We began with the premiere of Judith Bingham's Ziggurat, a short fanfare programmatically representing the rising mathematics of the building of Etemenanki. We moved on to some very enjoyable Monteverdi, Gabrieli and Grillo from His Majesty's Sagbutts and Cornetts. Part 1 concluded with what the programme notes described as "Traditional Uzbek Music". The musicians of Tashkent were robed majestically and proceeded to a stage built in the centre of the Arena. Four karnays and two drums appeared and began playing immediately. Traditionally the karnay is supposed to be played in the direction of Mecca, but today the musicians used the space of the Hall by swirling around, creating a remarkable Mexican wave of natural harmonics, reminiscent of music by Sofia Gubaidulina a couple of years ago. I'm not sure I would want a whole evening of it, but for fifteen minutes it was certainly an enrapturing experience. The programme notes didn't list any CDs or recordings by these musicians and it really did seem to be one of those things where "you had to be there".
The second part of the concert was shared between the Grimethorpe Colliery and Black Dyke Bands. The Grimethorpe Colliery Band opened well with Vaughan Williams' Henry V; Hans Werner Henze's Ragtimes and Habaneras was a curate's egg, and drew inspiration from Berlin cabaret as much as from Cuba, its final movement being something of a tribute to Kurt Weill. The Black Dyke Band had a more challenging set with Heaton's Oh The Blessed Lord and Wilby's ...Dove Descending. These weren't familiar pieces to me and I don't think they are destined for my collection. The two ensembled joined forces for Elgar's Severn Suite - curious timing, perhaps, but just what was needed musically to return to a more traditional sound.
This was a three-part concert, and the final installment was Elgar Howarth's arrangement of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. Mostly I thought this worked very well, and Håkan Hardenberger was clearly enjoying himself conducting as opposed to playing. There was perhaps a lack of the menacing string glissandi one is used to in Gnomus, but Il vecchio castello made effective use of an off-stage trumpet to echo the melody, and Bydło, the ox cart, lumbered darkly across the stage. Curiously the missing sound effect from the first picture was present (with very fluffy mutes) by the time we got to Catacombae, and Baba Yaga and The Great Gate of Kiev were polished off with an energetic flourish.