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Jonathan Powell's all-Sorabji concert in the 2005 Radio France et Montpellier Festival offers one of the more unusual examples of this problem, when he presented four works, never previously played in France, dating from between 1919 and 1979 in what might at first seem an impossibly demanding programme of First Piano Sonata (about 26 minutes) + Gulistan (about 35 minutes) -- interval -- Il Grido del Gallino d'Oro (about 85 minutes) -- interval -- Concerto per suonare da me solo (about 63 minutes). Given the six decades between the earliest and latest works, this might appear an even more risky venture than Opus Clavicembalisticum, where at least the performer presents and the audience concentrates on progress of a single piece; nevertheless, the French audience remained spellbound throughout and, even more remarkably, the pianist's concentration did not flag once.

Other such examples are the writer's own String Quintet (2 hours 50 minutes) and, perhaps the most daunting of all, Allgén's Sonata for solo violin which is only some ten minutes shorter than my quintet (vast cycles like Alkan's Studies, Opp 35 and 39, Messiaen's Catalogue d'Oiseaux or the complete Chopin/Godowsky Studies are different in that they are almost always performed in part rather than complete at one sitting). In all of these, there is the vital factor of performer concentration and stamina to consider, in addition to those of the listener. With the two string works mentioned here, the performance issue has yet to arise, since they have so far been presented only in recorded form and the listener then decides how he/she will listen; the former has, however, been broadcast on three occasions, twice with no interval and once (on BBC) with an interval where the composer asks for one!

Next February, in Glasgow, yet another aspect of this problem will be faced for the first time; this will be at the première of Sorabji's Second Organ Symphony, where even individual movements well exceed conventional concert duration; the plan here is as follows -- first movement (about 65 minutes) -- interval (about 35 minutes) second movement (about 185 minutes) -- interval (about 50 minutes) -- third movement (about 170 minutes); perhaps there might even be a case for a few additional minutes at the beginning devoted to prayers and supplications for Kevin Bowyer's survival ...

Given all of the above, it is clear that musicians' and their audiences' expectations involve many variables in terms of amounts of time spent in performing or listening to single unbroken stretches of music, or series of pieces, at one uninterrupted sitting; nevertheless, I remain unconvinced of the argument for outright abolition of intervals in all concerts of conventional or greater length.

Copyright © 1 May 2007 Alistair Hinton, Bath UK

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PROVOCATIVE THOUGHTS - CONCERT INTERVALS

PATRIC STANDFORD'S 'PROVOCATIVE THOUGHTS'

GORDON RUMSON ON SORABJI'S 'OPUS CLAVICEMBALISTICUM'

GORDON RUMSON ON ALISTAIR HINTON'S STRING QUINTET

MORE THOUGHTS ON MUSIC FROM ALISTAIR HINTON

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