sat 17/08/2019

Kuusisto, Aurora Orchestra, Collon, Birmingham Town Hall review - aural voyage through space | reviews, news & interviews

Kuusisto, Aurora Orchestra, Collon, Birmingham Town Hall review - aural voyage through space

Kuusisto, Aurora Orchestra, Collon, Birmingham Town Hall review - aural voyage through space

Exploring music inspired by the heavens

Pekka Kuusisto: energetic and excitingFelix Broede

It’s quite a weighty concept, and one which could easily have buckled had both the music and its execution not been of the highest quality. Aurora Orchestra’s "Music of the Spheres" was a concert inspired by the Greek philosopher Pythagoras’s theory that each of the planets in our solar system must emit a particular sound through its orbit. The story goes that while passing a blacksmith at work, Pythagoras noticed that the sound produced by two anvils of differing weights was the same, though an octave apart. He weighed both the anvils and found that their weights had an exact ratio of 2:1 and felt that this harmonic ratio must surely apply to all the natural world. Whether this tale is true or not we’ll probably never know, but the concept that musical harmony is interwoven into our world and cosmos can’t be ignored.

Under the baton of Nicholas Collon in Birmingham Town Hall, the orchestra produced a rich, raw sound through the pulsating layering of Max Richter’s Journey (CP1919), accompanied by an on-screen visual of a voyage through the galaxy. CP1919 is the name given to a star in the constellation of Vulpecula, which pulses every 1.33 seconds. The reverberating harmonies through the strings showed the players were really listening to one another on this musical journey through the heavens.

A movement from a Beethoven string quartet might not be the obvious choice to follow this, but the Molto adagio from his Eighth String Quartet in E minor was a perfect fit with this programme. The work was, according to Carl Czerny, a student of Beethoven’s, conceived while "contemplating the starry heavens and thinking of the music of the spheres". First violinist Michael Brooks Reid shaped the music with smooth and supple bowing, giving a beautiful arc to the music.

The first half culminated with Thomas Adès’s Violin Concerto, titled Concentric Paths. Soloist Pekka Kuusisto’s playing here was exciting and energetic. He played with flair, but without being flashy, really evoking the integral spirit of the piece. He ended the piece with a shivering wrist movement that caused an eerie, almost crooked sound, before leaving the hall in state of almost palpable silence.

The concert closed with an off-book performance of Mozart’s "Jupiter" Symphony (his last, No. 41). It was remarkable the difference performing from memory gave the piece. The orchestra worked as one organism, feeding off one another’s sounds, with Collon’s subtle conducting steering the music, with the final movement exuding an overflowing sense of happiness. For an encore, this last movement was played again, only this time the musicians had dispersed themselves among the audience, illustrating how different sounds can be heard from different places. Indeed, the joyous twittering of an oboe behind me shone a different light on the woodwind, and it was a joy to see in full view, from the front of the stage, the rigorous athleticism that goes in to double bass bowing.

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