National symphony orchestra

NSO and Christian Reif:
Britten, Grażyna Bacewicz, Prokofiev

Friday 19th May, 2023

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National Symphony Orchestra
Christian Reif
, conductor
Julia Bullock, soprano

Britten Les illuminations
Grażyna Bacewicz Concerto for String Orchestra
Prokofiev Symphony No. 5

A heightened, hypnotic song cycle, an inventive concerto glancing towards the past, and a symphony ‘of the greatness of the human spirit’ – all human life is here in music to stir the senses and the soul.

Christian Reif, ‘a conductor of considerable stature’ (San Francisco Chronicle), teams up with the National Symphony Orchestra and soprano Julia Bullock – whose ‘voice is certainly one of the most beautiful lyric instruments of her generation’ (Opera News) – for Benjamin Britten’s song cycle, Les Illuminations. Setting poems by the provocative prophet of modernism, Arthur Rimbaud, it is savage, sensual and challenging with always a lingering hint of the erotic. Its vibrant vocal line soars over, darts between and cuts through the music’s lustrous tones and sinewy textures to produce something heightened and hypnotic.

Imaginatively harking back to the Baroque and Classical eras, Grażyna Bacewicz’s Concerto for String Orchestra is laced with finely-wrought slivers of tart textures and rounded, crepuscular tonalities that belong unabashedly to the 20th century. The result is highly individual and seamlessly blended together with thrilling aplomb.

Prokofiev described his Fifth Symphony as ‘a symphony of the greatness of the human spirit; a song of praise of free and happy mankind’. Composed in 1944 as the fortunes of the war were turning, its Moscow premiere the following year was accompanied by the distant cacophony of artillery shells as the German army retreated from the Soviet capital. A biting commentary on the cruel cost of war, it can also be heard as a cloaked response to censorious Soviet oppression – or an amalgam of both. After all the turmoil it voices, it ends in a combustible firestorm of assertive colour as if breaking free from its chains.

Presented by National Symphony Orchestra