Tom Coult’s Violin Concerto Pleasure Garden received its first London performance on 26 October from the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Andrew Manze. The soloist is Daniel Pioro, who premiered the work with the BBC Philharmonic in 2021.

The concerto was written as a response to the Royal Horticultural Society Garden Bridgewater in Salford, Manchester, with the RHS amongst the piece’s co-commissioners. Each of the 27-minute work’s four movements takes inspiration from images and stories of variously constructed ‘natural spaces’ in and around cities.

The first movement – ‘Starting to rain – Zennyo Ryūō appears’ – recalls a rain-making contest at the Kyoto Imperial Palace, culminating in a deluge as the Dragon Queen Zennyo Ryūō looms into view. The second – ‘Dyeing the canal blue for Queen Victoria’ – is inspired by the titular monarch’s visit to Salford in 1851, and describes the mingling of the blue dye and ferrous-stained water. ‘Francesco Landini serenades the birds’ follows, inspired by the story of a 14th-century organetto player whose music-making first silences the attendant songbirds before raising a cacophony. The final movement – ‘The art of setting stones’ – evokes the artful asymmetry of the Japanese rock garden, whose goal is a prevailing sense of harmony and balance.

“Here it seemed a lucidly shaped work, a treasure trove of luscious orchestral colours and effects, that is convincing enough even without the detailed extra-musical explanations that Coult provides for each of the four movements; his music rarely lapses into anything obviously illustrative or anecdotal.”

The Guardian (Andrew Clements), 26 October 2022

Pleasure Garden was Coult’s first large-scale work completed as part of his residency with the BBC Philharmonic, with two more to follow. Daniel Pioro recently collaborated with Coult on two 2021 arrangements, which also received their first performances with the BBC Philharmonic: Heinrich Ignaz von Biber’s The Agony in the Garden, for violin and chamber orchestra, and Hildegard von Bingen’s O Ecclesia, for violin and strings; Pioro also performed Coult’s arrangement of Giuseppe Tartini’s Sonata No.2 in D Minor for violin and chamber orchestra.