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Rebuilt City

the first performance of
Judith Weir's new choral-orchestra work, 'Concrete'


A brilliant style which combines an archaic quality with the contemporary but avoids allusiveness and polystylism; a style which communicates with drama, energy, rhythmic variety, yet is also imbued with a sense of complexity and mystery. A style which is accessible yet unpredictable, taps the core of a subject, and tells its tale with uncanny skill and confidence: this is the style displayed in Judith Weir's Barbican Composer Weekend (18-20 January 2008), Telling the Tale, which featured fifty of Weir's works and culminated with a major world première, Concrete, which received a standing ovation. It formed the climax of the final concert Earth and Sky on Sunday 20 January 2008, conducted with dynamic panache by Martin Brabbins, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and combined forces of the BBC Singers and BBC Chorus, all of whom had taken the lion's share of the weekend's evening concerts. At twenty-five minutes in length, and in five linked movements, Concrete is one of Judith Weir's most compelling choral-orchestral works and focuses on the city of London, and on the Barbican in particular, with texts that stretch from ancient Greek and Classical Latin, to 20th century architectural plans for the Barbican rebuilding, bound together by a narrative from the 17th century diaries of John Evelyn about the Great Fire of London.

The Barbican Centre composer weekends have been a fixture for over twenty years (the first was in 1985 with a gap until 1988) and it was apt that this historic conclusion to a brilliantly successful venture should be focused on a composer who is both British and a woman, significantly, only the second female composer to be thus featured, the first being Sofia Gubaidulina last year. The event was an opportunity to honour a leading light in new music who has made a striking contribution to musical life here and abroad, and it was thus also a wonderful occasion for the Master of the Queen's Music, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, to publicly announce the Queen's Award which Judith Weir received in December, only the third such award to be made so far. Conveying his own personal congratulations, Maxwell Davies noted that this was the first time the award has been given, 'significantly -- to a composer' (the first was Sir Charles Mackerras, and last year, the singer Bryn Terfel). He praised Judith Weir's 'integrity', which he said was evident in both her highly communicative concert works as well as in the substantial contribution for the community, for non-specialists, school children and amateurs, including much use of traditional musics, which of course coincides with his own predilection for Scottish music. In her reply, Judith Weir thanked Sir Peter Maxwell Davies and graciously remarked how it was 'a huge honour' to be at this weekend, at which fifty of her works were played, and asked the audience to applaud the group who 'made the license fee seem a bargain, the BBCSO!'

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Copyright © 5 February 2008 Malcolm Miller, London UK


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