Deep Time


How grateful we've been this season for the arrival of Edward Gardner as the LPO's principal conductor, a refined, unostentatious musician who has already introduced significant amounts of new music into the orchestra's regular Southbank concerts. His (accidental) scheduling of Birtwistle's Deep Time for this week could not have been a more perfect tribute, shortly after the composer's death.


I hadn't heard this half-hour work before (originally written for Barenboim and the Berlin Phil). 'Deep' it was going to be, with two contrabass clarinets, two contrabassoons and two tubas visible onstage. The opening minutes were the most extraordinary - the air seemed just to pulsate, above such deep fundamentals. The ensuing material seemed more episodic than the widely-held impression of Birtwistle, ie that he would construct an enigmatic system and then 'simply' let it proceed. The almost opulent amount of contrasting groups within Deep Time's orchestra made for a particularly rich half-hour of listening.


An explanation was given of the piece being 'about' geological time, with occasional underground explosions resetting the texture. But I would think with Birtwistle of all composers, we shouldn't let analogies like this get in the way of simply listening. I had no idea how he proceeded through the various materials of that music, and of course it's now too late to ask him. He wouldn't have offered a point-by-point explanation anyway; although, again contrary to received ideas, he gave remarkably expressive interviews which, to fellow composers, sound very authentic about the experience of composing itself.


Pictured - Maida Vale Studios (where else?)

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JUDITH WEIR

Composer