December, the month without contemporary music, is upon us. Looking around concert centres, there are a few contemporary concerts at the beginning of the month that, on the whole, peter out as we approach Christmas.
To see what I mean by this, have a look at the BBC concert diary. The month starts interestingly enough. On Friday 2nd December, the BBC National Orchestra of Wales perform French Composer André Jolivet’s Cello Concerto No. 2, Bassoon Concerto and Symphony No. 3 at BBC Hoddinott Hall. On the same day the BBC Philharmonic play Ives’s Three Places in New England, John Adams’ My Father Knew Charles Ives, HK Gruber’s Nebelsteinmusik (Violin Concerto No.2) and Von Einem’s Concerto for Orchestra. One hundred years old, but still capable of giving a shock to those only interested in the anodyne, the Scottish Symphony Orchestra at City Halls, Candleriggs, Glasgow perform Bartók’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle together with De Falla’s Suites 1 and 2 from The Three Cornered Hat on 8th December. There is also a more contemporary connection to their concert of Debussy and Borodin on 15th December, featuring as it does a number of orchestrations from Colin Matthews. At the Barbican on Saturday 10th December the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus perform Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem and Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast; whilst on 16th December at the same venue the BBC Symphony Orchestra perform Bartók’s Dance Suite as well as giving the UK première of Kurtag’s …concertante… As the month progresses, however, there are an increasing number of Christmas themed concerts from BBC musicians.
At the CBSO centre on Friday 2nd December BCMG will give an improvised concert of music by Peter Wiegold. Whilst aspects of his music are fixed in rehearsal, the material is shaped during performance through special signals given to the players. The composer will also be in conversation with BCMG artistic director Stephen Newbould. At Troy Bar, London Nonclassical give their last concert of the year on December 7th, a special event curated by Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, an eclectic cross section of contemporary music by nine composers from the composition department of the College. And in proof that contemporary composers can write carols, King’s Cambridge under Stephen Cleobury continue their laudable tradition of commissioning a new work for their Christmas Eve Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. This year Tansy Davies has written a piece based upon the poem Christmas Eve by Christina Rossetti (1830-94) – the poet also famous for In the Bleak Midwinter. Rossetti was featured on Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time on Thursday 1st December. The programme is available on BBC iPlayer.
So to the continent, where even Boulez seems to be in an indulgently Christmas mood. His concert at the Salle Pleyel with Orchestre de Paris on 12th December features the softer side of Schoenberg, Verklärte Nacht and Bartók’s perennially popular Concerto for Orchestra. There is a little more of interest at the Musikverein. On 1st and 2nd December John Storgånds and the Tonkünstler-Orchester Niederösterreich give concerts that include Rolf Martinsson’s Concerto No.1 for Trumpet and Orchestra performed by Håken Hardenberger. On 5th December Ensemble Kontrapunkte conducted by Peter Keuschnig, perform Weissagung by Thomas Pernes, Heraklit Fragmente by Thomas Heinisch and Szene III by Roland Freisitzer. Finally, on 10th December the Vienna Philharmonic under Gustavo Dudamel perform a concert that includes Herbert Willi’s Clarinet Concert, played by Matthais Schorn.