Birtwistle's Deep Time: reviews from Berlin and London
Deep Time, the new orchestral work by Harrison Birtwistle, received first performances in June and July, conducted by Daniel Barenboim in Berlin and at the BBC Proms in London.
Harrison Birtwistle’s new orchestral work, Deep Time, received first performances under the baton of Daniel Barenboim in Berlin and London in June and July. The 23-minute score, dedicated to the memory of Peter Maxwell Davies, was commissioned by the Berlin Staatskapelle and BBC Proms and, following performances at the Philharmonie and the Konzerthaus, travelled with orchestra and conductor to the Royal Albert Hall.
Barenboim has championed Birtwistle’s music across two decades, including the premiere of Exody with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the premiere staging of The Last Supper at the Berlin Staatsoper, and performances of The Triumph of Time. In a recent interview in the Daily Telegraph, Barenboim commented: "This is the third time I have asked Harri to write a piece for me. Not because I am stubborn, but because I think he is a wonderful composer... To me the piece is about timelessness; it could go on for ever."
"Birtwistle was inspired to compose this magnificent avant-garde orchestral geology by the Scottish geologist James Hutton, by the idea that "we find no vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end" in the rocks of this earth, only a state of constant alteration… Musical layers of rock grate against each other, interrupted by violent percussion outbursts and shrill wind sounds – magma and scree, hurled musically into the air… Deep Time ends with a great percussion finale. The four percussionists received a tremendous ovation for this, but louder still was when Daniel Barenboim invited the 82-year-old composer onto the stage."
"...an immensely powerful, sometimes breathtakingly beautiful work… Birtwistle may use an orchestra in which low-pitched instruments – tubas, bass and contrabass clarinets, contrabassoons – are emphasised, but the landscapes that the music traverses are wonderfully varied and coloured. There are pulsing Stravinskyan repetitions, cascades of chattering woodwind, Boulez-like toccatas of tuned percussion and long-limbed solos, led off of by soprano saxophone, which float over transparent webs of strings…one of Birtwistle’s finest orchestral achievements."
"The work was inspired by the vast slowness of geological time, and the way this slowness is occasionally riven by sudden catastrophes and slippages. The piece itself revealed a more human scale, with a melancholy cor anglais solo arousing memories of Birtwistle’s earlier processionals, and moments of pulsating energy in marimbas and plucked cellos. It was grandly impressive…"
"Birtwistle’s fingerprints are all over this new work – the fascination with layers of time, the growling echoes of the distant past, the rhythmic tread of the passing years, each as distinctive as ever…"
The German spotlight on Birtwistle continues in the coming season with the first performance there of In Broken Images with Ensemble Modern and Paul Daniel in Cologne on 15 October and a tour of Panic by the Junge Deutsche Philharmonie conducted by Ingo Metzmacher from 7 to 14 January 2018.
> Further information on Work: Deep Time
Photo: Philip Gatward