Miranda Premiere in Plymouth’s New Performing Arts Centre

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Boyce, Barber, Reck Miranda, Mozart:  Pierre-Emmanuel Largeron (violin), Ten Tors Orchestra  / Simon Ible (conductor), The House, Plymouth University, Plymouth , 20.6.2015 (PRB)

Miranda Premiere in Plymouth's New Performing Arts Centre
Miranda Premiere in Plymouth’s New Performing Arts Centre

William Boyce: Symphony No 5 in D major
Samuel Barber: Adagio for Strings
Eduardo Reck Miranda: Concertino for solo violin, percussion and chamber orchestra, ‘Shockwaves’
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Symphony No 41 in C major, ‘Jupiter’

Ten Tors Orchestra is the resident orchestra of Peninsula Arts, the wide-ranging public arts programme of Plymouth University in the far South West of England, but this was the first time it had used as a concert venue The House – the University’s new £7 million state-of-the-art performing arts centre, with its 200-seat flexible studio theatre, opened last October.

To mark the occasion, it had commissioned resident composer Eduardo Reck Miranda, to write a work that would seek to combine largely conventional orchestral usage with electronics and technology, and to which The House would be eminently suited in performance. Miranda is a research professor at the university, where he leads the internationally-renowned Interdisciplinary Centre for Computer Music Research and is Co-Director of Peninsula Arts Contemporary Music Festival, which has already led to a number of previous successful collaborations with the orchestra: ‘Corpus Calosum’ – ‘Symphony of Minds Listening’ – ‘Sounds from Underground’ / ‘Anathema’ and  ‘Sound to Sea’.

Shockwaves, a violin concertino for orchestra, percussion and electronics, very much lived up to its brief, and while it certainly put every individual player through their paces, they rose to the challenge with great aplomb. Parts were frequently subdivided particularly in the strings, which often meant that desks weren’t even sharing the same score, and which could have led to ensemble difficulties, especially where, as at the start, the writing was extremely fragmented and pointillist in nature.

Unusually for contemporary works of this kind, the composer’s note in the programme was clear and succinct, rather than protracted, and over-complex, for fear that the listener will not grasp sufficient from the music itself. Miranda writes:

‘The piece begins with short strokes of different sounds forming an increasingly dense and multi-coloured soundscape, as if the evolving music were an immense stained glass window. An emergent rhythm gives rise to a street party atmosphere. Suddenly, the metaphoric musical stained glass is shattered by an impactful blast. Vigorous thick strokes of orchestral colours announce a melancholic tune on the solo violin and a completely different soundscape starts to take place. Whereas before the blast the composition was based on a circular harmonic progression, after the blast it develops through free tonal palettes of varying complexity interspersed by musical passages evoking the 2nd movement of Beethoven’s 7th symphony led by the solo violin. Finally, a cadenza takes place followed by a concluding coda.’

Inevitably, there is rarely sufficient time to read through a programme note of any unfamiliar work before the start because of the usual social niceties or during the performance with the house-lights dimmed, but Miranda’s plan and modus operandi clearly emerged during the ensuing performance without any prior knowledge, – which in itself says a good deal about the clear formal and organic principles involved. The reference to the Beethoven work links back to ‘Corpus Calosum’, from this year’s Contemporary Music Festival at the university, although, on the first hearing, its appearance did seem somewhat more random than contrived.

The orchestral players, and particularly the outstanding percussion section, must have got through virtually every conceivable instrumental effect in the book, so again it did feel something of an excess to add computer-generated sounds to the proceedings, seemingly selected by the solo violinist, and activated by a foot-pedal.

Solo violinist, Pierre-Emmanuel Largeron, was awarded the Prix de Violon from Paris Conservatoire at the age of sixteen before continuing postgraduate studies with Maurice Hasson at London’s Royal Academy of Music. Alongside his classical career, Largeron shows a long-time attraction for electronic and film music, which is currently inspiring him to pursue a research doctorate  in Music at Plymouth University.

Largeron despatched the solo violin part with true panache, though his playing was so clearly lyrical that it was a pity the work had relatively few opportunities to develop this particular aspect. Technically superb, and totally at home in contemporary repertoire, his performance was always sincere and committed, and there were more than sufficient fireworks in the concluding cadenza.

Under conductor Simon Ible’s impeccable direction and leadership from Mary Eade, Ten Tors Orchestra was on excellent form as they opened the evening with Boyce’s attractive Symphony No 5, and even if Barber’s Adagio for Strings might have benefitted from some acoustic warmth from the building itself, it better suited Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony, where the real clarity of line, particularly in the finale, and the fine, assured playing, especially from the woodwind, made this arguably the evening’s highlight.

The House certainly passed the test as a further venue for orchestral performances on campus, and while the necessarily all-purpose nature of the building does seem to rob it of some degree of added reverberation, it is definitely more responsive than the nearby main theatre in the Roland Levinsky Building, even if the seating provision of the latter is, by default more traditional in design.


Philip R Buttall

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