Thursday, April 11, 2013

Lutoslawski Festival

A Modern Master

A cellist sits down and begins to play, not a tune but a pulse, steady, as if going for a walk (orchestra tacet). Solo communion, starts to doodle a bit but maintains the walk, orchestra still silent. Strike? No, there is a sudden BLAST from the trumpets, a quiet foreign note, aggressive. More instruments join in. In a sense this could be called a concerto for it is a soloist against the orchestra. And so Lutoslawski continues. It is more like a cartoon then any concerto heard before, but a serious cartoon, not a funny Hoffnung one. No ordinary concerto form, obvious tunes or subjects first or second but gestures, over twenty minutes of them. Once the listener accepts this, the time is well spent.

The clue to all this is that Luto likes to play games, to juggle, to match, to oppose (compare Hesse and his Glass Bead Games). Not fun and games maybe, but games nevertheless. The cello part is certainly no joke. Composed for Rostropovich, it needs a master to tackle it. On March 7 in Festival Hall it got one! The tall young Norwegian Trulls Mørk more than filled the bill.

Witold Lutoslawski (1913 – 1994) was born into silver-spoon stock but had to contend with trials, troubles, wars, poverty and a totalitarian state – Poland was rarely free from trouble. But Luto was clever and diplomatic enough not always to be the mouse in contests with the state.  He was left to compose educational music for many years. He won prizes and gradually emerged as a composer in his own right. He became internationally known and was able to compose and travel abroad. During the war when concert halls were closed he played – piano duets in cafes with composer colleague Panufnik.

There was something catlike about Luto: dapper, with impeccable manners, he pursued his own course, belonged to no school or sect; in addition to his successful compositions he was also an excellent pianist and conductor. At the Dartington Summer School he also was much in demand as a teacher of composition, not the 'do it my way!' kind such as Hindemith or Nadia Boulanger, more of the 'Lets do it your way but better' variety.

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