I don't think I've ever been quite as alert in a concert hall for an evening of orchestral music as I was last night. For starters, two of the pieces performed were intensely theatrical, involving the soprano as virtually an actress. The pieces bookended the evening, in a nicely patterned manner, with Diana Soh's A is for Aiyah opening the proceedings and Ligeti's Mysteries of the Macabre, played by a chamber orchestra version of the SSO bringing matters to a highly satisfactory conclusion. The luminous Elise Chauvin was extraordinary in both, particularly excelling as a robot (yes, really!) in Mysteries, which to me was the more successful of the two, if only because the libretto was printed in the programme, giving it more coherence. Anyway, it was all tremendously avant garde stuff with little in the way of conventional melody but lots in the way of wonderful noise and a terrific sense of fun - despite the darker elements of the Ligeti.
As a bit of a confession I must admit that when I first saw the concert advertised in the SSO's nifty little booklet for the 2017 - 2018 season I sort of confused Ligeti with Varese (I suppose because Kubrick drew on both for the soundtrack of 2001) and was initially expecting something dissonantly celestial. In the event, I prepped for the concert by reading the segment on the composer in Alex Ross's The Rest is Noise, which I found fascinating. I don't know if this helped me with the music but I sort of 'got' it right away. I've got a feeling that I might just be starting a bit of a love affair with his work, of which there's a healthy abundance on Youtube.
I thought I was fairly familiar with another two of the works performed last night, Webern's Passacaglia, Op 1, and Stravinsky's Symphony in Three Movements, since I've got versions of both on CD which I've listened to a few times. In the event they sounded utterly fresh and alien live and loud. For some reason I'd thought of the Passacaglia as a gentle work, but last night it sounded manically neurotic. Not sure I liked it, but my goodness it held one's attention. Jason Lai, the conductor for the evening, laid a lot of stress on the connection of Stravinsky's Symphony with the war in one of his engaging comments, in this case covering the reconstitution of the players as the chamber orchestra for the last piece of the evening after the full SSO had bashed their way through the Stravinsky. It was a convincing connection to make and helped me reorient myself towards the work. I'm looking forward to playing the Karajan version on CD again and seeing what happens to my listening.
I suppose Mahler's Ruckert-Lieder was the most conventional thing we got all evening. But even with this Ms Chauvin threw herself so physically expressively into each of the five songs that it just didn't seem like your average bit of Mahler. Just watching her spoke volumes about the music. Glorious.