By Philippa Kiraly, Special to the Sybaritic Singer
Two brilliant young visiting musicians created a storm of interest at the Seattle Symphony Thursday night. Britisher Hannah Kendall, 35, was present to hear the U.S premiere of her work The Spark Catchers, conducted by Jonathon Heyward, now in his mid-20s and a product of the Boston Conservatory and London’s Royal Academy of Music.
Kendall’s work, though originally inspired by Lemn Sissay’s poem about a strike by young matchgirls who caught the tiny sparks of phosphorus flying from their work before igniting on the factory floor, received its bigger impetus, she said in a recent Seattle Times interview, from the coming together of Londoners at the start of the London Olympics in 2012.
Be that as it may, the work is ten minutes of absorbing and highly original music. Kendall uses the lower brass and double basses to great effect, largely prominent, anchoring, sometimes disjointed, somberly inevitable, while at the same time, the high instruments sound spiky and sharp-edged, agitated, as though the sparks fly up and are caught. A softer middle section is briefly somewhat ethereal with high, soft drops of sound, then succeeded suddenly by plucked strings, fast and fragmented, broken by loud staccato beats.
The whole was superbly played by the orchestra guided by Heyward dynamically and precisely.
The Haydn Symphony No. 98 which followed was an excellent opportunity to see how the young conductor would do with such a diametric musical opposite. He passed with flying colors. With a much smaller orchestra, he directed an elegant interpretation of the work with good contrasts and transparent harmonies, plenty of energy but always within classical restraints, using no baton, just his hands to inform the musicians.
With Holst’s The Planets to complete the program, Heyward showed a fine understanding of this quintessential English work, the relentless energy of Mars, the quicksilver of Mercury, the weight of Jupiter, the lighthearted, dancing, cheerful Uranus and finally the otherworldly Neptune with Seattle Symphony Chorale members singing wordlessly high in the balcony behind the audience. It was a performance which brought the large audience surging to its feet and bringing Heyward back again and again.
Philippa Kiraly has writing classical music criticism since 1980, for several newspapers in northern Ohio and Seattle, magazines, both local and national, and blogs. She is passionate about the importance of independent criticism for the fine arts, an art in itself which is dying with little interest by many publications and no longer a viable career for most. But writing for tickets is always worthwhile!
Pippa is a keen gardener, a keen grandparent, and can get lost in a good book.