In Friday’s (5/22) Guardian (London), Joanna McGregor, artistic director of the Bath International Music Festival, writes, “This year—15 July, to be precise—is Harrison Birtwistle’s 75th birthday. It seemed a good idea—well, absolutely vital—for us at the Bath International Music Festival to mark the occasion with some kind of celebration. But what started out as one concert quickly became several performances of different shapes and sizes, not all of them conventional. We have a theatre group retelling classic myths for children, an installation of electronic music in the ghostly workshops of the Museum of Bath at Work, an open-air marching band, big percussion pieces and intimate chamber works. All this climaxes in a big, ritualistic extravaganza of choral and brass music at Bath Abbey, with 70 performers. … It’s easy to label Birtwistle a ‘hard’ composer. Some readers might remember switching on the Last Night of the Proms a few years ago for a comforting singalong only to be confronted by Panic, a sensational piece for sax, percussion and orchestra, which apparently traumatised the shires for several weeks afterwards. … But you don’t need to control the music, or fight it. If you let it happen, you’ll be surprised at how beautiful, deep and lyrical even the most challenging contemporary scores can be.”

Posted May 22, 2009