The latest in the BBC’s ‘Total Immersion’ series focusing on living composers featured Brian Ferneyhough in a day-long event on 26 February 2011 at the Barbican.
This unique exploration of Ferneyhough’s music included performances of eight of his most powerful works, including the UK premiere of Plötzlichkeit by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Martyn Brabbins and a rare performance of the extraordinary La Terre est un Homme. In addition to these big orchestral works, Quatuor Diotima performed music for string quartet (including the early masterpiece Sonatas for String Quartet) and the BBC Singers performed the classic Missa Brevis.
I was puzzled, disturbed, provoked - but entertained... And I was riveted by Carceri D'Invenzione III, a prison in which brass, woodwind and percussion rattle the bars of their cells with increasing desperation... Epic is a word overused. But it fits the bill in this 15-minute [La Terre et Un Homme] explosion of pure energy, ricocheting in every conceivable direction. Marvellous. (Neil Fisher, Times)
The baptismal associations of the Total Immersion series are worth bearing in mind: a day submerged in Ferneyhough's music leaves one's ears quite reborn. More: Guardian, Guy Dammann *****
Plötzlichkeit (“Suddenness”), a recent orchestral piece that is full of delicious colours, such as two harps deliberately “out-of-tune” with each other. The early Sonatas for String Quartet had a similar feeling of constantly renewed surprise... Even more thrilling was Carceri d’invenzione III, inspired by the famous imaginary dungeons of Piranesi. The winds and brass of the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Martyn Brabbins played it with heroic fervour. The real hero of the hour, though, was Brian Ferneyhough himself. It’s an improbable, superhuman sort of music he’s created, which lives constantly on the edge of the unknown. To see something so unfashionable reaching such a warm, appreciative audience was heartening indeed. More: Ivan Hewett, Daily Telegraph *****
And one particular moment. You see, there is a dark secret to La terre: a hushed string chord of incredible luminosity that suddenly leaps out of the pages of phenomenally dense writing. As a moment of recontextualisation I know nothing else quite like it; it was so unlike anything I had been prepared to expect that I was almost knocked out of my seat. You had to be there. In the end, nothing spoke so eloquently or gripped so powerfully as Ferneyhough’s music itself. Blog of Tim Rutherford Johnson - johnsonsrambler.wordpress.com