On 28 April Anna Dennis and the BBC Philharmonic gave the world premiere of Tom Coult’s After Lassus at a specially-curated studio concert in Manchester conducted by Andrew Gourlay, broadcast live on BBC Radio 3. After Lassus was commissioned by the BBC Philharmonic, here he is composer-in-association.
The 15½ -minute work takes six duets from Orlando de Lassus’ Novae aliquot (1577) and refashions the musical material “like plasticine – reshaping, stretching and compressing them, combining them, putting them in unfamiliar surroundings, and generally getting the coloured paint out”, as Coult puts it. The work continues Coult’s artistic partnership with Anna Dennis, who created the role of Violet in Coult’s eponymous 2022 chamber opera; in 2021 she premiered Coult’s 18-minute song cycle Wholesome Counsels at Oxford Lieder.
The soprano soloist duets with instrumental voices as the six movements unfold. The opening of the piece sees the soprano sing to themselves “absent-mindedly…as if recalling a tune”. LIke Three Pieces that Disappear, premiered in April by the BBC Philharmonic, After Lassus evokes musical objects that are half-remembered or only partially visible. The piece also reflects Coult’s ongoing fascination with the music of the renaissance and early baroque periods, evinced in his recent transcriptions of works by Corelli, Tartini, and Biber for the BBC Philharmonic, as well as his collaboration with violinist Daniel Pioro on an arrangement of O Ecclesia by Hildegard von Bingen for violin and strings, and violin and organ.
Coult’s Studies in Canonic Form, six transcriptions of Robert Schumann for chamber orchestra, punctuated the programme. Dennis also performed Beautiful Caged Thing for soprano and orchestra, a 12-minute setting of text refashioned by Coult from Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray; George Benjamin conducted the world premiere of the song cycle with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra at Aldeburgh in 2015. Both Beautiful Caged Thing and the Schumann transcriptions are preoccupied with canon and imitation – also present in After Lassus – described by Coult in an interview here.
As well as premiering Coult’s Sonnet Machine with the BBC Philharmonic in 2016, last year Andrew Gourlay conducted the world premiere of Violet. The chamber opera’s latest production – its third inside a year – opens at this April at the École normale supérieure Paris-Saclay, with further performances scheduled at Paris’ Théâtre de l'Aquarium for June. It follows Rahel Thiel's production of the work in autumn 2022 at the Theater Ulm, conducted by Hendrik Haas.