The Concertgebouworkest kicks off 2023 with a compelling feast concert by composer Anna Clyne

Well, that’s a good start to the new year. The Concertgebouworkest kicks off 2023 with a feast concert: a new clarinet concerto that can be included in the standard repertoire, and a Wagner joke that brings the audience into ecstasy.

The British-American Anna Clyne has composed a new clarinet concerto for clarinetist Martin Fröst (artist in residence of the Concertgebouw Orchestra): Weathered. A warm-blooded dark, compelling piece full of exciting twists. Clyne wants to show five weathered elements as a metaphor for an earth in bad shape: metal, heart, stone, wood and earth. ‘Metal’ opens with a chiming bim-bam-bim-bam theme on the metal tubular bells, reminiscent of the Dies Irae theme in Berlioz’ Symphony Fantastic. ‘Wood’ with an ominous low diphthong on the wooden marimba. And so on, the instrumentation can be drawn logically.

Also read the interview with Anna Clyne: The heart of composer Anna Clyne is also weathered

Totally exciting

Completely illogical yet astonishing are the clarinetistic delights that Fröst has to endure. His glissandos are totally thrilling: a long note can suddenly accelerate sharply into the sky, lie there for a while and then arc deep into the earth. Beautiful are the pieces where Fröst echoes in the orchestra: a theme by Fröst can continue to echo for a long time, swinging like a pendulum between the flutes and the oboes. Clyne hardly writes melodies, but mostly rising and falling lines, often over several octaves, kept unpredictable by sliding gaps. There is tension in the pleasantly falling klezmer-like chromaticism in Fröst’s lines; always a lowering, and always with an ominous backing chorus of sliding bass instruments, so that your chair always sinks half a meter from under your buttocks.

For Fröst’s solo in the third part ‘Stone’, with growls, false air and the softest, most highly pulsating trills, so quickly by touching one valve alternately with several fingers, Fröst rightly receives applause between parts.

Conductor Jaap van Zweden, as chief of the New York Philharmonic and a regular in new music premieres, stands out by not standing out and lets Fröst and the orchestra shine.

Also read the interview with Martin Fröst: ‘Music is the deepening of existence’

Short parts of 8 minutes

Striking artistic choice by Clyne: she deliberately kept the parts short; about eight minutes each, to consciously sail along with a pop music trend: making music based on the listening behavior of young people on streaming services such as Spotify. Ergo: not too long. “I just want people to hear my music,” Clyne said in NRC. That sounds like a helpful boundary at best, a little more pessimistic as a commercial restriction. But it works out just right: longer would have meant thinning out the tension. Fortunately, Clyne stays far from neoclassical emptiness, another proven ingredient for success on Spotify.

The only thing you ask yourself afterwards: what has weathered about these elements? Except for that Dies Irae reference that comes back in ‘Earth’, now unmistakable, the elements actually sound quite hopeful. Mysterious and cinematically dark, definitely; the base is full of deep drones. But there is always a high instrument fluttering above: Clyne has optimistically discovered darkness. The wood will grow again, the heart is still full of wonderful memories and the rust spots on the metal can be polished away. Is it the KCO that plays like a radiant heater, or is the earth now so miserable that music can only comfort?

‘Ecstatic screaming’

Especially the first company from Wagners Die Valkyrie is known and loved. Van Zweden keeps the brass somewhat short, the strings lose some of Clyne’s warmth, but soprano Anja Kampe, tenor Stuart Skelton and bass Kwangchul Youn sing an excellent Sieglinde, Siegmund and Hunding. The roof will come off afterwards. A blazing lady shouts an excellent summary on the balcony: “There is only one man who has ever made me scream ecstatically and that is Wagner!”

Sunday performance can be heard (back) on NPO Klassiek (formerly Radio 4). An absolute must.

Classic View an overview of our reviews about classic

Leave a Comment