The Norwegian Radio Orchestra presents three new works by composer Jon Øivind Ness – all of them ‘black comedies’ and embodying a kind of Brutalistic Impressionism.
“Just a ‘romantic’ piano concerto”
The title Sunburst is certainly appropriate to the concerto’s bright, burnished sonorities. In fact, for the first half of the concerto the solo part is confined exclusively to the highest reaches of the keyboard, as if continually narrowing or expanding a band of pianistic white noise. Some of the interloping presences are grotesque or slyly humorous: phrases stumble or get drunkenly skewed, jazzy syncopation haunts the piano’s subconscious. Soloistic virtuosity seems manic, circular, imprisoned within its attitudes, unable to break out or to get anywhere. Eventually a tremendous toccata-like momentum builds up, involving piano, percussion and full orchestra. It drives to a grand climax and is then cut off, leaving the piano tapping its very highest note above a dissolving veil of orchestral harmony, before it subsides to the lower reaches and is cut off by a xylophone attack, echoing the temple block sforzato with which the whole work began.
‘Bury my Heart at Katnosa’ is a concerto for amplified guitar and orchestra, conceived as a tribute to the scenically beautiful Katnosa lake due north of Oslo, and the centre of an extensive nature reserve. Is at one and the same time a kind of romantic nature poem – even in the tradition of Grieg – and a gentle satire of that genre. There is a suggestion here that the natural beauty of the landscape is not as innocent or peaceful as it seems; indeed Ness has described the concerto as a piece where death is omnipresent. Ness thinks of the guitar – whose strings are tuned by quarter-tones flat or sharp – as the main character, the observer of the natural world, as represented by the orchestra. At the end of the piece, explains the composer, the observer ‘gets a heart attack and dies on the shore. Quite graphic and silly, but at the same time quite serious’.
Ness explains that the piece was influenced by the Tarantino film From Dusk till Dawn, which notoriously begins as a violent ‘road movie’ with criminals robbing stores, rape, murder and mayhem; only to transmogrify into a relentlessly bloody vampire horror-comedy. Perhaps not really a ‘double trombone concerto’: rather it’s a competitive piece for two ensembles, and about a third of the way through the two trombonists, having been members of the ensembles, stand up and become soloists.