Monday, 12 December 2016

Denn die Gloria Gottes des Herrn…

The first words I wrote upon getting home were “I feel truly blessed”. Hopefully, what follows will explain why.

Just over a year ago, I encountered Eboracum Baroque for the first time; and – if it is possible to do so, with a whole ensemble of musicians… – fell madly in love with them: for their youth; their talent (individual and combined); their sublime technique; the transparency of their sound; their communicativeness; their collegiateness… but mainly because I had never heard music – ever – produced with such consistent beauty, passion, belief, and (for want of another better word) obvious (and almost infinite) potential. Here was something that, at the time, I couldn’t put my finger on. Couldn’t understand why it so resonated; lined my heart for so long. I just knew it was unlike anything I had ever encountered. But, my goodness, it felt good!

However, after thirteen months of listening to some truly great musicians play some truly great music; after having my heart and soul repeatedly shattered and rebuilt; after thirteen months of gestating a realization that music really could be central to my life again; meld with my very corpuscles; stream at the speed of light, continuously, through my neurons, building everlasting, concrete connnections… – after thirteen months, it dawned on me what it was that so inspired me. This – whatever it is that Eboracum Baroque actually do… – is to fulfil my ideal way of making music. They literally have made my harmonious dreams, my ambitions, come true. In other words, the Eboracum Baroque ‘way’ is how – had deafness, and only a mediocre talent for music, not gotten in the way – I myself would have liked to, loved to, make music…. Hearing and seeing it performed this way proves not only that it is possible; but is a consummate realization, which, probably, is also a greater reward.

It is also incredibly brave – and in so many ways. But because these youngsters are also themselves individually and corporately courageous (even though they probably neither realize it, nor would accept such a descriptor); because they share a belief, an ideal… it is one that succeeds like nothing else. And, should you require proof: the extended, spontaneous standing ovation that lasted until every single one of them had left the stage at Great Malvern Priory, on Saturday night – after a performance of Messiah that I described at the time as “Astonishingly, ravishingly gorgeous and refreshing [with] contrasts, technique and talent to die for!” – should be enough.

Between the ages of about six and twenty-six I grew to loathe Handel’s Messiah. I had sung many excerpts as a cathedral and grammar school chorister (when my voice was more dove, less bittern); accompanied many others doing the same; I had sold programmes for my mum’s annual music society performances – before joining myself, as a baritone – I had also accompanied them for rehearsals; I had even conducted the darned thing at short notice; as well as play timpani for it. Basically there wasn’t a note of the thing I didn’t have committed to memory (hence the state of my rather ancient score, above): and thus abominate. [Of course, a parallel, Christmas-based whirlwind of multiple church services – as chorister, choirmaster, or organist – in rapid succession towards the end of every single year didn’t help soften my growing Scrooge-like attitude to this December ritual, and all its trappings. So, for nearly thirty years, I have avoided them – both Christmas and Messiah – like the plague (or Justin Bieber).]

But if familiarity (or rather brainwashing) had originally bred contempt; then the long absence of this music from my life had at least tempted me (with a gentle nudge from The Good Lady Bard) to discover if my heart really could grow fond again of music that I had once found utterly bewitching. Of course, as Eboracum Baroque were performing it, at least – even if the music still left me cold – the rendition of it would at least reel me in, and make it all worthwhile.

And, of course, having read the first four paragraphs, you’ll have a pretty good idea how it turned out. But what you won’t know is why, or how. And that, of course, is what I shall endeavour to explain, in the review that follows.

Not only does distance help, when shaking hands, and begging forgiveness from what had once been an old friend; but a willingness to see things from a fresh perspective can also be a great facilitator. And, in this case, that “fresh perspective” wasn’t discretionary.

Handel wrote Messiah for modest vocal and instrumental forces, with optional settings for many of the individual numbers. In the years after his death, the work was adapted for performance on a much larger scale, with giant orchestras and choirs. In other efforts to update it, its orchestration was revised and amplified by (among others) Mozart. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries the trend has been towards reproducing a greater fidelity to Handel’s original intentions, although “big Messiah” productions continue to be mounted.

After increasingly suffering twenty years of those “big productions”, to turn up, and find an orchestra of five string players (plus harpischord continuo), and a chorus of twelve, was more than refreshing – especially given my (and my hearing aids’) predilection for “the purity and strength of a small ensemble”.

As the programme note states:

Tonight we offer a Messiah that has been assembled by the studying of Handel’s different versions. For example, we will be performing Rejoice Greatly in the original 12/8 format….
     You will notice the lack of oboes in this performance. This again is in answer to Handel’s original performance where in Dublin he performed with just strings, trumpets and timpani. We are performing at Baroque Pitch this evening which is a semi-tone down from modern pitch that orchestras play at today [allowing] for an even more exciting sound world in terms of keys and also the use of period instruments….
     Messiah is an ever changing masterpiece that should not be unbending in its performance. With the huge amounts of material available it offers performers an exciting opportunity to really make such a wonderful piece their own.

And this they did with aplomb.

From the opening Sinfonia, it was apparent that the instrumentation would be crystal-clear and with a direct line to one’s heart: one player per part leaves no room for error; but it does make space for the sound to float beautifully – especially when so perfectly suited to the ringing acoustic of Great Malvern Priory. But it was the opening of Comfort ye my people that really set the tone: tenor Gareth Edmunds’ perfect enunciation, control of dynamics, and communication of emotion… – pleading for salvation so perfectly (setting the incredibly high benchmark that not one singer deviated from…) that, of course, the Bardic floodgates opened (and would not close until well after the very last “Amen”).

It seems unfair to only list a few of the twelve singers: especially when nearly every member of the choir performed at least one solo – and all so stunningly. (That each chorister is capable of delivering such to an incredibly high, and consistent, standard, and then yet blend transparently back into the chorus, is beyond remarkable….) But I fear I would end up listing every single one of the fifty-three constituent pieces were I just to use perfection as my selection criterion. So, here – with apologies to the truly magnificent, angel-voiced Tamsin Raitt, Naomi Sturges, Alexandra Rogers, and William Gimson… – are a few of my many, many highlights. (It goes without saying that the instrumental accompaniment was glorious throughout: with astonishing contrasts and dynamics. Thanks, therefore – and equal praise – to violinists Anna Waszak, Simone Pirri; viola player Heather Bourne; cellist Hetti Price; bassist Frances Emery – all proving that Baroque bows and a lack of vibrato produce atmosphere by the bucketload – and harpischordist Tom Nichol.)

The opening chorus – And the glory of the Lord – was also an archetype for everything that followed: every syllable perfectly audible; rhythms as crisp as the cold air creeping under the priory’s doors; and variations in volume that were instant, but gentle, rather than contrived.

Last year I wrote…

One of the key attributes (for me) of any directed group of musicians (even when small in number) is the attention everyone pays (or should) to the conductor (although I could be biased). It may not always be readily apparent from observing the performers’ faces: but it was obvious on Saturday evening that the members of Eboracum Baroque – and especially when the choir came on stage after the overture – are incredibly cohesive and attentive: to each other, as well as to engaging director Chris Parsons…. There was an instant and perfect control-and-response in dynamics and tempi of both instrument and voice. Truly astounding – a quality that reflected an innate flexibility; as well as collegiate respect, engagement and enjoyment.

…and nothing has changed. If anything, a growing, subtle confidence has just made things – not that I would have believed such possible – even more astounding (which is why I wrote, above, that, regardless of the existing high levels of achievement, their potential seems so limitless).

When bass Jamie Woollard proclaimed that “darkness shall cover the earth”, my spine crumbled. This was a prophecy that seemed steeped in veracity. Another pair of high points were the duets between soprano Lottie Bowden and alto Laura Baldwin – He shall feed his flock – and alto George Haynes and tenor Jonathan Hanley – O death, where is thy sting? Not only were the voices perfectly blended – complementing and harmonizing superbly – but so were the emotions, the clarity of utterance.

The crème de la crème, though, for me – as far as the soloists were concerned; and only by the tiniest of slivers – was Laura’s remarkable rendition of He was despised. Simply incredible amounts of passion, and expressed to perfection. At this point, my vertebrae simply evaporated….

The climax of the evening, of course, was the Hallelujah chorus! Not only because the audience rose to their feet as one before it even started (after a wonderful rendition of Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron from tenor Nils Greenhow); but because of the sudden appearance of two natural trumpets (astounding control of pitch from Sam Lewis and Kaitlin Wild) and a timpani player (Jude Carlton). If we had been amazed before by the ability of so few musicians to fill so large a space with so much sound, this was the moment when, if you had closed your eyes, you would have imagined the Berlin Phil had been dropped into the priory (all playing on original instruments, of course…) – not five string players, a harpsichord, two trumpets, a timpanist, and a chorus of twelve (proof again that you do not need huge ensembles to make huge musical or emotional impact). And yet their rendition of Since by Man Came Death, a few minutes later, was so hushed, it seemed impossible that these could be the same forces.

By the way, I raved about bass John Holland-Avery in my previous review – and his voice still more than impresses. His duet with trumpeter Sam – The trumpet shall sound (which it did, gloriously) – was magnificent: especially as it came immediately after the subtle wonders of Behold, I tell you a mystery.

I really didn’t want the evening to end (despite the monastic draughts): but end it did – and that standing ovation was utterly well-deserved. We had been treated to a performance of (what I must now admit, again, is) a true masterpiece – one that never lulled for interest and beauty, or passion and skill – one that had taken us back to the sound of that first performance in Dublin in April 1742; and one that filled one’s heart and soul. This was a contemporary Messiah like no other: more talent squeezed into and out of every note than should have been physically possible.

Of course, none of this would have been possible without Chris Parsons’ phenomenal vision, and utterly perfect control: all performers’ eyes seemingly glued to his expressive command – each movement beginning with his hands clasped together in prayer, or as if gathering the magic he would then disperse across choir and orchestra.

I don’t know if there are any tickets left, but they are repeating their performance in St John’s College Chapel, Cambridge, this Saturday (17 December 2016). It may just be the best Christmas present you could buy… – especially for yourself…!

Down a winding cobbled street from the church trips the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance, the most evocative and strangely dramatic of all morris dances, performed for perhaps hundreds of years, conceivably for thousands. They are led by a single fiddler, dressed in a rag coat, playing a tune that is childlike and simple, but also full of sadness and an ethereal, mordant power, like the soundtrack of a dream. Behind him come men carrying antlered fallow deer heads in front of their faces. Behind them, a man-woman, a hunter and a hobbyhorse. They dance in silence, slowly. The hunt turns and turns, casting patterns in the moonlight. You feel its mossy, shadowed meaning beyond understanding. A ghost dance, a silently keening sadness. The things we misplace always bear a heavier loss than the things we choose to grasp with white knuckles. And in the darkness, quite unexpectedly, I feel tears of mourning on my cheek.
– AA Gill: AA Gill is Further Away: Helping with Enquiries

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

From the sublime to the cuniculus (and back again…)

Ten days ago, I wrote

I have been fortunate to hear some truly amazing performances this year: but this was “the very best of the best” – every single musician working their socks off, giving it their all… until those ethereal, pure voices faded beyond hearing. The silence was unbearable. But so was the thought of applause.
     I had wept from start to finish. I could not have done otherwise: my mind in tatters; my heart riven; my soul shattered to smithereens. Good music will do this, of course. But only if played this well.

…but I was wrong. Not wrong in my summation. (The echoes of that night still resonate my very being as an MRI scan will your very atoms.) But wrong in believing such a glorious evening of music couldn’t be surpassed. I probably should have known better. But I didn’t. And I don’t care one fig(gy pudding). Every concert – every experience of art – is a new opportunity for astonishment (a blank canvas, if you will). To enter the arena loaded with expectations and beliefs is, of course, unavoidable. But I try, each time, to wipe the slate clean. All I bring is my prior life; my ability (and willingness) to wonder; my desire (my greed) to be naïve… – in essence, to be Gerontius stood naked before his maker: known; but unknowing.

Like Gerontius, I was rewarded with the deep cleansing pain of perfect beauty. Unlike Gerontius, this was more than momentary (and the better for it). But then – if you consider my worship of music an equivalent religion… – my experience was not dependent on blind trust. My faith was in the substantial. My holy writ, a mere mortal’s manuscript. Blobs of black ink suspended from infinite staves….

Poring over the score for Paul Moravec’s most recent commission for the Orchestra of the Swan: Nocturne for “Solo Violin, Solo Vioncello, Oboe/English Horn, Bassoon & Strings” – a “companion piece” to Haydn’s Sinfonia Concertante for the same forces, plus a smattering of brass, wind and timpani – it occurred to me that the earlier composer (having had a polite word or two with HG Wells’ Time Traveller) wouldn’t have too many problems understanding his successor’s work. He might be astonished at the freedoms that we now take for granted – sudden, frequent changes of key and time signatures, etc. – but I think, overall, he would be delighted – particularly with the creative freedom that comes from expressing directions to your players in your native language: for example, Moravec’s usage of “Stately”, “Playful, quick” and “Expressive” tempi; and comments such as “evanescing”, “passionate”, and “ethereal”; not to mention the absence (or ‘elastication’) of many of the ‘classical’ rules he felt – mostly – obliged to adhere to.

That the music would be so comprehensible stems, I think, from two causes: first, our reliance, still – mostly – for the composition of classical orchestral music (or whatever term you wish to ascribe to this medium/genre…) on those signs and symbols (those “blobs of black ink”), as well as the ruled lines, of our prededecessors: a melodic language that has continued to evolve – extremely rapidly, in some quarters – but whose core is set firm. Secondly, Moravec’s output is – mostly – located in the same geographic plane of tonality as Haydn’s – although the latter may, initially, be somewhat taken aback at the harmonies, chromaticism, and occasional atonality. This is not to say that the two composers therefore sound in any way obviously alike – although, go hunting, and there are what David Curtis, tonight’s incomprehensibly astounding conductor, called Moravec’s “Haydnesque… use of small motifs appearing throughout the work”; as well as occasional (confessed) hints/traits of neoclassicism – there are 224 years separating their composition, after all… – but rather to demonstrate that you can easily trace a direct line between one and t’other. (I also believe that – because of its structure; that cross-pollination of motifs across movements, etc. – Haydn would agree that this later work also readily falls into the category described by the words ‘Sinfonia Concertante’.)

To be honest, I think Haydn would be as thrilled and moved as I am, hearing any of Moravec’s music – and would thus happily see him as a direct descendant; however many generations of evolution (and revolution) separate their output. [You only have to bring to mind the slow introductions to some of Haydn’s later symphonies – and especially the staggering Representation of Chaos which opens The Creation – to realize that here was a composer who was already pushing hard at the boundaries of assonance and form(ality): one who would listen long and hard to this “melancholy beauty” (as one wise audience member described it), to understand it, and to appreciate it.]

Whatever music it is, however difficult it is, any worthwhile music will speak to any audience if the intention is right. It is all about a mindset of sharing, not showing. Music is communication, an act of love, not a display.
– Charles Hazlewood: Facing the music

Moravec’s previous works made an instant emotional connection with my heart, mind and soul: a connection which has led to a great deal of further investigation. The reason I describe Haydn listening “long and hard”, though, is that – below the apparent surface beauty – there is a whole lot more going on than may initially appear. [I do wonder, though, if his apparent ‘accessibility’ (especially his absence of ‘fear’ with respect to the use of tonality) can actually stop people digging deeper? If so, I am sure they are ‘satisfied’ – this is great music, after all: it ‘succeeds’ in many ways… – but I do worry that they are missing out on the more significant proportion of the harmonic iceberg.]

When we think of nocturnes, we may think of Field or Chopin: music, perhaps, that is to be played at night, rather than of it. However, Moravec says that the title of his new work is “rather to suggest a kind of night music” – that it is “evocative of the nocturnal”.
– Programme note

His Nocturne begins with a tangible air of mystery – one that never really, truly dissipates; order always beyond our fingers’ and our eyes’ reach… – the four stupendous soloists (David Le Page, violin; Nick Stringfellow, cello; Victoria Brawn, oboe and cor anglais; and Philip Brookes, bassoon) initially emerging as magical, majestical creatures of the night: their truncated conversations creeping over susurrating strings (that could be Vaughan Williams’ – albeit a little more atonal). Those opening sustained notes of the orchestral violins and violas almost feel like an extended theme in themselves: contributing to a first movement which seems to be always building… – pulsing like the slowest, transfigured heartbeat… – until, rapidly, it must fade away.

Throughout, though, there is interest in every player’s part; cascades of thickly-woven textures, ever opening and closing. But this being the Orchestra of the Swan – so few musicians on stage; but so much power at hand… – every thread is audible; and the soloists serve to interlace extra detail – often in unison – new colours created with each new pairing. Such wonderful transparency results… – but one that strangely obscures… – and yet each line is in balance, each filament traceable.

For a wanderer of the night, an habitual insomniac, such as myself, this feels intensely personal. It seems that Moravec has inveigled his way into my deepest thoughts; my nocturnal experiences: examining them gently, yet thoroughly, as I ponder the strangeness that darkness brings, surrounded by the comfort of a known, yet invisible, environment; but immersed within an unknown, dimly-imagined, future. Out of them he has created astonishing beauty – at once rich and sparse.

The bassoon solo’s utterance of the simple, climbing theme (a third, then a fifth) – Philip more hushed than one would believe practicable… – creates a backbone from which everything else is suspended: those three notes, their repetitions, extensions and overlaps obfuscating… until what we thought was mist solidifies, crystallizes into shadow. A closing violin ascent – David Le Page as intensely heedful as ever – taking us back to the opening bars. But where is this “creature of the night” really leading us: when, below, a wide, spread unison brings a feeling of enlightenment, of fragile calm, so momentary; and we are so soon enveloped by silence?

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in
– Leonard Cohen: Anthem

All four soloists were utterly enthralling, extremely moving – together and apart – each shining and translucent. And there was no better example of such quality than the opening of the second movement: angelic wings expanding from one solitary note. It was as if they were praying, or intoning some incantation; searching, searching; sighing… – forming a foundation for the almost religious feeling that arose. Initially, the strings were low, foundational: but expanding, growing; now overlapping with the soloists. And yet one cannot help feel that they are breaking free from what has gone before; even from the earth itself – the solo violin always soaring above, always taking the highest line; and sometimes with Victoria’s plangent oboe alongside – more shadowing than shadow.

Clarity begins to make itself known: allowing the soloists to expand their original orisons. Then a slight retardation – immense in affect; heartrending; a huge emptiness opening between high and low, treble and bass. There is something almost psalmodic about this movement – that “religious feeling” ever more apparent… – I feel as if I have wandered by (but cannot rightly recollect) a monastery of ghostly monks turned vapour. So soul-stoppingly beautiful (there is no other word). But it pierces to the very quick.

Such restlessness, too – unrest, even – always reaching, yearning, seeking… – but increasing simplicity (decreasing complexity) tugs, pulls us backward. And yet the closing ascents from the bassoon and then the cello (has Nick ever sounded quite so mournful before; so sadly human in voice…?) bring hope; maybe even fulfilment; devotion rewarded… – yet quietly, tenderly, almost imperceptibly.

Knowing of my pitch-dark explorations; my celestial observations, benchbound in the local churchyard, Moravec joked that “If there is a literal, programmatic association [attached to the third movement], it might be with mischievous little critters scampering about in the night!” Such “critters” are in perpertual motion, here: full of Moravecian impishness; dancing in a tricksy scherzo-by-any-other-name!

The duplicative textures the soloists create hover above the orchestra’s insect-like buzzing at the church’s porch-light; the solo strings soaring into the cloudless sky above. There is lots of “scampering” – but not of a frightening kind: no wicked spirit this way comes.

Out of the constant contrapuntal impatience and rapidity an almost-trio of almost-calmness surfaces momentarily – everything finally coming together. But it will not hold; and evaporates into the air, into thin air. Soloists and orchestra exchange ideas, attitudes, themes – at some points, it’s almost as if the soloists are the accompanists: holding notes over the manic mutterings of the orchestral strings. This is fun – for the critters, at least: the orchestra’s faces filled with joy! A major chord signifies its end…

…and we return to marvellous mystery and melancholy.

Of all the four constituent movements, this final one is the toughest – for the players; the conductor; for the audience. For me, it was the movement which most belonged to the night. On paper, I found it opaque – but intriguing. It has an eeriness that stems from the unknown… – what we see and feel is only a miniscule proportion of that which surrounds us. And yet, over the course of a long day, David and OOTS unwrapped its magic: somehow rendering its many challenges transcendently invisible.

By almost forcing the main body of strings into the background, hiding them almost silently in the shadows which so infuse this work, the soloists are enabled, allowed to stress its melodic qualities; the lyricism that is at Moravec’s generous heart.

The strings climb and accelerate from near-nothingness: repeatedly “evanescing”. The mastery of the soloists evoking an apparently simple serenade over the ensuing unease. The cross-rhythms which so mark this work are like scars upon the page: but emerge as scaling whispers, vaporizing almost before they have begun. Passion – but more unworldly than imaginable – thus builds in waves: pulling you in; pulling you down to the underworld, perhaps?

There are still transcendent highs, however: David (LP) then Nick with ornamental, almost baroque, solos over sustained strings. The unrest never ceases: resolution always out of reach. Victoria and Philip return with the rising motif from the first movement; but the lack of stability rules still, even as the soloists soar to ever greater altitudes.

And then the bassoon ignites even more unrest: until everyone is uttering those infernal, now terrifying scales: the violins, cellos and basses immune until the end.

And then the bassoon ignites an astonishing, breathtaking, lung-pulverizing moment of stillness (if stillness can be marked forte…); of strong serenity. The night collapses into understanding: Philip now expansively echoing that foundational theme with authority; and soon followed by the oboe and violins. One last scale from the solo cello – one last, fading attempt to destabilize paradise found – and our transfigured night is ended: with the most melancholic E major chord I have ever heard! (Is this night fading into day? Or are we simply retreating…?)

This was a rendition with wonderfully controlled playing from everyone involved. From the raw notes on the page, David and OOTS had fulfilled their potential, liberated their magic – fashioning something quite miraculous and mesmerizing – but without any loss of inscrutability.

I will be immensely sad if this is the only time I ever hear this performed. It continues the numinous trajectory along which Moravec has been travelling for so many years; and deserves repeated listenings. In summation: this was a thrilling, disquieting interpretation… – but overwhelmingly enchanting. One which left me with a mammoth lump in my throat; and several large somethings in both eyes. Just short of twenty immersive minutes of deep rapture; and a feeling of bliss… – one that remains many hours later.

Can we ask any more of music than this? That it connects directly with our souls, and leaves them forever altered…? I think not.

Several large gulps of cold Stratford air later, we heard Mozart’s/the greatest symphony. (“Heard” is such a weak word. And I will explain why, momentarily.) But let us first return to the piece which opened the concert, and that inspired Paul Moravec’s remarkable composition: Haydn’s Sinfonia Concertante in B flat major (Hob.I:105).

More ‘concertante’ than ‘sinfonia’ – in form, if not in weight (there are initially surprising bombastic trumpets and timpani) for the same four soloists (oboe, bassoon, violin and cello) to contend with (although they are frequently given their own space, concerto grosso‑style – it seems unfair that this genial work is so rarely performed. (Of course, you could easily argue that hiring four soloists is an expensive affair; but when you have an orchestra of this capability and depth – where not only the principals are capable of such complex solo parts – then I would contend that there is no actual case to be met.)

The opening Allegro has all the wit, melodiousness, development, drama, and contrasting ‘back-and-forthness’, that you would expect from Haydn meshing two such classical forms together; but the four-part cadenza is a real joy – no soloist really dominating; each being passed the spotlight; and ranging in emotion from the lightest happiness to the deepest contemplation (and with a nifty elaboration of the soloist’s usual end-signalling trill that only Haydn could have come up with…).

The violin part was written for Johann Peter Salomon (who also commissioned the ‘London’ symphonies): and it is therefore no surprise that David Le Page is given the greatest number of opportunities to show off….
– Programme note

Also according to that programme note (and who am I to disagree?!): “The central Andante is one of the loveliest movements I think Haydn produced – reminding me, with its explicit emotion, of its exquisite counterparts in the string quartets…” – the soloists serenading us, whilst the orchestra provides gentle, background support. There are moments of breathtaking beauty: with opportunities for all soloists to shine – but David (as stated above) has quite a few more than the others! This was a great demonstration – yet again – of how well the OOTS principals know and respect each other; and, of course, of their great collegial reserves of talent.

The finale is Haydn in stunning, operatic form! David Le Page’s opening proclamation (one of many) transforming into a wonderful – almost comic – aria with orchestral interjections. Bassoon and oboe, then cello, soon get their chance, too, as the singing becomes more lyrical, more thoughtful, more dramatic. It is not long, though, before hints of trademark wit creep into the solos; and the orchestra also return to their playful interjections. “Despite some ravishing adagio recitatives for the violin, the orchestra continually attempt to assert their will.” And although all four soloists seem, at one point, to have tamed them – it is, of course, not for very long. A typical pre-cadenza build; a very short cadenza (sadly). And that’s your lot!

[Just as a footnote… I can’t imagine ever hearing a greater performance of this: not simply because of its relative rarity, but because of the time, in rehearsal, spent finessing the smallest of details (almost as long as the Moravec, indeed). David (Curtis) is no control freak: but he certainly understands how to shape a piece of music, how to shape its story, how to share that with the players, and direct them in telling it so that we, the audience, also understand, and can follow them – and the composer – on their journey of discovery and delight. My goodness, it showed – even if you weren’t aware of what had gone on, earlier in the day, behind closed doors. (It’s all done with smiles, by the way. The whips are reserved for the critics.)]

I thought, for a while, after the interval, that I had died and gone to heaven. Perhaps, though, I had only been temporarily transferred to paradise: for, when I opened my rather soggy eyelids (joy, you understand; although never far away from its converse: knowing that so great a work – and a final symphony, at that – had been composed by someone so young; someone with so few years left to live…), my feet were still solidly planted on the wooden floor of the ArtsHouse.

As to the final work, “reverence” – as well as astonishment – is more than due. It simply does not matter whether you consider Mozart’s ‘Jupiter’ the greatest symphony ever written – or merely(!) the greatest symphony of one of the greatest composers who ever lived – it will always stand as an imposing, sunlit monument to the man and the genre….
     Not only is this Mozart’s greatest symphony; but, I believe, individually, the movements that constitute it are the greatest of their kind. It is as if Mozart knew this was to be his last: and therefore put every drop of his almighty talent into producing it.
– Programme note

For someone whose main musical love revolves around a certain Edwardian gentleman with an unmistakable profile and generous moustache, but extends more in the direction of the present than the past (hence my adoration for Moravec), Mozart will always exert an unbreakable hold on me. His piano sonatas were among the first pieces I learned to play; and – as they did for Elgar [pdf] – his compositions laid the foundation of the pathway on which I took my own, tentative, derivative first steps. He has therefore burrowed his way deep into my heart, mind, soul and psyche.

Of course, this is all helped by having musicians perform his music who (apparently) hold similar beliefs. This symphony may be well over two hundred years old: but, last night, it felt as fresh as our recent frosty mornings. No fog, here, though: everything was crystal clear – and not just because (I would argue) the orchestra was the perfect size. That David and OOTS truly ‘get’ what it takes to communicate Mozart in all his moods – from delicate, almost intangible filigrees of beauty, to stupendous, gobsmacking “turmoil – the like of which would not be heard again until the opening bars of Brahms’ First Symphony” (so claims the programme writer…) – just adds another layer of marzipan onto the Bardic Christmas cake!

[If I had one, teensy, reservation, it would be that David has recently started taking Mozart’s slow movements – here, an Andante cantabile “growing naturally into a sometime-syncopated heartbeat of disturbed, doubtful desire… sighing with love” – just a tad (i.e. a couple of percent) faster than I would like. His reading, though, was utterly convincing; and, of course, without a definitive tempo marking, who am I to say that he wasn’t correct? This, after all, is one of the most subjective of musical matters! And I was, after all, weeping rather fluently….)]

There truly is nothing that meets the realistic definition of joy than the opening moments of the Menuetto – “waves of tension built and resolved. This is hope writ large and in triple-time. And yet, somehow, we are left wondering if those aspirations are ever truly fulfilled.” Only Mozart could write such a gloriously happy movement that leaves us questioning ourselves in this way. But there is no doubt about the impact of the final movement. None whatsoever. Especially when played and directed with this much conviction and talent… – just as the earlier two pieces were, of course.

So, if this isn’t the greatest symphony ever written – christened for the king of all planets – surely the elaborately polyphonic Molto allegro which completes it can claim to be the greatest symphonic movement of all time? Those thundering cascades; all that complex counterpoint rendered deceptively transparent…. And then, in the coda, those four-and-a-half magical bars finally arrive: and all the preceding five themes of this sonata-form finale are played simultaneously – as if by miraculous coincidence; and as artlessly as breathing. We may not realize, consciously, that such has occurred; but, deep within us, we know we have witnessed what can only be understood as ‘genius’. No other word is sufficient.
– Programme note

Is there any other musical ending which leaves you so filled with… well, whatever it is that completely convinces so many that there is a higher being? This is life writ as large as it is possible for any art so to do. My shout of “Bravo!” seemed tragically feeble in comparison. The squeak of a dying mouse in the middle of the Sahara; rather than an elephantine roar echoing for days around the Grand Canyon… that Mozart and OOTS so deserved. It will take me a lot of convincing that there is a greater work of music, of art, than this – whatever definition of “greatness” you wish to throw at me. And I can’t imagine it ever being played again with such gargantuan heaps of verve: so much so that the conductor appeared to punch the air with both fists on leaving the stage! But, then again, I’ve been wrong before….

Men must live and create. Live to the point of tears.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

“What harmony is this? My good friends, hark!”
An introduction to the music of Paul Moravec…

Paul Moravec; courtesy of Subito Music Corporation

Note: Originally written for – and published on – the Orchestra of the Swan blog29 November 2016.

Marvellous sweet music!
A few weeks ago, I interviewed composer Paul Moravec, by email. My principal aim, as the Orchestra of the Swan’s (OOTS) Writer-in-Residence, was to learn more about Nocturne – which will be premièred by OOTS at the next ArtsHouse concert on 6 December 2016 – and gather enough material from our discussion to produce a programme note. However, until very recently, I hadn’t really known much about his music – or the man. So, in preparation, I spent many, many hours listening to all of the available recordings I could unearth of his music; and reading liner notes, previous appraisals, and previous dialogues.

This is no flattery: these are counsellors
That feelingly persuade me what I am.
– Shakespeare: As You Like It (II.i.10-11)

I was so taken with his music – all of it… – that I thought, by way of introduction (if you too have not heard his compositions before), it would be worth reviewing (and noting my reactions to) a handful of the choicest examples. (These are works that immediately spoke to me, and to my condition as a human being: and the whole process therefore felt a little like falling in love! To be honest, I may therefore have become a little addicted to them: rendering it quite difficult to limit myself to just a few pieces – or a few words…!)

I can’t sum up Nocturne in one word, but I can say that I always try to make beautiful things, and this is no exception.
– Paul Moravec (personal correspondence)

What I took away from my many hours sat in my favourite chair, wearing my favourite headphones, notebook on my knee, is that it seems that Moravec doesn’t so much ‘write music’ as compose and communicate emotion. Part of the reason I say this is that I have always preferred music that moves me (as I hope do most): especially when it does so through what can (and should) feel like an almost empathic connection. Additionally, since I began to lose (then artificially regain) my hearing, I seem to have become a little less interested in the technical detail, and more interested in the overall effect (even though the act of listening is, now, for me, an immensely technical one). And, whether it is by conscious or unconscious means, I think the greatest composers have always had this ‘knack’ of being able to make their feelings known through their works – whatever the period, prevailing ‘norms’, or forces (although I admit that the following is an extremely personal selection…). For example: Bach’s slow movements (whether instrumental or choral); any Schubert chamber music (including the song-cycles); Mendelssohn’s Lieder ohne Worte; most Brahms; Berg’s and Webern’s piano music (particularly the former’s first sonata; and the latter’s Variations…); and a huge chunk of twentieth-century British music. (The latter may, of course, be genetic!)

All of my compositions, whether ‘programmatic’ or not, seem to have some sort of emotional narrative, however abstract. I try to make audible the workings of the central nervous system – presumably my own. On some level, Nocturne is a non-verbal narrative playing out in that realm.
– Paul Moravec (personal correspondence)

I also believe those “greatest composers” have an instantly identifiable ‘voice’. And – although admitting (reluctantly) that binge-listening may have contributed to such a diagnosis – I think this can genuinely be said of Moravec. (And I see a parallel, here, with the ‘honesty’ – the courage, almost – of conveying one’s emotions: that is, knowing yourself, and being true to yourself.) What that “voice” is, of course, is difficult to define: but there is – amongst other things – a ‘driven-ness’ (more than mere impetus); a dramatic lyricism that isn’t necessarily tonal; and an understanding of each instrument’s varying sounds and capabilities (whether alone; or combined, or contrasted, with others). There is also what I can only describe as an ‘humaneness’ inherent throughout. Oh, and seemingly never quite as far away as one may have initially imagined (especially with regards to dénouements), a wicked wittiness – or even witty wickedness (what he sometimes details in his scores as “impishness”) – of the Haydn/Shostakovich variety! (I think what surprised me most, though, is a lack of an evident American ‘accent’ – as articulated by Copland, Barber, Ives, Bernstein, etc. – or, at least, not one I’ve discerned yet. His music feels utterly ‘universal’.)

By the way, this is not to say that I find his music easy to listen to… – there are some wonderful technical currents flowing beneath the surface beauty; as well as intense feelings I struggle to describe. But it is listening. And it is rewarding. This is music that you can’t simply hear. It pulls you in; questions your soul; forces you to pay attention – and there aren’t many musicians who have that ability. Few contemporary composers – to me… – seem keen to expose their own hearts: in the way, say, Schumann, Elgar, or Britten did. The ones that come instantly to mind include the late Peter Maxwell Davies; Howard Skempton; Dobrinka Tabakova; and Arvo Pärt.

In essence, though, this is what makes Moravec’s oeuvre so very special. And I hope – having read the following – not only will you come to the concert to discover this for yourself; but you will come expecting – and finding – nothing other than a composer at the peak of his game.

Sonata for Violin and Piano (1992)
Even at his most tender (or even fragile…) – as in the central movement of this sonata: Singing, tender, rubato – one word that crops up again and again, listening to his music, is ‘passion’ (perhaps best exemplified by his compact Vita Brevis song-cycle). Moravec has a way of producing the most exciting, thrilling highs; and deep, heartrending lows – from a ferocity of feeling and desire; the poetic rages of ardour, fervour and enthusiasm; to driving movement and vigour… – often within a few bars of each other. And, although he is the master of instrumentation (from solo piano to opera) – his scores (as with the beauty they express) appear simply to flow directly from the heart. (His knowledge of the capabilities of each instrument – whether alone, or in combination with others – is, however, readily apparent in all his works; and yet, masterfully, also completely invisible.)

Additionally, there is soul-splitting intimacy – no matter the size of the forces (although he does, as here, seem to prefer smaller groups of musicians – perfect, therefore, for OOTS!) – as well as direct sincerity: both of which seem intrinsic to every note. Whether you wish, as some have done, to label him a ‘new tonalist’, or even a ‘romantic’, he is – like so many great composers – his own man. It also occurs to me that the reason so many find his music to be ‘accessible’ – as those two epithets imply – is because of its obvious origins in the greatest musical traditions: including the captivating drollery, of say Shostakovich – the final movement being labelled Impish, sprightly (the first word of which is to Moravec as Nobilmente is to Elgar); and ending with a flourish that Haydn would be proud of!

Characteristics (1995)
The titles of these seven short piano piecesBoisterous, Serene, Impish, Vivacious, Elegant, Humorous and Contemplative – although enshrining “tributes from the composer to seven musical friends: three pianists, two composers, a violinist and a countertenor, in the form of pithy piano commentaries” – also seem to reflect a self-awareness: capturing, as they do, traits of the composer himself. To me, they are also not that far removed from the surface moods of Holst’s The Planets, or Shakespeare’s ‘seven ages of man’. However you wish to interpret them, they are indubitably a great introduction to the musical world Moravec inhabits and creates.

Tempest Fantasy (2003)
This is the work Moravec is most famous for; and the one that will always ensure that he is labelled a “Pulitzer Prize-winning composer” in any promotional material! Having recently seen the play (twice), it is obvious that there are strong literary connections and inspirations contained within. However – and perhaps the reason this work feels even more ‘personal’ (to me) than most of his others – there is another vital thread that binds the five movements together:

Moravec has also suggested that the piece was an allegory for his own struggle with depression, commenting: “Coming back from depression, I identified with Prospero and his melancholy and his downcast state. Through the power of imagination he improves his condition, and so that’s what I did as a composer.”

The work is thrilling from the outset: Ariel an almost moto perpetuo representation of the “airy spirit bound in service to Prospero and impatient for his release” – although there are some moments of impish introspection.

Tempest Fantasy is a musical meditation on various characters, moods, situations, and lines of text from my favorite Shakespeare play, The Tempest. Rather than trying to depict these elements in programmatic terms, the music simply uses them as points of departure for flights of purely musical fancy.
     The first three movements spring from the nature and selected speeches of the three eponymous individuals. The fourth movement begins from Caliban’s uncharacteristically elegant speech from Act III, scene 2: “Be not afeard: the isle is full of noises, Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight, and hurt not.”
     The fifth movement is the most ‘fantastic’ flight of all, elaborating on the numerous musical strands of the previous movements and drawing them all together into a convivial finale.
– Paul Moravec (programme note)

The second movement, Prospero, is immensely beautiful and contemplative (leading me to infer that this and the first are two sides of Moravec’s own personality). It is almost pleading in nature, with undertones of darkness and sadness (and therefore a perfect portrait of “the deposed Duke of Milan”; as well as of – from my experience – that exacting battle with depression).

The instrumentation is quite wonderful: vividly portraying the complexity of the character; and producing some remarkable textural and atmospheric diversity – from that of loneliness; through gentle and shimmering; to impressions of tall, sunlit mountain peaks (and their deep foundations and reflections) – as well as everything in between. It is utterly heart-rending.

Caliban – “the savage son of the witch Sycorax” – is extremely discomfiting (as he should be). At times menacing, the music conjures up a creature of the dark; although one also senses states of longing, (again) of loneliness, of unrest (as with Prospero…). There is also – that word again! – impishness. And yet, somehow, this mischievousness feels ‘evil’ – especially when compared to the (misleading) ‘goodness’ one senses in Ariel.

Sweet Airs is “sweet”, indeed. One can feel Caliban’s craving (for beauty, for Miranda, for peace…). It is, in essence, a song without words: perfectly encapsulating some of Shakespeare’s most radiant poetry; and building to overwhelming passion… – passion that is never fully resolved. The textures are always clear, however: the cello, clarinet, violin and piano always, somehow, retaining their individuality (of line, of spirit).

Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices,
That if I then had wak’d after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again, and then in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open, and show riches
ready to drop upon me, that when I wak’d
I cried to dream again.
– Shakespeare: The Tempest (III.ii.95-101)

The final Fantasia brings all the previous four movements together: as if the different characters were discoursing. Somehow, it feels as if it is a representation of the drama as a whole – although it concentrates more on the happy humour and resolutions than the darkness which forms the play’s twisted backbone.

Is this Moravec’s masterpiece? Honestly, I do not know; and cannot say. It is tremendous, though; and certainly, at the time of composition (and subsequent award), must have felt like the culmination of all that had gone before. It is also, without a doubt, a momentous pinnacle – albeit one scaled (by the listener) with ease – and, in its thirty minutes, perfectly embodies Moravec’s musical ethos. (Everything he produces feels so perfectly natural – so necessary – so ordained – so inevitable… – and yet so utterly original; so unmistakably ‘his’…!)

Clarinet Concerto (2008)
This is unlike any other clarinet concerto I can think of; and is evidently focused on the phenomenal talents of its dedicatee – also of the Tempest Fantasy… –David Krakauer [pdf]. At times, it feels a little retrospective – and yet it is clearly ground-breaking, too. (What is obvious – as I have said before – is that not only does Moravec understand both the capabilities and the requirements of each instrument or group… – but that he also quickly grasps the same of the individual players [pdf].)

The delicate soupçons of Klezmer and jazz that Krakauer brings to it (on the recording I listened to) may be partly responsible for its inimitable feel. But the string writing in the middle Expressive, melancholic movement somehow contains hints of twentieth-century English pastoral… (think of Finzi’s equivalent work, perhaps…) – a feeling that lingers on into the Slow introduction to the Quick final movement.

This is astonishing writing – whatever lens you view it through – and Moravec’s orchestration – plus his manifest trust in the musicians he writes for (and with) – produces something quite utterly gobsmacking. What he does with the simple, short phrase that is at the beating heart of the central movement is beyond remarkable….

Wind Quintet (2010)
Seven vastly different moods and soundscapes – each of the movements fitting beautifully together; and yet each demonstrating fresh ways of creating musical texture from the interplay of flute, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon… – this is another breathtaking, intimate work: and yet somehow it feels ‘vast’ in compass (even in the dozen minutes or so it occupies). It wraps itself around you – not exactly comforting, as such – but generating warmth and companionship. It welcomes us to a new world of music – one that is as fresh as a spring breeze, and just as awe-inspiring… – but created from a vocabulary that is readily comprehended by all.

The final movement, labelled simply Quick – is Moravec at his most “impish”! There is something of both Haydn and Stravinsky in here: light feather-caresses of wit and sparkling conversation in the instrumental interplay; and extremely addictive!

Violin Concerto (2010)
For me, this is Moravec’s magnum opus. Everything he knows, that he has learned, experienced, become… pouring instinctively onto the stave and into our ears: challenging our perceptions from first note to last. It is so very intense a journey (the portrayal of a whole life lived, perhaps…) – and starts as it means to go on. There is no rest for the soloist; and, even though it may feel as if Moravec has played all his emotional cards within moments of the devastating, staggering opening, the last two minutes of the first movement are so gravity-defying; so hollowing; so harrowing; so gut-wrenchingly real (the absolute denotation of beauty and pain conjoined…) that I cannot imagine anyone within a thousand miles of its performance being left unscathed.

This sings so immediately to every sense; unswervingly fuses to your soul – pure, unadulterated truth… – and is the composer consistently, persistently at his very, very best: equalling, then surpassing, soaring above whatever wonders orchestras and solo violins have ever achieved before. Each time I listen, it shocks, it disturbs, it hurts… but it transfigures. What magic is it that can make a human being, a mere mortal, drill into their imagination, mark it on the page… so that this emerges…? As shattering to perform, I imagine, as it is to listen to. (But you will be left wanting more. I promise….)

The second movement brings a sort of respite – but no lesser radiance. This has a gentleness, though; a singing quality; a serenade which soothes, a little… – but that retains that ability to question; as well as to astonish. It seems to emerge naturally from the desolation that precedes it: creating something crystalline in its soaring lyricism and yearning…. Higher, ever higher. We are above the clouds, only the most slender of gossamer threads securing us…. But it is much, much too short.

The ever-expanding cadenza which constitutes the third movement is the most breathtaking compensation: tough, tough virtuosity – perhaps an antidote of a kind… – streaming seamlessly into the initially mysterious, alien – even dismaying – opening of the final movement. Any clarity that emerges has to fight hard for its existence: but beauty this true will always vanquish whatever is thrown in its path… – in this case, leaving behind only joy….

Piano Quintet (2011)
Although still fulfilling the extremely fluid, descriptive definition of ‘Moravecian’, this work, I feel, is evidence of a lifelong willingness to continue experimenting, learning…. There is no waning of the composer’s mastery – or impishness! What I’m starting to realize, however, is that every work is seen as an opportunity to start anew. Yes, there may be cross-fertilization of ideas and themes, occasionally; but it’s as if Moravec views each commission (or, simply, composition) as a fresh puzzle to be solved, completed; and that the result uses not only his accumulated expertise, but relies heavily on instinct, on innate ‘rightness’ – perhaps jointly fulfilling a current emotional need or state…? Obviously there is an evolution of ‘style’ (however difficult that is to pin down); but, frequently, this appears to be cyclical and iterative: spiralling upwards and outwards from youth to the present… – and, hopefully, continuing long into the future.

That this work prompted such thoughts is because it feels a little less ‘approachable’ than other recent, contemporary pieces – explicitly more ‘crafted’. (Craftsmanship that is usually, I feel, more easily worn… – and the virtuoso demonstrations of which, generally, are cunningly disguised by the beauty, the emotion, the truth, the impact… of the resulting music. And yet, somehow, it feels as if it fits, as if it belongs to the wider ‘contemporary classical music’ scene – to that more challenging landscape – somehow more readily than it does to Moravec’s own personal perspective….)

Perhaps it is an experiment (which is No Bad Thing); and perhaps in response to some internal or external factor or influence; or perhaps – as is so much of the compositional process and its mysteries – just happenstance. Or – perhaps – it is just that the composer wears his workings (his imagination, even), more openly – “upon my sleeve For daws to peck at”…? Whatever (slight) reservations I have, it definitely repays repeated listening – its intricacies begin to meld and form patterns, to engage emotionally as well as technically. There is another cracking ending to listen out for, as well!

Shakuhachi Quintet (2012)
Regular OOTS concert attendees will recognize this as the Shakuhachi Concerto – which was premièred with James Nyoraku Schlefer at Spring Sounds: Spring Seas in May 2013. This feels the most ‘classical’ of Moravec’s works – or, at least, those I have listened to… – its opening somewhat mournful: and thus reminding me of some of the more intense moments of Bartók’s string quartets; or even Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht.

This is a work which, above all others, demonstrates Moravec’s immediate understanding of an instrument’s (and its player’s) capabilities – his obvious generosity of spirit; his willingness to learn from, and work with, those who know those “capabilities” best – to produce something unique and radiantly beautiful. The third movement, incidentally, “is based on the six-note melody, C-D-G-A-E-F, which William Shakespeare [well, Holofernes: my loquacious doppelgänger] spelled out in his comedy, Love’s Labour’s Lost” – so it seems appropriate that it was first performed, in its expanded form, in Stratford-upon-Avon!

Old Mantuan, old Mantuan! who understandeth thee not, loves thee not. Ut, re, sol, la, mi, fa. Under pardon, sir, what are the contents? or rather, as Horace says in his – What, my soul, verses?
– Shakespeare: Love’s Labour’s Lost (IV.ii.51)

Amorisms (2014)
I’m conscious of the fact that all the works I have reviewed so far have been purely instrumental: especially now that Moravec is becoming well-known for his recent, successful forays into opera – especially The Shining, based on “Stephen King’s 1977 bestselling novel” (not the film). He has also created a large body of choral work – from 1980’s a cappella Ave Verum Corpus to last year’s Music, Awake! (with orchestra) and Winter Songs (with piano) – and composed many pieces for solo voice: including the awesome (aforementioned) Vita Brevis (2002).

So, to conclude, I’d like to discuss Amorisms for SATB chorus, clarinet and string quartet: a “cycle of songs that chart a birth-to-death journey” – and which also has a direct Stratfordian connection:

The idea for this composition came to me while visiting Shakespeare’s Birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon  [for the première of the above concerto]. Amorisms sets five Shakespearean aphorisms about love. As this is a dance-piece, I wanted to keep the texts short, simple and set repetitively so that once the audience gets the idea for each movement, they can focus more readily on the dancers themselves.

Although written as “a dance-piece”, this can definitely, easily be enjoyed as a standalone work – ‘as is’! However, there is certainly a balletic feeling to the five songs: stemming from the short, repeated texts – which the music fits immaculately. There is an almost ‘spiritual’ feeling to the first, Love is a spirit (taken from Venus & Adonis – “all compact of fire, Not gross to sink, but light, and will aspire”). How quick and fresh, which follows (from Love’s Labour’s Lost again), though, somehow feels extremely Shakespearean – especially with the string quartet to the fore. The hushed singing towards the end is also quite mesmerizing.

The course of true love – uttered sadly by Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream – is perhaps one of Shakespeare’s most famous lines; and Moravec takes advantage of the speaker’s sorrow, opening the song with a mournful, almost regretful, clarinet solo: containing more “hints of twentieth-century English pastoral” – but this time with an almost religious tinge. (Is this a result, I wonder, of the composer having been – like me – a church choirboy? It can certainly be a persuasive influence!) And yet this is where the instrumentation really shines. (There is also a version for SSATB soloists: which I feel would allow the textures – which Moravec is so expert at – to float yet more openly.)

Sweet lovers – an extract from It was a lover and his lass, from As You Like It – also builds from an almost church-like opening: this time, to a wonderful swinging rhythm. Despite the instrumental interjections, and catchy rhythmic accompaniment, the ‘spiritual’ feel of the first song returns only momentarily – until a repeat of the opening choral motif, under a high, sustained violin note, leads to a close of transcendent beauty.

When love speaks, however, is the perfect way to end such an intimate work: each instrumental line the equal of the vocal ones – in importance, meaning, and beauty… – the violin perhaps “the voice of all the gods” (Berowne’s long “O, ’tis more than need” speech from Love’s Labour’s Lost, Act IV, scene iii, such a wonderful proclamation…). The a capella setting of “Make heaven drowsy” – followed by some transcendental instrumental writing – brought a lump to my throat. The last word – “harmony” – so apposite; and so utterly astonishing that I “melted into air, into thin air”.

Praise in departing.
Having spent some time with the score of Nocturne, I feel that it continues the journey outlined by the above works; and can easily be characterized by the most common words above: “truth”, “passion”, “intimacy”, “emotion”, “beauty”. It may not be as explicit a response to the Sinfonia Concertante that inspired it, as was Douglas J Cuomo’s to Bach’s second Brandenburg Concerto (composed for the previous ArtsHouse concert); but it is still obviously – with “more than an element of the neo-classical” – as Moravec states, “an homage to Haydn: especially regarding his masterly sense of formal balance and proportion”. It is also, in many places, quite ravishing; fits OOTS like an exquisitely-tailored silken glove; and – as you may now expect – is replete with expression and feeling. You will not be disappointed….

I hope that the audience takes something useful away with them from hearing my music. I hope generally that my music is entertaining; but I’m not an entertainer. I’m after bigger game than entertainment. Entertainment takes us out of ourselves and returns us to ourselves pretty much unchanged – and that is an extremely important, probably indispensable, part of our human experience. No less indispensable is the function of art: to take us into ourselves and leave us subtly transformed in some positive, ineffable way.
– Paul Moravec (personal correspondence)