London Sinfonietta delivers a memorable tribute to Sir Harrison Birtwistle

Tuesday 7th March 2023

London Sinfonietta delivers a memorable tribute to Sir Harrison Birtwistle

London Sinfonietta took the stage at the Queen Elizabeth’s Hall last Sunday 5 March to perform a very special tribute concert to late British composer Sir Harrison Birtwistle. For the occasion, the Ensemble were joined by members from the Manson Ensemble of the Royal Academy of Music, and conducted by 2023 RPS Awards winner Martyn Brabbins.
The concert also marked the Ensemble’s first performance since the death of co-founder Nicholas Snowman last week, who himself had worked closely with Birtwistle. The relationship between London Sinfonietta and the composer had been one of their strongest and long-lasting, spanning over 50 years and including some 30 premieres of the author’s compositions in 28 countries.

London Sinfonietta with conductor, Martyn Brabbins, Londinium Choir, Abigail Sinclair, soprano and Lisa Dafydd, soprano. QEH – Harrison Birtwistle Tribute Concert. 5th March 2023

The full list of performers was as follows:

Abigail Sinclai: soprano
Lisa Dafydd: soprano
Martyn Brabbins: conductor 
Londinium (choir director Andrew Griffiths)
Royal Academy of Music Manson Ensemble 
London Sinfonietta 

The concert programme consisted of five compositions by the author, opening with Duet 1 (The Message), Birtwistle’s 2008 creation for London Sinfonietta which consisted of a conversation between trumpet player Christian Barraclough and clarinettist Mark van de Wiel. The piece was followed by Virelai (Sus Une Fontane), originally written for twelve instrumentalists of the Ensemble that same year.
The third piece of the programme, Verses For Ensembles, was in fact first performed by London Sinfonietta in 1969, after being commissioned by Snowman, whose long-lasting friendship with Birtwistle yielded fine results throughout the years. After an interval, the Ensemble were then joined by the Londinium Choir and sopranos Lisa Dafydd and Abigail Sinclair, for an electrifying performance of The Fields of Sorrow, which was followed by In Broken Images in a poignant finale.

London Sinfonietta with Londinium Choir, QEH – Harrison Birtwistle Tribute Concert. 5th March 2023

London Sinfonietta’s performance received critical acclaim, with 4-stars awarded all around. The Telegraph described the Ensemble’s energy as ‘edge-of-the-seat electric’, further adding that ‘it was wildly impassioned, and yet completely enigmatic – a very Birtwistle combination’.

In another sparkling review, The Times noted that they ‘delivered as forceful and adamantine an account of its challenges as I’ve ever heard. It was as if Stonehenge had been put on the move and set to music’.

The Guardian further praised the Ensemble’s showcase of the ‘excoriating power and tranquillity of Birtwistle’s music’, lamenting only that ‘on occasions like this, one always wants to hear more pieces than a single concert can contain’.

Bachtrack especially praised the the conducting and performance of Verses for Ensembles: ‘(It) requires purposeful direction from the podium and very tight playing from the instrumental groups and soloists; Brabbins was in full control of forces whose playing was a marvel to behold. The theatricality of the piece lit up the stage, and the sounds it radiated were those of Prospero’s island – sounds to enchant, bewitch, overwhelm‘.

Best expressed by Geoff Brown of The Times, the concert marked the deaths of both Birtwistle and Snowman, ‘but the Sinfonietta’s long and dynamic life will continue. So too will [the] music‘.

London Sinfonietta’s next concert, Reich/Reichter will take place on Thursday 6 April at Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall in an exciting programme of multi-media and minimalist masters. For more information and to buy tickets, press here.