Explore the score is an initiative from the TSO. It’s a session where we, the audience, get to see Gary Kulesha rehearsing the orchestra in four new short pieces selected for the occasion. Each piece gets about half an hour of work with an opportunity for the composer to have his/her input.
I think two things struck me about the process. The first is just how matter of fact and briskly efficient Kulesha is. There’s no drama. It’s “Let’s take it from 18. Violas mezzo-piano this time please”. And second, that is exactly what happens. I’ve sometimes marvelled at the ability of singers to execute what they are asked to do in a master class. Watching a full symphony orchestra do essentially the same thing takes it to a new level. And, of course, this is music they haven’t played before. So for each piece we got a run through, followed by around 15-20 minutes of work on details, followed by a final complete run. I found it really interesting.
The four pieces could hardly have been more different either. Jared Richardson’s Race to the Horizon has as its influences jazz fusion and electronic dance music. Mostly it consisted of a syncopated background from the strings with the winds playing some contrast over that. It did occasionally break out into more lyrical music for the strings but mostly they were used to create a kind of nervous energy. Kulesha described it as “A Pops piece without the drum set”. I’m not sure I agree but I see what he meant.
Fjóla Evans’ Lung was meant to evoke both the sturdiness and the fragility of that organ. It was essentially minimalist in the European rather than the American manner. There was a kind of pulsing texture in the strings and winds that evoked the regularity of breathing with the winds getting little solos over that basic backdrop. It had a meditative quality but no sense of development.
The third composer was Matthew Emery. I have heard some of his vocal music in the past and it doesn’t do anything for me. I’m afraid Unanswered Letters didn’t either. It is a lush, rather slow, entirely tonal piece which, to me, sounds like heavily tranquilized Elgar. Not my bag.
Ian Cusson’s Tableau Vivant is, apparently, inspired by a play about a boy on a goose farm. I wouldn’t have guessed! It’s a sort of mini concerto for orchestra. There are lots of short solos for a wide range of woodwinds ranged against a lyrical backdrop. For me, it evoked Nature in the same way that Janáček does in Vixen. It’s also quite playful with unexpected interventions from various players. I liked it a lot.
So, a few hundred people showed up at 10am on a Saturday morning to hear an orchestra play new music. That has to be a good thing.