knowledge about Benjamin Britten, who is a composer that is until now, rather unknown for me.

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