I’m a big fan of our symphony orchestras including works by contemporary composers in their programs, in particular works by contemporary Australian composers. We’ve heard plenty of good modern material as a result, such as Sculthorpe’s Sun Music III a few weeks ago, Edwards’ Veni, Creator Spiritus and Vine’s Microsymphony, to name a few.
However, one thing all these pieces have in common has been their brevity. Ten or twelve minutes generally sees them out, which seems to work for most people.
Brett Dean, whose four movement violin concerto “The Lost Art of Letter Writing” was played by the ASO at its French Beauty concert on 7 and 8 October, took us on a somewhat different tack. A mere 38 minutes worth, and I have to admit I was struggling a bit after about 3 minutes. The thing raised a few issues in my mind:
- Dean wrote the piece in 2006, but (aside from the ACO*) none of the major symphony orchestras played it until this year, when three (count ‘em, three! - ASO, MSO, SSO) have scheduled it. I assume this was because the piece won a major prize for composition in 2009, at which point everyone decided they ought to schedule it.
- The soloist (Sophie Rowell) did an excellent job with the piece. In some ways the nature of the music made it easy to really appreciate her efforts, in other ways it made it difficult to keep concentrating on what she was doing.
- I would have thought that with any solo violinist the program really ought to have a few lines on the violin he or she is playing. In this case I assume Rowell was playing the Guadagnini which was purchased (with considerable foresight) in 1955 for 1750 pounds by the SA Guadagnini Trust.
- I wonder what the reason was for the long pregnant pause between the orchestra tuning up and Rowell and Volmer walking on stage to start the Dean piece. I have a mental picture of Rowell being dragged kicking and screaming onto the stage…and who could blame her!
“Anonymous” has questioned the premise that the ACO has played this piece at all, falling in to the trap of supposing that the ACO refers to the Australian Chamber Orchestra, as opposed to the Ardrossan Community Orchestra, which premiered this piece years ago. Actually that’s a lie (although it remains a possibility!) and I’m not quite sure why I thought the ACO has played this – probably because it’s just the sort of piece they ought to play, or the sort of piece they would play. See the comments for further observations about the timing of the multiple instances of this piece now appearing in various programs.