Welcome to a new online performance brimming with contrast, streamed from our home at the Royal Festival Hall. We begin with an introspective contemporary work by British composer Anna Clyne, and move towards Mozart’s sunny, cheerful ‘Turkish’ Violin Concerto No. 5, with powerhouse violinist Alina Ibragimova.
Conductor Elim Chan brings her exceptional musicianship to Beethoven’s good-humoured Eighth Symphony. “It’s a work full of things that shock you and make you think”, she observes in her interval chat with presenter Lloyd Coleman. You’ll also find out what she loves about leading the Philharmonia, and what it takes to bring the best out of players and soloists alike.
We hope you enjoy the performance, and do share your thoughts on social media tagging us @Philharmonia.
Header image: Alina Ibragimova © Eva Vermandel
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Anna Clyne (b. 1980): Within her arms (2008 – 2009)
We begin tonight’s concert with a short work for string orchestra, composed in 2009 by the British-born composer Anna Clyne. Clyne’s mother had died in 2008, and Within her arms is a work written in memory – a gentle work of heartbreak and hope, which is headed by a short poem by the Buddhist monk and peace activist Thích Nhât Hanh:
The piece is scored for 15 players (six violins, three violas, three cellos and three double basses), and Clyne provides several special markings to conjure unique effects from her players: high, glistening harmonics, glissandos sliding up the string, and vocal inhalations and exhalations “to be performed as a wispy breath through the mouth at the back of the throat.”
Drawing of Thích Nhât Hanh by Michael Volpicelli, 2019 (public domain)
The result is deeply moving: gently falling phrases cascade through the ensemble at the work’s opening, and throughout the piece, instruments call to each other across the space, echoing each other just a beat or two apart. The arrival of the lowest string instruments often brings rich chords and climaxes – although around the halfway point, the music tips downwards into the growling bottom register of the double basses, dark and ominous. At several points Clyne stops the music entirely, allowing silence to hang in the air before continuing; indeed, the very last bar of the piece, after a gradually dissolving texture as the violins appear and vanish one after the other, is simply a rest.
"I still feel as connected to this music as I did when I wrote it back in 2008 after the unexpected death of my mother. When I listen to it, it conjures memories of her." Anna Clyne
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791): Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major, K. 219 (1775)
- Allegro aperto – Adagio – Allegro aperto
- Rondeau – Tempo di minuetto
In addition to his prodigious talent as a keyboard player, Mozart was also an able violinist, and in his late teens he composed five violin concertos – four of them, in fact, in a single year. His Fifth Concerto in A major was composed in December 1775, when the composer was 19 years old. The piece is in three movements, each with several somewhat unexpected changes of gear.
The first movement, marked Allegro aperto (‘aperto’ means ‘bold’ or ‘clear’), begins with a bouncing first theme from the full orchestra, and later a graceful second theme, before coming to rest for a moment of silence. Then the violin enters at a different tempo, Adagio, with a lyrical and almost improvisational line, before finally picking up the melodies of the rest of the orchestra as you might expect.
Both in this first movement and the second, Mozart also makes effective use of dark, minor-key middle sections, prompting impassioned and often wide-ranging bursts from the soloist. Overall, this second movement is in a kind of ‘da capo aria’ form (a kind of A-B-A structure), the same as you might expect from a Baroque solo vocal piece: listen out for the return of the opening melody, and a return to the sunshine of the first theme, after that stormy minor-key interlude.
Caroline Fischer-Achten as Constanze in Die Entführung aus dem Serail by Mozart, by Gustav Adolf Barthel, 1800–1850 (public domain). This opera is another example of Mozart's use of Turkish-style musical effects.
The finale is a Rondo, and earned this Concerto the nickname ‘Turkish’. To begin with, we proceed as we might expect, with the opening melody played in alternation with little episodes that lead us in new directions, before returning once again to the familiar first tune. (Usually before each return, the soloist has to improvise a short ‘Eingang’, or ‘entry’, like a little cadenza that leads us back to that Rondo melody.) But after several minutes of this, the Rondo breaks off and we move into a different time signature, a different tempo and a different key: Mozart flings us into a minor, stamping dance with dramatic, rapid passagework for the soloist.
It’s not Turkish music as we might recognise it today, but Mozart was writing at a point when ‘Turkism’ had become fashionable in Austrian art and music, and the shape and energy of this finale episode is intended to suggest some of that Turkish colour. Once the Turkish parody has finished, the violinist once again leads us back to the Rondo melody, in the tempo and time signature that we were in before, with playful decorations to the tune. There is no grand conclusion to the piece – just an elegant final bow from soloist and orchestra.
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827): Symphony No. 8 in F major, Op. 93 (1812)
- Allegro vivace e con brio
- Allegretto scherzando
- Tempo di menuetto
- Allegro vivace
In 1815 Beethoven wrote to the London-based impresario Johann Peter Salomon to ask for his help in finding English publishers for his works. These, he reported, included “a grand symphony in A major (one of my most excellent works), [and] a smaller symphony in F major”. The former piece was the Seventh; the “smaller”, in F major, is the Eighth, written between 1812 and 1813 and initially intended as one of a triptych, along with the Seventh Symphony and an as-yet-unwritten third work.
In the event, it was to be another 11 years before Beethoven completed the Ninth. Meanwhile, the Eighth had its premiere, in February 1814 in Vienna with the Seventh also featuring in the programme, suggesting that Beethoven considered the two to be, in some sense, companion pieces. Interestingly, a record remains of the size of the orchestra: 36 violins, 14 violas, 12 cellos and seven double basses, with two contrabassoons to enhance the ranks of wind players – a big band! Although it might have been “little” in terms of scale, it seems doubtful that the first performance sounded particularly chamber-like.
Portrait of Johann Peter Salomon by Thomas Hardy, 1792, Royal College of Music (public domain)
There’s a great deal of humour in this Symphony, and much of it seems to be delivered with a wry smile. The strident, almost heroic opening motif of the strings prompts a gently sardonic response from the winds. The mighty sonic weight of the closing sections of the movement are wittily undercut by a pianissimo conclusion. A teasing Scherzando follows, opening like a comic opera dialogue between soprano and baritone, with the winds bearing much of the accompanist’s duty. This light-hearted conversation is occasionally interrupted by fierce fortissimo scrubbing from the strings on a single note.
A stately Menuetto, richly scored, gives prominence to brass and timpani, both in the grand outer sections and its more chamber-like Trio. There are occasional spats between strings and winds too, the latter never quite willing to resolve whatever the former have set before them, from brief phrases to single chords.
There’s a great deal of humour in this Symphony, and much of it seems to be delivered with a wry smile...
The Rondo finale promises surprises aplenty from its first few pages, when a skittering string melody in F major is prominently interrupted by a fortissimo C sharp – a note that doesn’t ‘fit’ the key of the music. The subsequent development of this theme is positively bizarre in its use of chromatic turns, dissonances (clashes) and modulations (key changes). The music jumps from key to key within a few bars, often to regions far away from each other, and flutes push upwards through scales as violins lead the melody in the opposite direction. That early C sharp makes later reappearances, eventually forcing the music into an even more alien key, F sharp minor, before the music finally regains its harmonic equilibrium and Beethoven firmly nails the music back in the home key in its closing pages.
Notes by Katy Hamilton © Philharmonia Orchestra/Katy Hamilton
Anna Clyne © Christina Kernohan
Meet Anna Clyne
You’re known as a composer who brings in different disciplines into your process, like painting and dancing. Can you describe your method when starting a new work?
I really thrive on collaboration so the compositional process will often begin with bouncing around ideas with my collaborators. Once a solid concept is in place, I almost always begin composing at the piano. Here I’ll find melodic or harmonic ideas that catch my ear, and from thereon begins the compositional process. If I am collaborating with, for example, a filmmaker, they will likely send their imagery for me to respond to. Or for a choreographer I might write a few minutes of music, create a MIDI mock-up, and send that to them for feedback as the piece unfolds. If I do not have a collaborator for a new work, I will often look to other sources for inspiration – from art to poetry. Sometimes I am asked to respond to music by other composers, such as for Beethoven’s 250th anniversary last season where I looked to his late string quartets.
"One of the exciting things about each new performance of a work is that each conductor and orchestra will create their own interpretation and I love this." Anna Clyne
You composed Within her arms in 2008, as an elegy to your mother. How do you look back on it now, over ten years later; has its meaning evolved for you?
I am always very grateful to hear this piece performed live and I still feel as connected to this music as I did when I wrote it back in 2008 after the unexpected death of my mother. When I listen to it, it conjures memories of her, which is a special and unique quality of this piece. It’s not so much that the meaning has evolved but that it remains a very personal piece and one that often connects with audience members.
What is it like to listen to a programme that includes your own compositions? Are you ever surprised by other people’s approaches to your score?
It’s always very exciting to hear my music come to life in the context of programmes with a range of music. One of the exciting things about each new performance of a work is that each conductor and orchestra will create their own interpretation and I love this. Changes in musical elements such as tempo, phrasing and dynamics can alter the delivery and experience of music and sometimes this will also inform revisions to a work at a later date – musical compositions are living, breathing things!
You often write music for friends and close collaborators, people with whom you have a relationship. What is it like composing for an orchestra you might not know as well, do you find it freeing or rather impersonal?
If I am writing music for an orchestra that I do not know, I will sometimes ask to connect with musicians from the orchestra to get their feedback on certain passages. I find that musicians are generally agreeable to this collaborative approach and that it makes for a much more personal experience, and often a stronger piece.
Elim Chan © Paul Cochrane
One of the most sought-after of the young conductors and already widely admired for her unique combination of “drama and tenderness, power and delicacy” (Hereford Times), Elim Chan became the first female winner of the Donatella Flick Conducting Competition and is currently Chief Conductor of the Antwerp Symphony Orchestra. In addition, since 2018/19 she has held the position as Principal Guest Conductor of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.
Recent highlights have included an appearance at the BBC Proms where Elim Chan conducted the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, followed by her debuts with the Konzerthausorchester Berlin, Gürzenich-Orchester Köln, Gothenburg Symphony and Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestras, Swedish Radio and Toronto Symphony Orchestras and the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain. She returned to the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra for their season opening concerts at Amsterdam Concertgebouw and Dortmund Konzerthaus, as well as to the Philharmonia, Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra and the Australian Youth Orchestra, among many others.
Celebrated by the press for her debuts with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin in 2019, other highlights that season included engagements with Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen at Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic and Sydney Symphony orchestras alongside returns to Los Angeles Philharmonic and Rotterdam Philharmonic orchestras.
Elim Chan became Assistant Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra in 2015/16 and was appointed to the Dudamel Fellowship programme with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2016/17. Previously she led the Orchestre de la Francophonie as part of the 2012 NAC Summer Music Institute, where she worked with Pinchas Zukerman, and participated in the Musical Olympus Festival in St Petersburg as well as in workshops with the Cabrillo Festival and Baltimore Symphony Orchestras (with Marin Alsop, Gerard Schwarz and Gustav Meier). She took part in masterclasses with Bernard Haitink in Lucerne in Spring 2015.
Elim Chan holds degrees from Smith College and the University of Michigan. While there, she served as Music Director of the University of Michigan Campus Symphony Orchestra and the Michigan Pops Orchestra. She also received the Bruno Walter Conducting Scholarship in 2013.
Alina Ibragimova © Eva Vermandel
Performing music from Baroque to new commissions on both modern and period instruments, Alina Ibragimova has established a reputation for versatility and the “immediacy and honesty” (The Guardian) of her performances. Highlights of the 2021/22 season include returns to the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, London Symphony and Philharmonia Orchestras; debuts with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and St Petersburg Philharmonic; and appearances at Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie and Vienna’s Konzerthaus and Wigmore Hall.
Recent seasons have seen Alina perform with the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Swedish Radio Symphony, Seattle Symphony, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin and Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich; collaborating with conductors Vladimir Jurowski, Sir John Elliot Gardner, Jakob Hrůša, Robin Ticciati, Daniel Harding, Edward Gardner and Bernard Haitink.
In recital, Alina has appeared at Southbank Centre, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, Salzburg’s Mozarteum, Vienna’s Musikverein, Carnegie Hall, Pierre Boulez Saal and the Royal Albert Hall where she performed Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin as part of the BBC Proms. Her longstanding partnership with pianist Cédric Tiberghien has seen the duo tour extensively worldwide and win acclaim for their traversals of sonatas by Mozart and Beethoven. Alina is also a founding member of the Chiaroscuro Quartet – one of the most sought-after period ensembles – and records for Hyperion Records.
Born in Russia in 1985, Alina studied at the Moscow Gnesin School before moving with her family to the UK in 1995 where she studied at the Yehudi Menuhin School and Royal College of Music. She was also a member of the Kronberg Academy Masters programme. Alina’s teachers have included Natasha Boyarsky, Gordan Nikolitch and Christian Tetzlaff. Alina has been the recipient of awards including the Royal Philharmonic Society Young Artist Award 2010, the Borletti-Buitoni Trust Award 2008, the Classical BRIT Young Performer of the Year Award 2009, and she was a member of the BBC New Generation Artists Scheme 2005–7. She was made an MBE in the 2016 New Year Honours List. Alina performs on a c. 1775 Anselmo Bellosio violin kindly provided by Georg von Opel.
- Zsolt-Tihamér Visontay
- Rebecca Chan
- Eugene Lee
- Victoria Irish
- Karin Tilch
- Lulu Fuller – Chair endowed anonymously
- Soong Choo
- Adrián Varela
- Eunsley Park – Chair endowed by Saul Nathan
- Jeff Moore
- Annabelle Meare
- Emily Davis – No. 2 Second Violin Chair is endowed by Nick and Camilla Bishop
- Fiona Cornall – No. 3 Second Violin Chair is endowed anonymously
- Sophie Cameron
- Nuno Carapina – Chair endowed by Michael Stott
- Susan Hedger
- Gideon Robinson
- Helena Buckie
- Yukiko Ogura – The Principal Viola Chair is endowed by The Tertis Foundation
- William Bender – No. 3 Viola Chair is endowed by Gillian and Lionel Frumkin
- Sylvain Séailles – No. 4 Viola Chair is endowed by Ruth and Henry Amar
- Carol Hultmark
- Stephanie Edmundson
- Linda Kidwell – Chair endowed by AgCo Tech Pte Ltd
- Karen Stephenson – The Principal Cello Chair is endowed in memory of Amaryllis Fleming (1925–1999) by the Amaryllis Fleming Foundation and Fleming Family and Partners Ltd
- Richard Birchall – No. 2 Cello Chair is endowed by Jane and Julian Langer
- Alexander Rolton – Chair endowed by Saul Nathan
- Anne Baker
- Deirdre Cooper
- Ella Rundle
- Tim Gibbs – The Principal Double Bass Chair is endowed by Sir Sydney and Lady Lipworth in memory of Bertrand Lipworth
- Simon Oliver – Chair endowed by Saul Nathan
- Gareth Sheppard
- Michael Fuller – Chair endowed anonymously
- Katie Bedford – The Principal Flute Chair is endowed by Norbert and Sabine Reis
- June Scott
- Timothy Rundle – The Principal Oboe Chair is endowed by Elizabeth Aitken
- Lauren Weavers
- Mark van de Wiel
- Laurent Ben Slimane – The Principal Bass Clarinet Chair is endowed by Philip and Judy Green
- Robin O’Neill – The Principal Bassoon Chair is endowed by Penny and Nigel Turnbull
- Shelly Organ – No. 2 Bassoon Chair is endowed by John Abramson
- Laurence Davies – The Principal Horn Chair is endowed by John and Carol Wates in memory of Dennis Brain
- Kira Doherty – The President’s Chair is endowed by Esa-Pekka Salonen in honour of Sir Sydney Lipworth QC and Lady Lipworth CBE
- Carsten Williams
- Daniel Curzon
- Jason Evans – The Principal Trumpet Chair is endowed by Daan and Maggie Knottenbelt
- Robin Totterdell
- Catherine Knight