Birtwistle and the Biennale
The music world is saying goodbye to British composer Harrison Birtwistle (15th July 1934 - 18th April 2022), an uncompromising author known for "sonic audacity" whose music has been called "aggressively dissonant" but also "deeply emotional". The Guardian called it a rare combination, "A deeply English composer who was at the same time internationally recognized as the great name of modernism."
His compositions have been performed at the Music Biennale Zagreb since 1965 when the London ensemble Melos performed his Monody together with soprano Dorothy Dorow. His works were also programmed in later editions of the festival: in 1979, for example, the Grimethorpe Colliery Band, originally composed of workers from the Grimethorpe Yorkshire mine, performed, among other things, a composition written by Birtwistle especially for them. For this work, Grimethorpe Aria, composer and conductor Elgar Howarth said it was pessimistic and gloomy, however containing a particular texture with which Birtwistle created a whole new sound from the usual instrumentation of brass instruments. Howarth then conducted the Zagreb Philharmonic Orchestra at the MBZ in 1987, and the program also included Birtwistle's The Triumph of Time, one of his most famous compositions, inspired by the woodcut of Peter Bruegel Senior. The author described it as a "huge adagio of Mahlerian proportions" and his 1970s style as "processional music" - "nothing changes in the procession, and the slow flow of time is a controlling factor, as in Bruegel's woodcut." "We could say that all music is processional because it takes place continuously."
More recently, Birtwistle's music has been brought to the Biennale by the Asko | Schönberg Ensemble and the HRT Symphony Orchestra. Violinist Milan Paľa, HRT Symphony Orchestra and conductor Pierre-André Valade performed Birtwistle's 2011 Violin Concerto, based on the "idea of dialogue" between soloists and orchestra who still "never quarrel" and they alternate as in hoquetus, at the MBZ in 2017. In 2015, the Asko | Schönberg ensemble performed the acclaimed Secret Theater, "one of Birtwistle's most powerful and personal works" (Arnold Whittal). Composer and writer Malcolm Hayes noted: "everything in his work, whether set on stage or not is conceived as, if nothing else, then at least a latent theater. "