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The London Sinfonietta presents an all-Birtwistle portrait concert on 24 May at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, combining the UK premiere of In Broken Images with a discussion with the composer about his music.

Harrison Birtwistle's new ensemble work In Broken Images receives its UK premiere on 24 May at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, performed by the London Sinfonietta conducted by David Atherton. The In Portrait concert begins with a discussion between Birtwistle and presenter Tom Service, examining the composer's musical thinking and introducing the new work. The programme also includes Cortège, Carmen Ardadiae Mechanicae Perpetuum and 5 Distances for 5 Instruments.

In Broken Images was jointly commissioned by MiTo Settembre Musica and the London Sinfonietta. The world premiere performances took place in Milan and Turin in September 2011 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy, featuring the London Sinfonietta conducted by David Atherton.

Thinking of the Italian element in the commission led the composer towards the antiphonal music of Giovanni Gabrieli with its interplay between groups of instruments. Rather than emulating the Venetian composer’s use of echo effects and ritornelli, Birtwistle’s work tracks an independent path in which the music is in a permanent state of exposition. The wind, brass and strings are fiercely independent demonstrating distinct identities, while the percussion underpins each musical family providing the continuum.

The title In Broken Images is taken from poetry by Robert Graves, quoted at the front of the score, which presents two creative states confronting each other:

He is quick, thinking in clear images;
I am slow, thinking in broken images.
... He in his new confusion of his understanding;
I in a new understanding of my confusion.

The fragmented multiplicity of events in Birtwistle’s work is only fully clarified for a single bar, near the end, when the groups play the same music. Otherwise there is a calculated non-synchronisation of the blocks of material using a hocket technique. After completing the score the composer recognised that the moment of unity offered an analogy to the Risorgimento: “It wasn’t a conscious thing when I was composing to mirror the political situation but there is a similar moment of coming together. Just as in Italy, though, the different identities continue with each retaining its own distinct ‘cuisine’.”

The London Sinfonietta has enjoyed a long association with the music of Harrison Birtwistle, with works commissioned from him standing as major milestones in the composer's output over the decades, including Verses for Ensemble, Silbury Air, Secret Theatre, Theseus Game and Neruda Madrigales. Notable recordings with the London Sinfonietta include Verses for Ensembles conducted by David Atherton (Lyrita 306), Punch & Judy with David Atherton (NMC D138), Meridian with Oliver Knussen (NMC  D009), and Silbury Air and Secret Theatre with Elgar Howarth (NMC D148).

Harrison Birtwistle's forthcoming projects include The Moth Requiem for the Netherlands Chamber Choir for premiere in Amsterdam on 14 October. Birtwistle's 80th birthday is celebrated in 2014.

> Visit the London Sinfonietta's website

>  Further information on Work: In Broken Images

Photo: Hanya Chlala/ArenaPAL

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