Above : Pianist Sally Whitwell played Phillip Glass during this concert. Featured image : composer Nico Muhly.
Omega Ensemble’s recent concert afforded its audience the chance to immerse itself in the delicate densities of modern American Music. Masterful composition deserves masterful playing. This was achieved easily here. The high quality of performance assisted the audience in a welcome refresh or discovery of the programmed works.
This programme had a compelling swoop, from the music of Phillip Glass and John Adams through to works from the last fifteen years by Nico Muhly. As well as preparation for this concert, Muhly has been working on an ABC Classics recording during this visit of all works featured in the concert, alongside the Phillip Glass Sonata for Violin and Piano.
The excitement and joy of this collaboration was obvious as the assembled musicians delivered Muhly’s acclaimed musical architecture and direct expression in the second half of the concert. The first half though belonged to American minimalist masters Phillip Glass and John Adams.
Who better to lead this event’s tribute to Phillip Glass’ music than pianist Sally Whitwell ? This appearance follows on from her world-premiere performances of the complete Etudes by Glass with the composer and the release of a recording of the twenty pieces on ABC Classics last year.
The two chosen etudes to open this evening, numbers 2 and 11, were executed with fine gradation of layers. There was beautiful organic movement towards any climatic moments. Glass’ reiterated, slightly changing shapes and emphases were nicely handled meditative musical ingredients here.
Quality interpretation of Phillip Glass continued when Sally Whitwell was joined by violinist Alexandra Osborne. Their performance of Glass’ Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano displayed great communication both between them as soloists.
These musicians succeeded in clearly outlining this master minimalist’s challenging and relentless motoric expression with seamless calm and pleasing contour.
Above : Omega Ensemble musicians.
Quite a highlight of the first half of the concert was the addition of Shaker Loops by John Adams in its string septet version. This was more joyous exploration by Omega Ensemble musicians of the subtleties of this work.
It was a performance brimming with energy and a clear complexities for the listener. As such an exemplary rendering of minimalism from late last century, it was style which nicely complemented the previous works by Phillip Glass. It obviously pleased the modern audience assembled.
Following interval we were able to immerse ourselves in the lush sound world of the most recent American Master in the programme, Nico Muhly. Instrumental works from 2004 (By All Means) and 2017 (No Uncertain Terms) sculpt influences from as far and wide as Weelkes, Byrd, Webern and Steve Reich into stunning Muhly-an microcosms.
The musical result of these creative structures from such an artisan as Muhly are busy textures in constant and extremely engaging flux. The continnuum of fresh ideas intersect and are emitted in fascinating streams of tonal colour combinations.
At this event these works contrasted with the reiterations of Glass and Adams but had a similar instantly contagious energy. It was a thrill to hear Muhly’s compositions live. They were played by Omega Ensemble with bold and joyous abandon.
Above : Baritone Brett Brown, who performed the world premiere of Nico Muhly’s ‘Unexpected News’ with Omega Ensemble in this concert.
The much awaited and widely publicised event in this concert was the world premiere of Muhly’s song with instrumental accompaniment, Unexpected News. This work has a directness and svelte sensuality of vocal line to match the matter of a fact description of gay rensezvous in C.P Cavafy’s poem ‘Two Young Men, 23 to 24 Years Old’.
With inimitable clear complexity once more in his writing for extended instrumental ensemble with percussion, Muhly sets the subtle explicit nature of Cavafy’s brief statements with lovely filigree from well-blended instrumental fragments.
As throughout the entire concert, musical elements were brought together cleanly by conductor Gordon Hamilton. Baritone Brett Brown delivered Cavafy’s candid text on same sex union with deliciously animated directness.
Brown keenly communicated his well-blended lines with both us and the ensemble. The premiere was an exciting birth of this work to the world and a fitting conclusion to a fine collaboration between all assembled musicians of and the visiting master Muhly to our shores,