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This 17 message thread spans 2 pages: [1]  2  > >  

Review : Prom 14 - Benjamin

 24 July 2006 at 19.30 

Albert Hall, London
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Joseph Haydn : Symphony No. 94 in Gmajor 'Surprise'
George Benjamin : Dance Figures
Johannes Brahms : Piano Concerto no. 1 in D minor

  George Benjamin - Dance Figures  red5 at 18:29 on 29 July 2006

It's now twenty years since George Benjamin burst onto the new music scene as the youngest ever composer to be represented at the BBC Proms. His orchestral work 'Ringed by the Flat Horizon' was well received by the critics at the time and established his reputation as a composer of imaginative, colourful music that is rooted, in essence, in harmony. Benjamin's work rate has not been as prolific as some prophesised but he has contributed a number of 'classic' works to the repertoire (notably 'At First Light', 'A Mind of Winter' and 'Palimpsests'. His most recent orchestral offering, 'Dance Figures' was this evening given its UK premiere in a very hot Royal Albert Hall.

As the title suggests the work is a series of dance scenes which were commissioned to be choreographed by the Belgian dance company Rosasí artistic director Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker. Benjamin describes the music, which grew from ideas in a series of short piano pieces, as deliberately written with less textural complexity than is typical of Benjamin's style to allow the short rhythmical statements to be transparent and clearly heard. Benjamin says of the project Ďa lot of minimal music is used for dance but contemporary music is rarely used, the sort of contemporary music in which I live, we were trying to have another go at something that had perhaps been somewhat neglected.í

The clarity of idea for which Benjamin strove is most definitely present in the work. The opening, ambiguous, harmonics driven string texture allows room for strong melodies to evolve through relatively simple orchestration. Regular woodwind and brass doublings (something Iíve previously not noticed so strongly in Benjaminís work) make for interesting sounds rich in overtones and ones attention is easily held and stimulated. However, as the work progresses through each dance episode one canít help but be reminded of the Ďcontemporary musicí previously used for dance which Benjamin alludes to, particularly that most influential work of works The Rite of Spring. Perhaps Iím being over critical and, given Benjaminís words, I was subconsciously longing for any fleeting reference to the Rite upon which to jump!

This said, the work is most definitely Benjaminís, his traits are all there Ė exquisite colour and harmony (particularly a sumptuous episode featuring a choir of cellos and, later, very sensitive use of the vibraphone) and of course the use of trumpet and oboe as key instruments amidst the many. The pulsating ending leaves one with a real sense of energy that makes Dance Figures definitely worth investigating.

  Re: George Benjamin - Dance Figures  John Robertson at 09:51 on 01 August 2006

red - I listened to this on the bbc website and I felt it was a welcome clarifying and simplifying of Benjamin's style - I did also get far greater a sense of 'reference' to other works than in any of Benjamin's other works, but this didn't seem to be a bad thing, rather a new-found openness if you like.

That said, in most of Benjamin's more recent works I've felt frustrated by what seems to be a deliberate avoidance of really hitting home with a clear statement, the way some of his earlier pieces did. Palimpsests has one such moment - a brass chord in open thirds- which is very powerful, and yet, in a guardian piece I read recently (George talking to one of his pupils, I forget which) George seemed almost to apologise for this "aberation", not knowing where it had come from. For me, music should be ALL about those moments, and the really great music has one moment after another like that, each really hitting home, and really clearly defined. George, despite a clear voice of his own and the most wonderful ear for orchestral colour, still seems to shelter embarrasedly behind modernisms cliches instead of really showing us what he's made of.

I think I'm being harsh, but then I think of Debussy who shares a lot of attributes with George, and think how much more direct Debussy is most of the time - imagine what George could do if he brought us a piece with the clarity of say La Mer!

  Re: George Benjamin - Dance Figures  piargno at 14:30 on 01 August 2006

I've never heard any of Benjamin's music, but I completely agree with John. Your response imediately made me think of Berg's Op. 1 piano sonata. I was recently contemplating how powerful the opening gesture is of this piece for me, and how it's so powerful that I miss a lot of the juiciness in the middle of the piece because I find myself thinking about the opening throughout the piece, and wanting that gesture to come back over and over again! It really wasn't until yesterday that I mustered up enough listening strength to hear the piece as a whole, and I'm still enthralled by it. Likewise, Stockhausen's Gruppen is, for me, filled with SO MANY moments of magic - especially the piano solo that comes in after the orchestrally triantiphonal brass trade-off (is this an adequate description?)!! That piece makes me feel so alive...

Your reply just made me feel so alive!!!!

  Re: George Benjamin - Dance Figures  red5 at 14:44 on 01 August 2006

It's funny you should mention La Mer, a lot of the orchestration made me think very much of Debussy but in a less obvious way than someone like, say, Takemitsu referenced him. I agree though that the similarities to the Rite are not necesarily a bad thing, just slightly obvious from someone that I believe to be quite original.

I recently read Faber's guide to Benjamin in which they quote him explaining how, like you say, he's very keen to avoid using fifths or thirds for fear that they might imply some form of tonality. Such intervals can only be used with extreme caution. It does seem strange to be so afraid of traditional harmony!

  Re: George Benjamin - Dance Figures  Viola at 11:46 on 18 August 2006

This is indeed a question that no specific answer can do. Only the contribution for the individual to make up his/her own mind.

I too find the Berg Op 1 so gripping. Only for the whole piece on a whole is not the picture. It is a sonata ( a single movement - but very much the sonata form )and so the bringing back of the 'moments' plays such a big part in the strucure of the piece in a bigger picture. With this in mind the structual phrasing becomes more and more delicate and beautiful; we find ourselves wishing to hear a section again but are even more intrigued by the next section. This is what good composers do. They build up anxiety for the listener and fulful it in a different way.

Benjamin is indeed a different composer from some of the trash being produced today. He has a unique voice that never fails to grab me. However, I do find it rather strange that one should avoid fifths and thirds, the building blocks of tonality and atonality and every other type of harmony. I bring to mind a 'moment' in the Ligeti Piano Concerto. The third movement, towards the end when the xylophone and piano are doing semiquavers ( randomly if you'll excuse the phrase (its not really random - only appearance wise...)) and the low strings and brass whack out a low open fifth D to A. A climax towards an elegant finish to the movement (which was, bear in mind, once the end of the piece). One should not be afraid of 'traditional harmony' whether we are writing it or not. It should be embraced.

  Re: George Benjamin - Dance Figures  piargno at 12:55 on 18 August 2006

Well, one musn't forget the good composers who don't build anxiety (or maybe don't intentionally build anxiety). 2 examples come to mind for me:

1) Palais de Mari by Morton Feldman - such a continuously intriguing soundscape, but just a soundscape. The whole piece is one moment, not a compilation of moments.

2) 6 Marimbas by Steve Reich - another soundscape, but more polyphonic and diverse than the Feldman. This has many moments, but they don't recurr. It's just one continuous journey (like many of his pieces).

There are some beautiful Takemitsu pieces that follow the same concept.

BTW, Viola, can you give me some examples of the "trash" that's coming out?

  Re: George Benjamin - Dance Figures  Viola at 19:22 on 20 August 2006

I am afraid I have no time for Reich. He is someone I find rather trashy. MacMillan, Maxwell-Davies etc etc etc.
They do not write for music they write for money.

  Re: George Benjamin - Dance Figures  piargno at 12:41 on 21 August 2006

OOH! Reich? Trashy? This is pretty juicy... I would really love to know why Reich falls into the trash pile! What about Adams? Riley? Young? Glass? (Personally, I'd throw Glass in the trash pile any day...)

Who else in your opinion, besides Benjamin, Ligeti, and Berg, DON'T belong in the wastepaper basket?

  Re: George Benjamin - Dance Figures  Viola at 21:37 on 22 August 2006

Yes. Adams, Riley, Glass. They all fall under that im afraid. However - I'm not able to comment on Young becuase im not so familiar with his music.

So who doesnt go to my trash pile....
Good question!
So we have Ligeti, Benjamin, Berg. So with that we can sum up the usual suspects of Kurtag, Schoenberg, Messiaen.
Then there are the undeniable founders. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven et al. . .

I personally find myself more enchanted by modern music (that is to say - if it is good!). Many have not heard of the likes of Tveitt - a norwiegen (spelling?) composer that died in 1984. He is quite conventional, but never compromises the quality of the music with the feeling of another cliche!

Along the line of france. Debussy - an all favourite. But then past Messiaen and Boulez is another hidden treasure. Jean Barraque. He himself said that if his music were to ever be appreciated - it would not be in his life time, but fifty years from now. (He died in 1973(when the statement was made) i think). Thus leading onto Bill Hopkins. Another hidden treasure from britian. Hopkins was Barraques only pupil. As was Paul Keenan to Hopkins (after studying Anthony Gilbert). Keenan is still to come in the world. When the world returns to the natural desire of beauty - not technically correct music. He died in 2001 having never heard much of his output (which is by those who know it, regarded as some of the most important of the era). Since then he has become a shadow name, with 3 radio 3 broadcasts on Hear and Now, and a commercially recorded CD of A Field of Scarecrows for Trombone and Piano. But no-one actually knowing who on earth he is?!

I hate to be so naieve. The world of Politically Correctiveness has made such an impact that music is being dumbed down. I love it too much to see that happen.
You now know a little of my tastes! Now for you...?

  Re: George Benjamin - Dance Figures  piargno at 23:28 on 22 August 2006

I don't think that you are naive at all! In fact, what I'm about to type I get reamed for all the time.

My top two all time least favorite composers are Mozart and Brahams. I think they get way too much credit for really not doing all the much if you really think about it. I could go on and on about why I really despise them. On top of not liking them, whenever I listen to their music, I get a headache, and I don't get headaches often at all. Granted, I do think that Braham's Intermezzo in A maj. is perfect, and I love this rondo by Mozart, for the most part, I can't stand their music. I also hate the Beatles, and being on a UK site, I probably shouldn't have typed this at all... but I LOVE Beatles covers!!

Stockhausen is one of my biggest faves. If I were stranded on a dessert island and I had to choose to bring the complete works of one composer (CDs and Scores_, it would probably be him. Scores and a piano - probably Godowsky to figure out the mysteries of the etude transcriptions. But then I absolutely love Chopin, Debussy, Berg, Schoenberg, Ginastera, Villa-Lobos, and we musn't forget Bach. I also LOVE Haydn, Cage, Adams (much more than Reich) and Reich. Some relatively unknowns: Martin Amlin, Lee Hyla, Jon Deak, Matt van Brink, Ed Bland, Adolphus Hailstork, others.

I also have a pseudo-large-for-a-classical-composer pop knowledge. I'm obsessed with Tori Amos, and I love Bjork, Ani D., Placebo, and rather recently Fiona Apple, Regina Spektor (sp. check), and others. Is this good??!?

  Re: George Benjamin - Dance Figures  Viola at 12:51 on 23 August 2006

What interesting tastes you have! I have to say I do like Mozart and Brahms, but if you look at my vast collection of CDS and tapes (and records) you will not find many of them!

I also love the Beatles. Only if I'm thinking that era in Britian it goes to Pink Floyd. Hands down! These days my 'poppy' bands would have to be Radiohead. Good structure, good sounds, good lyrics, good band.

Yeah i also love all those other names you listed.
There is nothing wrong at all in you having a 'pseudo-large-for-a-classical-composer' vast knowledge of pop!

As for Stockhausen. I did my first proper score study on his Kontakte. And that was enough for me to be enchanted in his music, he gets the thumbs up from me!

  Re: George Benjamin - Dance Figures  piargno at 13:10 on 23 August 2006

Yeah - Pink Floyd is genius. Around the time of Neu! and Amon Duul and Kraftwerk... I love all those guys.

Radiohead is really wonderful, I must admit. Unfortunately I'm not enthralled, so I don't have any of their CDs, but they were doing a sound check when I was buying tickets to an Anita Baker concert a couple months ago, and they sounded excellent live!

By any chance, have you heard of Lamb? I really like Lamb, too! I forgot to mention that (along with hundreds of other names... Sometimes I feel there's just way too much good music, and I want to digest it all, but it's so impossible. So sad...)

Fortunately for me, my new roommate works at a CD store called "Newburry Comics" and he listens to all these great pseudo-underground bands like Head Automatica and Aberdeen Dream. So, he's gonna' introduce me to that stuff while I teach him about 20th century music. It's gonna' be a wonderful exchange, I feel.

  Re: George Benjamin - Dance Figures  Viola at 13:18 on 23 August 2006

I have a few Radiohead CDs and they are well worth the money, so are the tickets to see them live. They are one of the few bands that can play REALLY well live EVERY time. They are also classically trained musicians. The lead guitarists I believe being a composer-in-residance for the BBC!!

I cant say i have heard of Lamb! i hate meat in anycase so it better be good. (I have just now underwent a large search on the net)

The exchange should be interesting! One never knows where they will lead! I have a similar thing with my room-mate. He is obsessed with Jazz. (In my opinion - hes the next big thing in jazz. Scotland seems to think that as well...) So I drum for his quintet (i am priviledged to say and do) and he teaches me all the ins and outs and classics and stuff, which I return to him on a long lecture of Ligeti's music or Messiaen and Nono etc

Its great fun!

  Re: George Benjamin - Dance Figures  zebedeeb at 16:04 on 24 August 2006

am so happy to see lamb mentioned here - what a great band. buy their albums!

  Re: George Benjamin - Dance Figures  at385 at 20:35 on 25 August 2006

I've just got back from Holiday so am refering to a few posts back. I hope it's clear what I'm reffering to!

I agree that Mozart is majorly overated, I very much like Le Nozze di Figaro and Die Zauberflote but apart from a few others I find Mozart very repetitive and dull. Haydn however, is completly different. He is so much more inventive and exciting to listen to! I used to be a doubter with regards to Brahms but am a big fan now, I can't get enough of his 4th Symph..

I've got some Lamb CDs and agree, they're worth a listen! It's interesting how we've moved from Red5's review of Benjamin to Lamb!

And finally, the site isn't intended to be UK based, I hope members don't feel that we focus on UK issues. We make every effort to deal with global issues...!

This 17 message thread spans 2 pages: [1]  2  > >