On 9 December the San Francisco Symphony gave the world premiere of Robin Holloway’s Clarissa Sequence, offering American audiences the first opportunity to hear music from his acclaimed opera, based on the novel by Samuel Richardson. Tilson Thomas has long been a champion of Holloway’s music: his inclusion of a scene from Clarissa in his first concert with the London Symphony Orchestra in 1988 helped prompt English National Opera to stage the work. This in turn has led ten years later to the commissioning of this new three movement sequence, the first movement with soprano encompassing Clarissa’s impassioned ‘Mad Scene’, rich in Bergian intensity, and the other two weaving together orchestral highlights from the remainder of the score.
"Holloway’s writing energises every section of the orchestra"
San Francisco Examiner on Clarissa Sequence
Extra drama was provided in San Francisco on the day before the premiere of Clarissa Sequence, not only by a city-wide power failure, but also by the sudden cancellation of the soprano soloist due to illness. With no time to call in a replacement, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported, "the show went on nonetheless with superb results after Holloway did some fast rearranging. Even with a big stretch of the first movement eviscerated, the three-movement suite turned out to be a killer - beautiful, dramatic and astoundingly virtuosic."
"In the central Dreams and Fantasies, Holloway provides snatches of the love music between Clarissa and her dastardly seducer, Lovelace, all heard through a ghostly haze of pained reminiscence. More stunning yet is the finale Fire and Apotheosis, which depicts Lovelace’s act of arson with an unnerving intensity. Throughout, Holloway’s inventive use of tonal harmonies and rapturous melody is matched by the brilliance of his orchestration. The rainbow of colours and instrumental effects that race past all seem based in traditional practice, yet they always manage to provide some new twist on the familiar sounds... [The] performance left a listener more eager than ever to see the entire opera fully staged."
San Francisco Chronicle
"Holloway’s piece is a gloriously listenable orchestral outing, virtuosic in its demands, tonal in its orientation, plentiful in its invention and unerring in its dramatic trajectory."
San Francisco Examiner
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Holloway Photo: © Hanya Chlala /ArenaPAL
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