For their first Hear and Now concert of the season, the orchestra tackled Boulez's mammoth Pli Selon Pli. This music is challenging for two reasons. First, the orchestration requires an extended ensemble with, for example, a guitar, mandolin, three harps and only four violins. Secondly, although the music is not Boulez's most complex, it does require extreme amounts of concentration from the musicians. Boulez's score is dense, and because of this it is hard to find any significant contrast in the musical texture. Even in the silences and quiet moments there is an uncomfortable intensity.
However, the BBC SSO is trusted for its renditions of late 20th century music and tonight's performance was no exception. The orchestra navigated their way through the intensity and offered us a dexterous, impressive interpretation of the music. Soloist, soprano Marisol Montalvo's singing was exquisite and fun, bringing some light musical relief to what could have been a very serious evening. Her long, lingering harmonic lines seeped in and out of the heavy orchestration, as if hovering majestically above the concert hall.
Without her input to the work, it is easy to see how a listener would be lost in this assiduous music. For those of us who were not fluent in French, it might have been helpful to have an English translation of the Mallarme poetry that Boulez set and used as the thematic foundation for the music. For at times it did seem as if Boulez's musical journey was more for the players and their conductor, Matthias Pintscher, rather than for the audience listener.