Lutoslawski Musique funèbre & Piano Concerto \ Philharmonia \ Esa-Pekka Salonen \ RFH


The Philharmonia kicked off their Woven Words season on Wednesday 30 January at the Royal Festival Hall (pictured above taken just prior to the concert much to the annoyance of the front of house manager).

The concert was part of a series of celebratory concerts marking the centenary of Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski’s birth and saw a near 80% house for a performance of the work that brought the composer to international acclaim (Musique Funebre), and a concerto performed by pianist Krystian Zimerman, the man it was originally written for.

I’m a relative newcomer to Lutoslawski and really enjoyed hearing this music for the first time. Exploration needn’t be scary. This certainly wasn’t. More of a revelation in places, in fact.

Musique funèbre – “mourning music” – uses a repeated tone row to devastasting effect, treating the audience to multiple textures which at times conveyed more fear than anguish in exquisite moments of lush romanticism. Perhaps it was the undeniable cathartic effect of the piece which brought the audience unequivocally back to the original meaning of the work’s title. As introductions to Lutoslawski’s music goes, kicking off with this seemed apropos. The Piano Concerto challenged more but didn’t alienate, leaving me wanting to listen to revisit it and explore other repertoire by Lutoslawski.

An acknowledgement should also be made about the Philharmonia’s digital and multimedia offering around this season. The digital team were pushing out short engaging (and useful) podcasts about the composer 24 hours before the concert. That helped provide some context to any novice without the usual rather tired effort of offering a clip (I can search Spotify myself – so orchestras need to give me something special pre-concert). Prior to the performance, I was also impressed with the rich content in the programme book – not a publication driven by advertising, instead something packed full of further reading.

Special mention also needs to be made about the pre-concert video screen, showing some compelling imagery of conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen in various locations in Poland including touching reportage in the company of the composer. This combined with an efficient voice-over helped fill that often stark void created when the concert hall doors close and the moment the conductor walks on stage and also contextualised the performance the audience were about to hear. A simple but effective approach to introducing new audiences to unfamiliar which undoubtedly secures the brand name of the orchestra and that of the venue they’re listening to it in. The slight delay as the audience sat and waited for the screen to be put away, also provided a moment of mild comedy.

Woven Words continues at the Southbank Centre with a concert featuring Lutoslawski’s Symphony No. 3 performed by the Royal College of Music on Wednesday 6 February at 7.30pm.

The Philharmonia’s online education website is Sound Exchange and contains a wealth of really useful information which doesn’t patronise. Go there. 

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