Britten Sinfonia, Ensemble Bash, Norwich

It was a memorable concert at St Andrew's Hall, Norwich, with percussionists Ensemble Bash and the Britten Sinfonia led from the piano by contemporary superstar Joanna MacGregor.

By TONY COOPER

It was a memorable concert on Saturday at St Andrew's Hall, Norwich, with percussionists Ensemble Bash and the Britten Sinfonia led from the piano by contemporary superstar Joanna MacGregor.

And the organisers came up with a new idea for staging the concert with all the musical forces, apart from Ensemble Bash, being positioned at floor level in front of the stage with the percussionists on the upper deck – and there was a lot of hardware on it!

The programme opened in a sombre mood with a piece written by the Estonian composer Arvo Part. Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten, a tender elegiac work, was composed in the style of a canon with the composer recreating a Renaissance technique, which displayed and brought out the richness and strong texture of the string playing.

A nice piece of programming followed this opening work with the four members of Ensemble Bash, divided round the vastness of the hall, going straight into Siwe Bell Music, a piece played on Gankogui cast-iron bells.

Two virtuosic works for piano and strings followed, which showed off the artistry and commitment MacGregor has for contemporary composers. In the first work, Alfred Schnittke's Concerto for Piano and Strings, the long opening bars gave way to some exemplary string playing in a piece of one-movement variation form.

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MacGregor and the orchestra went into frenzy mood with Lou Harrison's four-movement Piano Concerto. MacGregor excelled in the piece that explored three different music traditions, from the Western classic tradition to the pioneering prairie style of American 20th-century music.

The final work in the programme, which had the appreciative audience spellbound throughout, was a world premiere of a work by the young Asian composer Nitin Sawhney. Entitled Neural Circuits, Sawheny was inspired to write it immediately after the recent tragedy in New York.

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