Critics acclaim new Michael Berkeley Violin Concerto at the BBC Proms

31 July 2016

Michael Berkeley’s Violin Concerto has received its debut at the BBC Proms to universal acclaim from the national newspapers.

Premiered by leading British violinist Chloe Hanslip and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under Jac van Steen this major new commission from the BBC Proms is a large-scale work for full symphony orchestra which also features a prominent role for tabla and the unexpected timbre of an electric violin.

Many of the reviews applaud the intimate and deeply personal nature of the work, written in memory of Berkeley’s late wife, whilst also praising the “radiant textures” and “mesmerising stillness” Berkeley creates through his technical command of the orchestra and soloist.

The performance is now available via the listen again function on the BBC website.

“At its best, Berkeley’s music is satisfyingly elusive, English in tone yet hard to pin down as such. In the first movement the violin occasionally leans towards the rhapsodic musings of A Lark Ascending, but it is mostly austere. A percussive summons — tabla briefly answering orchestral percussion — introduces the violin in music of mesmerising stillness, where slightly bendy tone gives a suggestion of wailing. But even the section marked “Agitated” is unsettled rather than angry.”
John Allison, The Daily Telegraph

“…no colour in this Proms commission was included just for show; Berkeley needed a kaleidoscopic range because he was reflecting the emotional rollercoaster travelled during personal loss and grief. […] It certainly moved me, especially when the 25-minute structure finally reached its melodic core with the violin, lightly accompanied, echoing the theme of his earlier memorial piece, At a Solemn Wake. I cherished too those passing radiant textures, all the more precious for the minefield of explosions around.”
Geoff Brown, The Times

“there’s nothing indeterminate about Berkeley’s fiercely personal Violin Concerto [….] this striking work is less a concerto and more a threnody for solo violin, a song of grief whose cries become a shout of anger as the violinist trades their acoustic instrument for an electric one. With Hanslip as passionate, eloquent advocate the work hit hard, daring to make death beautiful in music whose songs strove constantly against the rumbling disagreements on timpani and tabla. It’s a work that could do for the violin what John Tavener’s The Protecting Veil did for the cello”
Alexandra Coghlan, The Independent

“His new violin concerto, which was premiered at Wednesday’s Prom, is Brittenesque in its haunting bareness and acerbic touches. But it also embraces tabla-playing, percussive spoken interjections and the banshee howl of the electric violin. Which could have reeked of gimmickry, if Berkeley had less taste and imagination. Instead he works like a master chef, seeking out ever more arresting combinations of flavours: a keening violin melody set against a primal drum crash; the sounds of heavy metal contrasted with the soft thud of the tabla. Not for nothing did this composer spend several years performing as a rock musician in his youth. He clearly has a deep understanding of the tools at his disposal, and he is not afraid to use them. Nor is he afraid to write music that wears its heart on its sleeve. […] Everything about it — perhaps especially the lacerating sound of the electric violin — paints a vivid, yet never over-sentimentalised, portrait of grief.”
Hannah Nepil, Financial Times

“The intense formal lament that opens the work gives way to a central aria of loss and nostalgia, exquisitely accompanied by rippling harps and celeste. Hanslip takes up the raw electric violin for the finale, a ferocious outpouring of rage and grief, though a quiet coda in which she reverts to the standard instrument brings the work to a close in a mood of resignation.”
Tim Ashley, The Guardian

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