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The Nash Ensemble presents A Celebration of the Life and Music of Sir Harrison Birtwistle at the Wigmore Hall in London on 26 March, honouring four decades of creative collaboration with the composer up to his death in 2022. The three concerts, culminating in a performance of The Moth Requiem, see the Nash Ensemble joined by the BBC Singers and students from the Royal Academy of Music.

A celebratory day of three concerts presented by the Nash Ensemble at the Wigmore Hall in London on 26 March remembers the group’s close working relationship with Harrison Birtwistle across 40 years. Many of the composer’s chamber and small ensemble works were commissioned by the Nash Ensemble and a selection is performed at the Wigmore Hall including Nine Settings of Lorine Niedecker, Fantasia upon all the notes and Duet for Eight Strings.

The opening 3.30 pm concert sees the Nash Ensemble performing ‘Side by Side’ with students from the Royal Academy of Music in a programme combining Birtwistle with two works commissioned from RAM composers. Featured early works include The Oockooing Bird, penned as a teenager, and Sad Song (1971) both for solo piano, Entr’actes (1962) for flute, viola and harp, and Verses (1965) for clarinet and piano.

At 5.00 pm the concert features duos by Birtwistle together with the premiere of Simon Holt’s Serra-Sierra dedicated to his memory. Duets for Storab (1983) for two flutes is joined by one of Birtwistle’s most intimate chamber works, the Nine Settings of Lorine Niedecker (1998/2000) for soprano and cello, performed by soprano Claire Booth with cellist Adrian Brendel. The haiku-like texts by the American poet prompt a response of economy and restrained gesture from Birtwistle, creating what was described by The Times as “…music of fragile beauty… like a brittle leaf disintegrating.”

The final 7.30 pm concert culminates in a performance of Birtwistle’s The Moth Requiem (2012), reuniting the Nash Ensemble with the BBC Singers who together gave the work its UK premiere at the BBC Proms in 2013 and recorded it as part of an acclaimed Birtwistle disc on the Signum label. Scored for 12 female singers, alto flute and three harps, this work is one of the composer’s most distinctive and personal scores, encapsulating his lifelong obsession with moths. The Wigmore Hall performance is conducted by Geoffrey Paterson and the programme will be recorded for broadcast by BBC Radio 3.

Also on the final all-Birtwistle concert programme are Fantasia upon all the notes (2011) for a septet of flute, clarinet, harp and string quartet, Three Songs from The Holy Forest (2016-17) – like The Moth Requiem featuring texts by poet Robin Blaser, Songs for Myself (1984), Duet for Eight Strings (2018-19) performed by Lawrence Power and Adrian Brendel, and the Piano Trio (2011). The two vocal works, separated by 30 years, are sung by Claire Booth. The final concert is part of the Nash Inventions series supported by the Ernst von Siemens Music Foundation.

> Visit the Wigmore Hall website
> Visit the Nash Ensemble website

International Birtwistle chamber performances over the coming months include the Arditti Quartet playing his String Quartet: The Tree of Strings in its 50th birthday programmes in Berlin (7 March), Vienna (14 March) and at Milano Musica (13 May), the latter festival feature also including The Silk House Sequences and a complete performance of his Celan-inspired Pulse Shadows in conjunction with the MDI Ensemble and soprano Claron McFadden conducted by Hossein Pishkar. Sean Shibe performs Birtwistle’s guitar work Beyond the White Hand at the Philharmonie in Cologne on 2 June.

>  Further information on Work: The Moth Requiem

Photo: Philip Gatward

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