On 14 July Tom Coult's latest orchestral piece St John's Dance opened the First Night of the 2017 BBC Proms. Edward Gardner conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra in the dazzling 6-minute work which unfolds as a relentless series of dances – often spiralling out of control, often with two or more heard simultaneously.
The performance was televised on BBC Four and on BBC Radio 3 (as well as various international stations). UK viewers can watch the performance here, and it can also be listened to worldwide. Both are available for 30 days (until 13 August).
‘A new, six-minute sizzler of a piece from a rising young composer of today… Coult’s St John’s Dance, inspired by those medieval raves when hundreds danced themselves to death, grew from a hoarse squawk on solo fiddle into an apt frenzy of cross-rhythms punctuated by thumping brass chords. Then the whole process was repeated, with an added whimsy — a clarinettist producing literally disembodied shrieks on a half-dismantled instrument. Weird but compelling; I loved it.’
The Times (Richard Morrison), 17 July 2017
‘A six-minute firecracker… Coult is a composer who spins glittering, teasingly ambiguous patterns out of simple-seeming material… Suddenly we were off into a capering dance punctuated by huge major chords, each hurled across the main melody at a peculiar angle. In its gleeful reinvention of familiar things and ostentatious brilliance Coult’s piece recalled Adès, but the music’s sly way of pulling the rug out from under its own feet, plunging from noise to near-silence, revealed a very individual voice...’
The Telegraph (Ivan Hewett), 19 July 2017
‘After an arresting opening – a single violin glassily seesawing between two notes, rich with overtones – the piece hurtles through several mini-dances, with woody tuned percussion, chattering winds and weighty thumps that bring to mind Stravinsky’s Kashchey from The Firebird; together, they conjure up the feeling of being trapped in repeated motion from which there is no escape. It’s a work of desperate yet joyous rhythmic drive.’
The Guardian (Eric Jeal), 15 July 2017
‘St John’s Dance took the medieval dancing sickness as its starting-point for a six-minute crescendo of contagious rhythmic agitation...’
The Financial Times (Richard Fairman), 16 July 2017
‘St John’s Dance, a new work by a rising British composer that got things off to an intriguing start… six minutes of epigrammatic and edgy music, its textures diamond-hard, its momentum coming and going like little gusts of wind, and radiating innocent fun.’
The Independent (Michael Church), 17 July 2017
‘Coult has a brilliant sense of orchestration…He manages to provide a sense of the wildness of St John’s Dance, sometimes juxtaposing dances in an attempt to conjure up the sheer hysterical-ecstatic nature of the experience…The piece is impeccably, imaginatively scored, with nods to Britten and Stravinsky…this is a terrifically imaginative piece that deserves frequent airing: it works perfectly both as opener and as orchestral showpiece.’
Seen and Heard (Colin Clarke), 15 July 2017
‘It opened quietly with a light-bow-touch on a violin, causing premonitory disturbing harmonics. This broke away into a series of three dances that featured swaying orchestral rhythms punctuated by bellowing brass chords, hoedown-style mayhem, clunking temple bells, dizzying rhythmic passages from pizzicato strings and wood blocks, and a sad, mad little oboe tune; the whole piece – like a sudden return to reason – then floated away into nothing on a twittering of flutes and piccolos. An impressive opening.’
musicOHM (Barry Creasy), 15 July 2017