James Macmillan: ‘Veni, Veni, Emmanuel’ | UK Review: The Guardian

The Rest Is Noise festival, which has surveyed 20th century music at London’s Southbank Centre throughout the calendar year, has succeeded in fits and starts. This London Philharmonic Orchestra concert under Vladimir Jurowski, however, has to count as one of its more unconditional achievements. It is hard to imagine such a well-prepared concert, devoted entirely to orchestral music from the 1990s by living British composers, taking place in the Festival Hall under any circumstances other than these. For this alone, the festival deserves huge gratitude.

The programme consisted of pieces by four composers who all broke through in the 1990s to find wider audiences.James MacMillan‘s percussion concerto Veni, Veni, Emmanuel, which began the evening, has notched up more than 400 performances worldwide since 1992, for which an incalculable debt is owed to the charisma of Evelyn Glennie, who again played it here with all her admired articulacy and athletic sense of theatre.

The sheer range of MacMillan’s concerto, which ricochets from one mood to another before finally shimmering and vibrating into silence, inhabited a very different world from the more studied approach of Julian Anderson‘s The Stations of the Sun, from 1998. Interestingly, this large-scale piece felt like the only section of the programme in which there was even an oblique suggestion of a vernacular dimension to the music. Though the concert had been promoted as “Classic Britannia”, it was hard to detect any distinctively national personality to the evening’s music at all.

Mark-Anthony Turnage‘s Evening Songs, also from 1998, introduced a characteristically sinuous and atmospheric mood, marked by some fruitily beguiling playing from the soprano sax and the viola soloists. Finally came Thomas Adès‘s celebrated and dazzling Asyla, excellently shaped by Jurowski and brilliantly played. Both pieces were reminders that British music of the 1990s was healthily open to the stylish and funky as well as the cerebral.

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Conductor: Vladimir Jurowski
Royal Festival Hall , London
7 December 2013

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