London Sinfonietta/Cornelius review – neatly packaged collection of modern gems

·2 min read

Kings Place, London
Featuring works by indisputably great figures from the last 100 years, the programme aimed to attract newcomers with a showcase of contemporary styles


Turning Points is the London Sinfonietta’s occasional series at Kings Place, focusing on some the 20th century’s most important composers and their key works, and designed to bring newcomers to modern music. Certainly the audience for the latest concert, which was introduced by Sara Mohr-Pietsch, contained few of the familiar faces seen at the Sinfonietta’s Southbank Centre dates. But then the programme that Gerry Cornelius conducted, containing short pieces by four of the indisputably great figures of the last 100 years, was much more like the kind of concert that was once the orchestra’s bread and butter, and which it plays all too rarely nowadays.

Mohr-Pietsch’s thought-provoking introduction talked of “listening rituals”, likening the modern concert hall to the sacred spaces of prehistoric cultures, though whether drawing such parallels helps to break down barriers between new audiences and new music is debatable. But the choice of works provided a showcase for the range of contemporary styles.

Edgard Varèse’s solo-flute Density 21.5, played with incantatory power by Michael Cox, provided the stark modernist starting point. The flurries, trills and moments of sudden stillness of Pierre Boulez’s Dérive I, which the Sinfonietta premiered in 1985, followed, contrasting with the isolated string phrases and glacial piano chords of the third of Morton Feldman’s Viola in My Life pieces from Paul Silverthorne and Elizabeth Burley.

O King, Luciano Berio’s memorial to Martin Luther King, was played in its chamber form, with the voice of the mezzo-soprano Simone Ibbett-Brown embedded in the textures of just five instruments, and a much sparer, rawer tribute than the orchestral version of the work that Berio would include in his acclaimed Sinfonia. To end, there was something more recent – Tansy Davies’s Grind Show (unplugged), a reminder that the musical worlds of funk and Harrison Birtwistle aren’t as far apart as you might imagine. What newcomers would have made of this introduction is hard to say, but it was a neatly packaged and presented collection of gems.

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