I found this article interesting from a number of perspectives. First, the reviewer has a theater background, and later branched into opera (and thusly music criticism), and I think that this comes out in his writing. Second, it comes from the normally unimpeachable Guardian UK, and is quite brief. Third, the names of iconic pieces are...iconic.
Also, the Northern Sinfonia is in Newcastle, UK.
The Northern Sinfonia began its 50th-anniversary season with...
With something cool and memorable, I hope.
a complete cycle of Beethoven symphonies,
Wow, really. Came up with that in a brainstorming session, no doubt.
and now concludes it by compressing the 20th century into a week.
Mm, mm-hm. Better than not at all, for sure, but that hundred years of stuff certainly merits less total concert time than Beethoven symphonies, which are starved for attention.
Dreams and Ceremonies,...
This title reflects the survey of 20th century music? It could easily be a festival of Romantic music. Well, shit, or Baroque music, for that matter.
Dreams and Ceremonies, which surveys the period 1906-2006, is the kind of wildly ambitious scheme at which music director Thomas Zehetmair excels.
Good, good. Although programming music that was, more or less, recently composed should hardly count as a scheme. Was jamming all of the 20th century into a week the ambitious scheme, or stretching it out to fill a week's worth of concerts?
Still, nothing seems to frighten audiences away faster than 20th-century music.
And nothing, absolutely nothing, is more awesome than taking a sentence in your three-paragraph write-up to remind people that they don't, won't, can't, and shouldn't like it. For fuck's sake, can we cut that out?
The second concert began with an apologetic plea for those present to huddle closer towards the front.
Ha ha! It's funny because they paid money to go to a concert of unlistenable avant-garde crap! Hilarious. What a bunch of maroons.
Bah. What about it, then?
A pleasing performance of Dumbarton Oaks...
Figure 2: The gardens at Dumbarton Oaks, Georgetown
A pleasing performance of Dumbarton Oaks proves Stravinsky's backward glances towards the baroque are no more intimidating than a Brandenburg Concerto;
This is a bizarre, if evocative, construction. Stravinsky's potentially intimidating (?) "glances"
Figure 3: A glance from Stravinsky. Are you intimidated? I dunno, I think I could take him.
...are tempered somehow, since...he's glancing at Bach's Brandenburgs (on which the piece was based)? Are the Brandenburg Concertos often held up as an example of non-intimidating music? Or the Baroque as a whole? This characterization confuses me. However, this performance "proves" (!) that his glances are actually quite harmless.
...the same can hardly be said for Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time,
Figure 4: Olivier Messiaen writing down what birds say.
which is among the most harrowing experiences you can have in a concert hall.
I'd be lying if I said that the Quartet is a fancy-free, happy-go-lucky piece of fluff, but it's hardly the most gruesome stuff out there. It also seems to me that things other than music can be experienced in a concert hall.
Figure 5: Ruins of a concert hall in Weisbaden, Germany after WWII.
The original audience was the composer's fellow detainees in a German PoW camp, and the gravid tempos of the 50-minute piece almost defy the musicians to maintain a pulse.
So...it had some "pacing problems," to borrow some theater-jargon?
The highlight is the plaintive aria for unaccompanied clarinet, here breathtakingly executed by Christopher Richards.
Fine. But the best is yet to come.
John Cage's notorious 4'3"...
D'oh! I had to look twice to make sure. This is of course not correct. Which happens; it does. It's a bit of a major blunder considering the uniqueness of the title, and the piece, which is (arguably, of course) Cage's most iconic work, and possibly deserves some hyperbolic title like Most Important Piece of the Last 100 Years. Arguably. But still.
John Cage's notorious 4'3" was given additional drama by plunging the auditorium into darkness.
Probably not the first time, but a decent enough idea nonetheless.
Pianist Kate Thompson refused to be put off by an outbreak of giggles among the audience.
One would hope that's the least of things she was prepared to endure.
But though the random, ambient sound is supposed to be the point,
...it's still reminiscent of the silent observance before football matches, where you're hoping some idiot won't spoil it before the ref blows his whistle.
Ooh, yeah...or, you know, get the name wrong.
Figure 6: Pianist David Tudor performing Cage's 4'33".