On 21 October 2017, the BBC explored music spanning Julian Anderson’s entire output in one of their Total Immersion days. Featuring over ten works across three concerts, as well as talks and a film screening, the day was the largest retrospective of Anderson’s music to date.
The BBC Singers under Nicholas Kok presented Anderson’s choral music, including the Four American Choruses and the Bell Mass, whilst students from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (where Anderson is a Professor of Composition and also Composer in Residence) performed Poetry Nearing Silence, Ring Dance, Van Gogh Blue, Alhambra Fantasy and The Colour of Pomegranates.
The day culminated in a concert by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Edward Gardner – the conductor who oversaw the premiere of Thebans, Anderson’s critically acclaimed opera, back in 2014. Fantasias, the 23-minute orchestral showpiece abounding in vivid contrasts, was heard alongside Eden, Imagin’d Corners, the poem for violin and orchestra In lieblicher Bläue, and his Symphony.
The Total Immersion day was one highlight of Anderson's 50th birthday year, which has also seen the premiere of Piano Concerto at the BBC Proms. The day was accompanied by a one-day conference devoted to Anderson's music, Heaven is Shy of Earth: Julian Anderson at 50, presented by Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
‘Everywhere there is light, glistening in radiant textures. When Anderson writes a nocturne, even that comes alive with constant flashes of moonlight… The main orchestral concert was a demonstration of dazzling orchestration. This light-filled stream of sounds meant an evening of ceaseless hard work for the high wind instruments… Imagin’d Corners, with virtuoso roles for five solo horns, rises to an exultant tumult at the end. Symphony of 2003 is a musical narrative in a glinting, wintry climate.’
The Financial Times (Richard Fairman), 23 October 2017
‘When reminded by the first piece, the seven-minute Eden (2005), just how seductive a manipulator of orchestral textures Anderson is, and how superb his ear, one only wanted more of the sumptuous same to the concert’s end. His originality lies, I’m tempted to say, more than anywhere in that precision of ear. There are few contemporary composers whose harmonic sense, no matter what outré tuning system he might be using, is so patently assured, and whose music, if stopped in its course at any moment, would reveal such impeccable vertical credentials... I realised I couldn’t pin down the instrumental combination [Symphony] and was delighted to be left unsure; intrigued by newly and richly imagined sounds that weren’t obtruded by the composer but were the small change of his inventiveness available any time. There was plenty of it, too, in Imagin’d Corners (2002)... [and] In lieblicher Blaue (2015), where the soloist, Carolin Widmann, showed her brilliance not just playing with the bow but with a pencil; and in the five Fantasias (2009), the first of which, for brass alone, had a spluttering, exhilarating crispness that was yet more proof of a faultless ear.'
The Sunday Times (Paul Driver), 29 October 2017
‘There are so many gripping aspects of Anderson’s orchestral writing: folky eastern European influences (adding quarter tones to his already rich harmonic palette), colossal energy, intriguing textures and flamboyant theatrical gestures – sending four horns around the hall in Imagin’d Corners, for instance.’
The Times (Richard Morrison), 24 October 2017
‘The highlight of the choral concert was Anderson’s Bell Mass. It had echoes of the Anglican tradition, of an older Catholic style and also of modern classics like Stravinsky’s Mass. From the assertive opening, to the gorgeous “Amen” in the “Gloria”, a fantastic aleatoric climax to the “Sanctus” and the shaded microtonal solos of the “Benedictus'', I was carried along very enjoyably… If the choral music felt like the work of a very impressive choral composer, the BBCSO concert in the Barbican Hall made it clear that the orchestra is Julian Anderson’s true métier. Endlessly inventive in timbral and textural effects...’
The Artsdesk (Bernard Hughes), 23 October 2017
‘Inspired by a painting, Lake Keitele, by the Finnish artist Akseli Galien-Kallela, Symphony, a Winter-to-Spring piece, begins from nothing, with the lightest touches of sounds. Expressive woodwind melodies ensue, there are percussion riffs, one might hear the cacophony of birdsong and there is glorious lyricism; there are momentous passages that might relate to ice-cracking – with at least one stupendous outburst – and if this all sounds outside the Symphony as we know it, Anderson says that the work is of “continuous transformation ... neither atonal nor tonal but freely evolving...” – certainly towards the end when the return of Spring is sensed, a rebirth, and not without the pain of delivery.
Classical Source (Colin Anderson), 22 October 2017