22 March 2013

Witold Lutoslawski - Concerto for Orchestra

One of the things I absolutely love most about classical music is that I keep discovering new composers and new pieces. There is such an endless amount of fantastic music out there, and still being quite young and relatively ignorant, there's still so much I have yet to discover. Every year I have some more composers to add to my composers-I-love list, and this year has already proven to be quite successful in that regard: I discovered Witold Lutoslawski.

These past months the Philharmonia Orchestra had a festival going on called Woven Words. It is in celebration of Witold Lutoslawski, who was born 100 years ago this year. I was lucky enough to see the first concert at the Royal Festival Hall, which included Lutoslawski's Piano Concerto (played by dedicatee Krystian Zimmerman) and Musique Funèbre (and also a fabulous performance of Ravel's complete Daphnis et Chloé!). Both pieces were beautiful, and the Piano Concerto in particular blew my mind. Needless to say I immediately searched out more of Lutoslawski's music and I've loved everything I've listened to. This inspired me to go to yet another of the Woven Words concerts, this time with a raucous performance of Debussy's La Mer and two Lutoslawski pieces: the Cello Concerto and Concerto for Orchestra. It's this latter piece that I'm going to talk about in this blog post.

Witold Lutoslawski - Concerto for Orchestra : I Intrada (allegro)
Played by the Polish National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Lutoslawski himself.

Witold Lutoslawski (1913-1994) was a Polish composer. Many people consider him to be one of the most important composers of the 20th Century, though he is not as well-known as he deserves. He wrote, among others, four symphonies (the second is my favourite), a bunch of shorter orchestral works (Like the Musique Funèbre, Livre pour orchestre, Mi-parti and Jeux Vénitiens), and some great vocals works (like Paroles Tissées and Les Espaces du Sommeil). He is perhaps best well-known for his use of the alaetory technique, in which the musicians and conductor can decide when each instrument moves from one section to the next - there is a precise structure but also some freedom in interpretation. He had an immense talent for orchestral colour and texture, perhaps reminiscent of Ravel and Debussy (which is why the Woven Words concerts were so beautifully programmed), but more modern and chaotic (even though his music makes complete sense to me).

The Concerto for Orchestra was finished in 1954, and originally inspired by Béla Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra. It consists of three movements, I Intrada, II Capriccio, Notturna e Arioso and III Passacaglia, Toccata e Corale. It contains a lot of folk(-inspired) melodies, taken from Lutoslawski's native Poland. I absolutely love the piece because it's exhilarating and unpredictable yet it never becomes confusing. It has some wonderful loud moments, which of course I always love but Lutoslawksi's music is so full of constrasts, and this makes every loud moment and every quiet moment effective and at times very, very moving. But above all Lutoslawski's music is just really exciting, always.

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