PENDERECKI/ROYAL NORTHERN COLLEGE OF MUSIC Bridgewater Hall
THE visit of one of the world’s leading composers,
Krzysztof Penderecki, to conduct the
UK premiere of
his enormous seventh symphony in the Bridgewater Hall, was always going to be
one of the major events on the
classical calendar. Manchester
It was in the Royal Northern College of Music’s big end-of-term concert by its Symphony Orchestra, Chorus and Chamber Choir and involved about 250 performers on-stage and off-stage in the auditorium. But for the accident of a few days’ distance in time, it could have been one of the highlights of the Manchester International Festival, as the festival, too, highlights
artistic firsts. Manchester
But the timing was nigh-perfect, as Penderecki had just been to the Vatican to collect a papal medal from the Pontifical Council for Culture, awarded for his sacred music. Performing his seventh symphony, titled The Seven Gates Of Jerusalem and written for the holy city’s third millennium in 1997, could hardly have been a better way to celebrate. And after the concert the RNCM awarded him its Fellowship – another honour to put in his bulging trophy cabinet.
The man himself cut an imposing figure on the rostrum: solidly built, bearded, dignified, and relaxedly magisterial as he controlled his vast forces of singers and orchestral players. The platform included two giant instruments called tubaphones – something I’ve never seen before looking like clusters of bass organ pipes laid on their sides and played by whacking big flat beaters on their ends to create a sort of chromatically tuned tom-tom sound.
The concert’s first item was Penderecki’s fanfare-like Entrata for 11 brass players and timpani, conducted by RNCM conducting junior fellow Piero Lombardi – as majestic an opening item as anyone could wish for, with the composer’s characteristic clarity and rhetorical gravitas.
Then RNCM piano star Dominic Degavino was soloist in Lutosławski’s piano concerto (for this was in fact the culmination of a week-long festival of today’s Polish music), with Macieij Tworek, from
, visiting conductor. Dominic
Degavino showed himself a real communicator of the music, in the austere yet haunting
melodies of the third movement in particular, and there was virtuosity all
round in the complex and rhythmically layered sections of the work as much as
its oases of calm and beauty. Poland
The Seven Gates Of Jerusalem featured solo vocalists Hannah Dahlenburg, Emma-Claire Crook, Hollie-anne Bangham, Christopher Littlewood and Aidan Edwards, with Arthur Bruce in the speaking role of its sixth section, in addition to orchestra and three choirs on stage and further brass cohorts in the high places of the auditorium. It sets quotations from the book of Psalms (in Latin), plus Ezekiel’s vision of the valley whose dry bones come to life heard from the speaking narrator.
Penderecki repeats some of his texts with insistence, stressing concepts such as the proclamation of God’s glory, the opening of Jerusalem’s gates to the nations, the promised blessings of peace, and (very near the end) the sense of God’s presence: ‘Hic est Deus’. His music combines both the awesome and the numinous, and includes a long, lamenting setting of the De Profundis for unaccompanied choir.
The orchestral interludes were vividly realized, and there was a magnificent midpoint culmination of all the forces in Lauda,
, Dominum: itself
a foretaste of the climactic final bars and final massive chord. The young
performers gave him all they had, and the result was an experience to remember
for many a day. Jerusalem