THIS has been a triumphant Proms year for Peter Maxwell Davies. Told last summer by his leukaemia specialist that he had just six weeks to live, he rallied his forces and recovered to a point where his life and work could go on; two weeks ago he presided over a Prom of some of his own favourite pieces, and Prom 70 brought the London premiere of his new concert overture Ebb of Winter.
Prom 70: Sir Peter Maxwell Davies Birthday Concert
Royal Albert Hall, London
As performed by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Ben Gernon, this proved a fascinating piece. Over its 18-minute span it traversed a huge musical landscape, juxtaposing powerfully-sustained lyricism with anarchic instrumental outbursts, before climaxing in a luminous blaze of woodwind and brass. Commissioned by the SCO to celebrate its 40th anniversary, it was impeccably played.
The SCO has long been Maxwell Davies’s favourite ensemble: all ten of his Strathclyde Concertos were written for their soloists, and we then heard the fourth of these with clarinettist Dimitri Ashkenazy as the brilliant soloist. The composer described that work as being “in search of something, like a long walk through the seascape and landscape I see from my window”, and that was how it felt to listen to.
Part of the charm of this concert lay in the fact that the composer was observing it from an armchair on stage, and he couldn’t refrain from co-conducting things himself.
And when the final work came – An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise – he was as delighted as the audience when its celebration of Scottishness climaxed with the arrival of Robert Jordan and his bagpipes.
Seen on 08.09.14