Lisa Illean

In Milton Court Concert Hall, London, Sat11 May, 7.30pm, Britten Sinfonia and The Marian Consort present a tableau of ancient and modern music, inspired by the radical spirit of 16th-century composer Carlo Gesualdo.

  • Programme highlights include works by two UK-based Australian composers: Brett Dean’s gripping Gesualdo portrait, Carlo, for string orchestra and sampled voices, and the European premiere of a haunting new work by Lisa Illean.
  • The Marian Consort perform motets and madrigals by Gesualdo, Lusitano and Dunstable
  • Huw Watkins performs in the Illean premiere and in Thomas Ades’ deconstruction of John Dowland’s lute song In Darknesse Let Me Dwell.

In the madrigals and motets of the notorious aristocrat, murderer and composer, extremes of expression and harmonies are heard that even today sound fresh and surprising. Australian composer Brett Dean’s gripping Carlo for string orchestra and electronics paints a dark psychological portrait of the composer, and the motets of Gesualdo’s lesser-known African-Portuguese predecessor, Vicente Lusitano, provide more context for Gesualdo’s radical soundworld. 

The first half delves back further still to 15th-century Flemish and English music, including Ades’ take on Dowland and Illean’s new transcriptions of two Binchois chansons. It culminates in the newest piece in the programme, the European premiere of Lisa Illean’s Arcing, stilling, bending, gathering. This haunting new work for strings, piano and electronics offers fleeting glimpses of transparent tapestries of sound, asking the musicians to ‘detune’ and let go of the idea of a single point of musical reference. The work was co-commissioned by Britten Sinfonia, Ukaria Arts Centre and Finding Your Voice.

A special screening of cult filmmaker Werner Herzog’s idiosyncratic documentary, Gesualdo: Death for Five Voices precedes the performance. The film explores Gesualdo’s music and the legends surrounding his personality, his cursed castle, and the murder of his wife and her lover.

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