New Music Biennial 2017 – Simon Holt’s Clarinet Concerto ‘Joy Beast’

‘Joy Beast’ is an entertaining narrative-driven four-movement concerto inspired by Cecil Collin’s artwork of the same name. Composer Simon Holt has penned a demanding score for clarinettist Mark Simpson – a tantalising demonstration of the soloist’s mastery of his instrument.

Cecil Collins 1962 lithograph is a compelling creation and for composer Simon Holt it provided the starting point for the narrative in his clarinet concerto.

“I don’t understand abstract,” he explained during the post-performance talk with Simpson and presenter Sara Mohr-Pietsch. “I need to have some kind of narrative to ender the images I have in my head. And it’s the narrative that helps me get the music to a place outside of my head.”

Holt’s music immerses the listener in the drama he creates, in a way I’ve not experienced with many other composers. We not observing, we’re participating.

A suspense-filled movement begins the work, with extreme high notes, percussive exchanges, and dramatic dynamic contrasts. An urgent confrontation characterises the second movement, with an angry sometimes shrill-sounding cadenza in the third. The fourth movement is the most expansive, with the soloist calling on soloists dotted around the auditorium.

Joy Beast is an accessible and entertaining creation. It challenges the senses.

I also really enjoy listening to Mark Simpson play. He is a remarkable clarinettist with a seemingly flawless technique. Sickening.

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