On 23 September Birmingham Contemporary Music Group open their 2023/24 season by joining forces with Ensemble TIMF at the Tongyeong International Music Festival for a performance of Julian Anderson’s Book of Hours (2004), conducted by Clement Power.
The 22-minute piece is cast in two parts and scored for 19 players and live electronics. The title recalls the medieval prompts behind the piece - ‘Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry’ and the ‘Tapisseries La Dame à Licorne’ (The Lady and the Unicorn) – and the way it unfolds: a sequence of events connected into a chronological thread, each sharply contrasted. Anderson likens his use of electronic sound to the gold-leaf in illuminated manuscripts; the piece also makes oblique use of some of the modes found in medieval music.
The simple stepwise gesture of the opening generates the rest of Book of Hours. “The real subject of the music is indeed just intervals themselves”, Anderson notes. “I wanted to rediscover for myself what, for example, a major second, a perfect fourth or a fifth could be and how these sounds could be interpreted afresh”. The latter of the piece’s two large parts begins by recasting the very opening as if it were played on a poor-quality 33+1⁄3 vinyl, before reimagining the music in ‘fast forward’ and setting off in a new direction.
Book of Hours received its South Korean debut from Thierry Fischer and the Seoul Philharmonic in 2013. BCMG gave the world premiere of the piece in 2005 with Oliver Knussen at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall; Knussen subsequently recorded the work with them. He also conducted the work at the BBC Proms in 2007, and with a host of other ensembles including the London Sinfonietta, New World Symphony, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and Asko|Schönberg. It has also been performed by Susanna Mälkki and Ensemble intercontemporain, Antony Hermus and the Philharmonia Orchestra, and Ensemble Modern with Caspar de Roo.