Although I had been hearing fragments (or perhaps droplets) of Jonny Greenwood’s new piece Water over the last few weeks, as Richard worked on segments of the score in rehearsal back in the ACO Studio, nothing prepared me for the first performance in Dublin on Thursday night. At its core, the piece is written for 17 solo strings, each musician given an entirely individual part allowing the composer the chance to reach into 3-D layers of textures which, as they build, form a sonic sheen which is reminiscent of Messiaen’s glowing slow movement at the height of L’Ascension or the last ecstatic moments of Eclairs sur l’Au-dela, or sometimes recalling Arvo Part’s tintinnabulum. Yet this is entirely original invention, drawing the listener into a beguiling place, other-worldly, at times seductive, often awe-inspiring and frightening. The exotic tang of the tanbura drone throughout, sometimes covered in heavily scored moments, but frequently glimpsed through the sonic clouds, hints at Indian mysticism, religion and philosophy. This is a glorious new arrival in the ACO’s repertoire, captivating the Dublin audience at its world premiere.
Two nights later and the packed audience in London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall looked slightly puzzled when a thin, somewhat haunted-looking figure wearing an ACO black Akira Isogawa shirt and blue jeans joined the Orchestra on-stage holding a large, polished instrument unfamiliar in the concert hall. Jonny had spontaneously decided to play the tanbura part himself for the London premiere of Water, adding a frisson of celebrity excitement to an evening which had already heard some thrilling music-making when Richard and the ACO launched into a fearlessly daring performance of Haydn’s Symphony No.83.
The ACO has a very strong following in London, having given 22 concerts here over the last three and a half decades. The hall was a mix of familiar friendly faces (including groupies like Kathy Lette and Lizzie Spender), the discerning and somewhat furrowed brows of London’s authoritative music critics and plenty of Londoners hearing the ACO for the first time. The reaction was tumultuous and, after a vivacious and extrovert performance of Mozart’s Symphony No.29, Richard sent everyone home with Janacek’s enchanting “Goodnight” from On an Overgrown Path.
We’re now into the full stride of this tour – seven concerts in nine days in six different cities. Luxembourg’s Philharmonie tonight!