Friday, 25 July 2008

Troubled Light? Troubled Indeed

So I finally made it to the Proms. And what’s to report? Well, there are a few changes; the fountain filled with inflatable dinosaurs has gone from the arena (I don’t think it will be missed), and the programme cover now sports a psychedelic red and yellow colour scheme. But it terms of the artists and programming, little has changed. Tonight’s offering involved a provincial BBC orchestra (the BBC National Orchestra of Wales with Thierry Fischer), the premiere of a worthy but uninspired BBC commission (Troubled Light by Simon Holt) and a crowd-puller in the second half (Pictures at an Exhibition) that completely failed to pull the crowds.
Simon Holt, the BBC NOW's composer in association, looks destined to be domesticated by the BBC so that he can provide them with a steady stream of uncontroversial works to demonstrate their commitment to new music without upsetting anybody. Troubled Light is a work in five short movements, each based on a poet’s descriptions of light and colours. Predictably, this gives rise to inscrutably complex but widely spaced woodwind chords, shimmering away in a mezzo piano continuum. Growls, slides and pedals in the brass punctuate this and give a semblance of logical musical progression. Everyone expects an unusual percussion effect or two, and Holt obliges with bowed cymbals and friction drums. The composer’s reputation currently rests on a number of impressive short chamber works, and he surely intends to redress the balance with a significant orchestral output for the BBC NOW. In this piece, he seems to be presenting us with all the instrumental effects that he has been waiting all these years to include in an orchestral work. Many of them are very interesting, it’s just a shame he didn’t do us the honour of crafting them into a coherent piece of music first.

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