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London Sinfonietta's Ferneyhough in Focus Day

This is a selective and personal response to an annual event which took place at South Bank Centre from morning to late evening, with workshops and numerous concerts.

Brian Ferneyhough, the epitome of a 'complexity' composer, was shunned for many years by the UK establishment, and had to make his highly significant career abroad. This was underlined by his absence from a day celebrating his achievements, one of the highest profile events accorded to Ferneyhough in his own country. Underlining this situation was his absence from South Bank; instead we saw on screen parts of an interview in Paris.

I was pleased to hear the Arditti Quartet (with a new violist since I last saw them) in Ferneyhough's 3rd String Quartet and James Dillon's piano quintet The Soadie Waste (Noriko Kawai) and would like to listen to them again; intriguing music, but hard to write about except by trained musicologists.

The two London Sinfonietta concerts, directed with aplomb by Martyn Brabbins, included Ferneyhough's Incipits (1996) with violist Paul Silverthorne, the Seven Tableaux Vivants Representing the Angel of History as Melancholia (2003) and Carceri d'invenzione I (1982), and much else. They were recorded by BBC R3 for broadcast on 3 April - incredible how these musicians can master so much dense and complex music for concerts in a single day.

Ferneyhough's filmed introductions to his Incipits & Tableaux were impenetrable, as too the seven Charles Bernstein poems for the composer's Seven Tableaux, set for speaker (Roderick Williams) with the London Sinfonietta, even though the texts were provided for study.

So on to context, rather than focus. The Carceri of Piranesi were the starting point for the vastly impressive Purcell School Concert. These youngsters brought enviable talent and skills to short compositions inspired by Piranesi's etchings of imaginary prisons by children of 14 upwards. The etchings were shown on screen, the participating ensembles displayed platform manners equal to best professionals, and the compositions were mostly lucid and communicative. String tuning was excellent, the 14-yr old composer/pianist Kausikan Rajeshkumar is an exceptional talent - watch out for that name reappearing - and another gifted pianist/composer Alissa Firsova demonstrated the potential of violin, bass clarinet and piano in trio, not to speak of the benefit of growing up in a musical family with two composer parents to help give her a good start.

An inspiring hour of music, which would have been inconceivable only a few decades ago. (See also the opera by six young composers hugely enjoyed the previous day!)

And lastly, opening the London Sinfonietta's 6 o'clock concert, the burgeoning imagination of Dai Fujikara, who has swiftly risen to be honoured with the accolade of a whole Philharmonia concert to himself at RFH, 6 April at 6 p.m.

His Fifth Station featured Louise Hopkins (cello) on stage and Martyn Brabbins facing the audience to conduct members of London Sinfonietta distributed in the aisles around them. Aiming for music 'which sounds different all around the auditorium', this substantial 15 minute work was one of the most effective 'spatial separation' experiments I have heard; accessible, complicated enough but unproblematic for ordinary concertgoers who like to try new music. A hit, a palpable hit!


© Peter Grahame Woolf