Aurora Orchestra visiting Birmingham Town Hall

PYTHAGORAS COMES TO BIRMINGHAM TOWN HALL


AURORA ORCHESTRA
by Christopher Morley


An orchestra performing a new piece from memory in the dark is just one of the stunning features promised when Birmingham Town Hall hosts the Aurora Orchestra on Tuesday June 4.
Max Richter's Journey Song CP1919 was inspired by the discovery of the first pulsar star, and is described by the composer as appearing "continually to rise, reaching for something beyond itself".
Nicholas Collon, founder and principal conductor of Aurora, tells me more about the piece.
"Max has a written a very atmospheric 10-minute piece which opens the concert. In his very elegant, uncomplicated style, he plays with subtle cross-rhythms being passed between different string groups, whilst they ascend, playing scalic patterns.
"Like lots of his music, he invites the listener to lose sense of time, to become notionally aware of shifting patterns of sound. In Birmingham we will play it in the dark - it's a very unusual, almost unsettling experience to sense music solely using the ears, and not the eyes - indeed it shows how accustomed we are to relying on the 'visual' dimension during concerts!"
Performing a piece from memory of course facilitates playing in the dark (no distractingly-lit music-stands), and the ability so to do obviously comes from Aurora's mission-statement of dispensing with scores whenever possible. Nicholas tells me more about what some people might consider something of a stunt.
"Memorising deepens and enriches our relationship with the music in every way, as well as giving us the versatility to do things like this ground-breaking new Max Richter work.
"It allows us to communicate with the audience in a new way and intensifies the levels of trust between myself and the players - it's an incredibly rewarding musical experience being unconstrained by music stands and scores. It takes us out of the scores and deeper into the mind of the composer.
"We've given over 100 memorised performances and the concept of things going wrong is really not an issue, because the players all know the music so well."
Journey Song CP1919 launches a fascinating evening entitled "Music of the Spheres",
inspired by a quotation from the Greek polymath Pythagoras (569 - 490 BC):
"There is geometry in the humming of the strings,
There is music in the spacing of the spheres."
Jane Mitchell, flautist and creative director of Aurora bubbles with enthusiasm about the project.
"The further back you go, the more you find music is completely interlinked with philosophy, magic, maths and astronomy and as a musician I've always felt drawn to learning more about this. The music choices for this concert came directly from delving into the world of Pythagoras and how he came up with his Music of the Spheres theory.
"In particular we were inspired by an ancient diagram of the solar system, based on Pythagoras' measurements and where you can see so clearly the parallels between the ancient solar system structures and the structures of scales and intervals which we still use today.
"Pythagoras spent a lot of his time obsessed with observing the concentric paths taken by the planets, stars and sun he knew to be orbiting the earth, and so Thomas Ades' Violin Concerto, Concentric Paths has always felt like the perfect expression of this. Pekka Kuusisto is our soloist here.
"The slow movement of Beethoven's String Quartet no.8 Op.59 is said by Beethoven's pupil Czerny to have been inspired by Beethoven staring at the skies and contemplating music of the spheres, and its place in this programme represents the fundamental soul-searching which of course lies at the heart of any philosophical theory.
"Mozart's Jupiter Symphony takes its place in this programme not because of its title but because of its miraculous last movement, which takes the concept of a simple scale and shows us everything that can be done with it."
I wonder whether the programme-notes and the striking Pythagoras diagram will prove an audience distraction. Jane counters by promising even more delights.
"The programme notes will be fascinating I'm sure, but we will also be sharing the concept of Music of the Spheres in the concert itself through a series of animated films narrated by Sam West, and with the luxury of a live orchestra able to provide all the musical examples."
And Jane concludes by offering some teases about Aurora's visit to Birmingham Town Hall.
"One of the joys (and challenges!) of an orchestra performing theatrical concerts is that every concert hall is different. Every time we present one of our concerts which have visual or staging elements we need to think very carefully about how it will work in each specific space - much more so than if we were a theatre company touring to different theatres.
"Birmingham Town Hall is of course an exquisite space and we will be thinking carefully about how everything is positioned on the stage and players' movements so that it all works organically in the room. It is one of the more intimate performing venues we are visiting on this tour which may mean we can offer up a few surprises for the audience at the end. I'm afraid I can't give away more than that."
*Aurora Orchestra performs "Music of the Spheres" at Birmingham Town Hall on Tuesday June 4 (7.30pm). All details on 0121-780 3333.

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