ISHJÄRTA (ice hearts)

Saturday, June 10, 2023

Berliner Philharmonie, Herbert-von-Karajan-Straße, Berlin

The new works had their premieres two nights ago. These third performances, exhaustively prepared in the first place, were played by the Berliners (Noah Bendix-Balgley, concertmaster) with virtuosity, flair and commitment. Both scores call for a large orchestra, conducted with enthusiasm by Kirill Petrenko, without baton for the opening piece’s weaving of textures, then using one for the second’s hard-hitting striding strobing complexity.

Lisa Streich’s ISHJÄRTA (ice hearts) begins as if from a distance, the strings essaying Baroque-like figuration before waves of sound take over, volatile crescendos, marching col legno effects, jagged rhythms, returning to somewhere afar, elusive; sonic strangeness created, substance in short supply though, fourteen minutes being long enough.

Pretty (in old English, clever or cunning) is an eclectic mix of styles reflecting Julia Wolfe’s musical background (folk, rock, etc). Propulsive and percussive from the off, swirling along to underpinning trombone sirens (although why write for a harp that couldn’t possibly be heard amidst such a melee, although it did win though when ingredients became fewer and dynamics quietened). Pretty is repetitive, powerful, urban-suggestive (restless, brightly-lit, high-population – Wolfe lives in New York City – not really comparable to Varèse’s Amériques but it came to mind, so too Christopher Rouse’s music) and more and more ear-grabbing and exhilarating as it neared its twenty minutes, stopping abruptly rather than ending with resolution. Maybe a second listen will sort that conundrum out.

Tchaikovsky’s Dante-inspired Francesca da Rimini was given a dramatic and intense outing, theatrically tempestuous at a furious tempo, the only respite coming during the central clarinet-cued panel, seductively introduced, when the adulterous Francesca and her lover Paolo find a temporary shelter amidst their Hellish surroundings to express their mutual affection, shaped and shaded most sensitively here, rising to a passionate climax before the maelstrom returns and the pair are condemned to continue their ‘no way out’ existence, graphically painted by Petrenko and the Berliners, uncompromisingly emphatic.

Lisa Streich

ISHJÄRTA, commissioned by the Berliner Philharmoniker Foundation (Première)

Julia Wolfe

Pretty, commissioned by the Berliner Philharmoniker Foundation, the Houston Symphony, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (Première)