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London Sinfonietta at 40

Harrison Birtwistle Cortege
John Adams Chamber Symphony
Harrison Birtwistle Sinfonietta Short (world premiere)
Christian Mason In Time Entwined, In Space Enlaced (world premiere)
Larry Goves Springtime (world premiere)
Claudia Molitor untitled 40 [desk-life] (world premiere)

John Woolrich Sinfonietta Short (world premiere)
Anna Meredith Sinfonietta Short (world premiere)
David Lang Sinfonietta Short (world premiere)
Django Bates Sinfonietta Short (world premiere)

Baldur Brönnimann/Diego Masson conductors Simon Haram saxophone
Queen Elizabeth Hall, London 2 December 2008

Perhaps a London Sinfonietta devotee who was at the launch concert including Tavener's The Whale in 1968, and most of those in London ever since, is not quite the right person to evaluate this concert. See that first programme on LSf's website, where I confirmed that pianist John Constable is the only survivor of the original line-up.

The evening was something of a party, with many invited guests (though still not enough to fill Queen Elizabeth Hall). Birtwistle's peripatetic Cortege, based on his earlier Ritual Fragment, was a strong opener, but it raised the bane of contemporary music events. Ten minutes were required for platform rearrangement and getting the mics placed right to set the stage for three new commissions, all of which disappointed and left us feeling undernourished by the rather long interval, which seemed to be devoted to corporate entertaining.

Next, a sequence of "Shorts" at c. 7" or less each. Those miniatures left but fleeting impressions and a hope that London Sinfonietta won't continue down that route. Video and electronic additions did little to stimulate us, leaving a desire for some stronger meat. That was duly supplied by a real Sinfonietta party-piece, Adams' expansive and virtuosic Chamber Symphony which brought the proceedings to an end with a well deserved ovation, satisfied by an encore of the Roadrunner finale.

For a detailed description of the event and the individual items, some of it taken from the lavish commemorative programme book, see my semi-namesake from Musical Criticism, who was clearly attuned to the mood of the evening and the encouraging predominance of younger listeners, whose attention span was not challenged.

We were urged to socialise in the foyer afterwards, but the volume at which "music" was offered by the Sinfonietta's disc-jockey precluded conversation and drove us away.

London Sinfonietta will, I am sure, return to offer better balanced programmes, whilst continuing their outreach work to ensure that they will have audiences for the next forty years.

Peter Grahame Woolf