Mark Anthony Turnage
BBT co-commission with Cosman and Keller Arts and Music Trust
World première, Queen’s Hall Edinburgh Friday 18 August 2023 as part of Edinburgh International Festival
[Awake] was simply beautiful, inspired by the black violinist George Bridgewater, whom Beethoven admired, and characterised initially by the soulful prominence of the first violin, opening in scope in the second movement to explore a more shared independence across the ensemble. Rarely will you hear such subdued reflectiveness from Turnage.
Ken Walton, The Scotsman, 21 August 2023
The first violin is particularly prominent in the first movement, with some lovely effects in the other instruments, including harmonics and some lovely pizzicato from cellist Steffan Morris. I always find Turnage’s music engaging and approachable but was surprised to hear many parallels with Janáček in this piece, especially in the second movement, with voice-like entries and moods shifting towards melancholic, plus some glorious viola tone from Ruth Gibson. The music subsides in an elegiac mood and finishes quietly. It’s a thumbs up from me.
Donal Hurley, Edinburgh Review, 20 August 2023
Turnage’s new piece was a calm, assured, deeply reflective work in two slow movements … [and] began with an angular, thorny, Kreutzer-esque violin solo, dispatched with thorough conviction and chiselled articulation by the Castalian’s first violinist Sini Simonen. What followed, however, was far less assertive and attention-demanding, but a lot more thoughtful. Through dense, thick harmonies – sometimes quite reminiscent of Bartók, sometimes quite jazzy (complete with a distinctive funky bassline from cellist Steffan Morris) – and even the beginnings of a textbook fugue to kick off the second movement, Turnage conjured an air of quiet calm, posing plenty of questions without offering many answers. While it might not have set out to shock and provoke, there was plenty to sit back and admire in Awake’s unforced craftsmanship and its easy-going confidence.
David Kettle, Daily Telegraph, 20 August 2023
Turnage’s new string quartet – an uncharacteristically understated creation by a 63-year-old composer more associated in his younger days with musical hooliganism – was in safe hands. Inspired by the black Polish-African violinist, George Bridgetower, who famously impressed Beethoven, and to whom the latter’s Kreuzer Sonata was originally dedicated, a solo violin has first say, establishing an air of elegance and calm that is seldom seriously challenged throughout the two movements, their soft political message implicit in the titles, Bridgetower 23 and Shut Out. This performance emphasised the reflectiveness and genuine attractiveness of the music, even where a hint of a rock ostinato emerged in the cello, abating rather than dominating as the opening movement subsided to near nothing. That plaintiveness persisted in the second movement, this time a jabbing repeated motif offering the only real threat to its languid countenance. What was so surprising about this piece was also a mark of its incredibly beauty.
Ken Walton, Vox Carnyx. 19 August 2023
…this two-movement string quartet had a gorgeously soft texture that was full of beautiful melodies. … It began with a wistful violin solo against pizzicato cello, which was soaringly beautiful in itself and carried hints of Webern in the warmth of its scoring. That carried on into the second movement where even the energetic passages were carefully balanced and gentle, and all the musical interruptions seemed quiet and interrogative rather than explosive or disruptive. The ending of his quartet carried strains of the same duskiness that we would hear in the Janáček, and it ended on a beautifully inconclusive question mark. Is this a new Turnage we’re encountering? If so, I’d like to hear more of him. The Castalians played it with sensitivity and gentility, allowing its surprising warmth and gentleness to breathe on its own terms. If anything, it was their playing of Janáček’s Kreutzer Sonata Quartet that carried more urgency and drama, particularly those agitated interruptions that the composer repeatedly uses to inject urgency and drama. Under the Castalians’ bows they became more pressing and more terrifying as the quartet developed, standing in marked contrast to the muted opening, dusky yet vibrant, as well as the unconvincing resting point of its ending.
Simon Thompson, The Arts Desk, 19 August 2023