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Music review: Opulent gifts mark birthday party

Michael Nyman 70th Birthday Concert

Royal Festival Hall, London SE1

5/5

For Michael Nyman’s 70th birthday concert it was he, together with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, that dished out the presents in the shape of new versions of familiar film soundtracks and a treble treat of two British premieres and a world premiere.

The set, ending with a standing ovation, showed Nyman’s unerring power and desire to experiment with the new rather than to settle for an evening of the greatest hits from a canon of works made in the past.

The Draughtsman’s Contract For Orchestra, although from the past, feels much-changed and different, even more of an expansive and allconsuming experience than it is when in its original state as a film score.

Within An Eye For Optical Theory, especially, reoccurring patterns of melody from the harpsichord, strings and wind instruments — akin to a myriad of yearning and melancholic feelings — worked sublimely as gorgeous sounds from the baroque.

Signatures within Nyman’s arrangement of minimalist systems music fused with layer upon layer of romantic counterpoint were to return more intensely in Where The Bee Dances, which featured John Harle on saxophone, but this return to the lyrical style came only after the most testing and challenging piece of the set.

With Alexander Balanescu as lead in Violin Concerto No 1, gentle harmonics are abandoned for the sake of exploring severe abstraction, jagged musical forms and distinctly abrasive structures of time.

Symphony No 2, for those more lyrically inclined, anchored the set back to the safer ground of interconnected happy energy and dancing strings.

Peter Lindley

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