Birtwistle’s Gawain triumphs in Salzburg

5 August 2013

A new production of Harrison Birtwistle’s Gawain which opened this year’s Salzburg Festival has met with critical acclaim from the international press. Warmly received in leading German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the UK press were in attendance too with John Allison writing in the Daily Telegraph that “Birtwistle’s darkly rasping score came across with a richness and even sensuality that ought to have won it new friends”.

Fiona Maddocks, for The Observer, says “The score’s impact was at once powerfully inexorable and endlessly fresh. This high-profile production confirmed that Gawain is assured a future life, whatever directors choose to do with it.”

Elsewhere in the festival, Tom Service praises the performances of Secret Theatre by Klangforum Wien and Sylvain Cambreling and Verses for Ensembles by OENM and Titus Engel:

“Klangforum’s performance of the 1984 masterpiece Secret Theatre was a Birtwistlean thrill ride of explosivity and stasis; Sylvain Cambreling conducted with uncompromising precision, energy, and hell-for-leather speeds that pushed his players to their expressive and technical limits. After OENM’s performance of the shattering, raw elementality of Verses for Ensemble the night before (a piece that Birtwistle described to me as his vision of a “music before music” and which still sounds primordially rich and strange, 44 years after it was written), Secret Theatre sounded more sophisticated in its essentially joyful play of instrumental theatre, and its complex counterpoint between ‘cantus and continuum’, as Birtwistle describes the two most obvious layers of the music. And yet it never lost - just as Birtwistle’s music has never lost - its sense of simultaneous ancientness and coruscating modernity”

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