On a day when thousands marked two minutes silence at 11am, I was reminded at this concert on the theme of Remembrance of John Cage’s statement that “The material of music is sound and silence. Integrating these is composing”.
So much of Arvo Pärt’s music grows out of silence, no dramatic events and sharp contrasts, but rather a music of slow unfolding, and the beauty of single sounds such as the opening bell in the Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten as muted strings made their slow scalic progress to the work’s inexorable end. In Fratres, too, the hypnotic patterning and repetition was drawn gently out of silence and emptiness.
The latest OOTS commission, A Dream of “Peace for our time” by Philip Herbert, fitted its context well, although in some ways it was the most conventional piece in the programme. In a clear three-part design, with sweet-toned harmony, sweepingly romantic string writing, and poignant solos for cello and violin, it connected with the sound world of composers of the First World War but perhaps relied too heavily on the English pastoral tradition to establish a more contemporary identity.
David Curtis’s conducting of Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony, op 110a, showed the strings of the OOTS at their white hot best. This searing piece, written in three of the most creative days of his life, is dedicated “to the victims of fascism and war” but it is also a lament for the tragedy of Shostakovich’s own suffering under Communism.
Musicologists may argue over Shostakovich’s disguised messages and coded political resistance but this shatteringly intense performance made what was personal universal.
The long silence at the concert’s conclusion was a tribute to the power of music to go where words cannot. We were left harrowed, but consoled.