Sorabji’s 6th Symphony for piano

I recently gave the first ever performances of this piece: the world premiere in ‘S-Hertogenbosch, NL, then the UK premiere in Oxford. It was quite an experience playing this work, especially in Oxford when the dedicatee Alistair Hinton was among the audience. Needless to say, he was hearing it for the first time.

A review has appeared of the first of these concerts.

Brabants Dagblad 28-10-2013:  THE PIANO HIMALAYA CONQUERED  

Powell treats Toonzaal audience with five hours of hypercomplex piano music of Kaikhosru Sorabji,  by Mark van de Voort

Den Bosch – Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji. A name for a composer that immediately evokes the wildest associations. And then they all turn out to be right too. The English composer Sorabji (1892-1988) has penned an awesome oeuvre. Exceedingly complex, painterly music where impressionism, hyperexpressionism, madcap fugues and his Persion roots are resounding. A great many piano and organ works, but also some gigantic orchestral works. Everything about Sorabji’s music is boundless. Not only in quantity, but also in duration. They are true marathon sessions. Music by a contrarial solitarian whose oeuvre is getting by and by disclosed.

Yesterday saw the belated world premiere of ‘Piano Symphony no. 6; Symphonia Claviensis’ (1975-76) in De Toonzaal at Den Bosch. Five hours music for solo piano, played by the possessed and inspired English Sorabji specialist Jonathan Powell. You have to be slightly maniacal if you wish to conquer such a Sorabjian piano Himalaya. In 2003 the Dutch pianist Reinier van Houdt threw himself five hours long wholeheartedly n Sorabji’s ‘Piano Symphony no. 4’. Powell was no second to him in this last symphony. A fascinating afternoon of piano music unfolded in De Toonzaal. A battle for the pianist and the small gathering of dedicated listening diehards. Powell was hardly granted breathing space: with Sorabji no simple repeats or prolonged sections of silence but unwavering fingerwrenching complexity. The lightning fast tempo changes and stormy dynamics appeared like children’s play in Powell’s hands. Sweat beaded at the temples while glasses were wiped. But the physical stamina and afflatus remained unaltered.

The first part already took over one-and-a-half hours. Extremely expressive music, an as listener you tumble right away into Sorabji’s stormy world full of peaks and abysses. Associations with the sound world of Debussy, Messiaen, Skriabin and Satie bubble up. Mercilessly complex but also at times surprisingly tender in expression. Delightfully decadent music of a composer who lives wholly inside his own head. Because of that, he doesn’t make things easy for anybody. The expressive, über-romantic music layers are stacked upon another and varied in such ways that at times one all but looses track. The second and third movements are more varied and belong to the best music Sorabji composed. The second movement even swings as in the animated ‘Toccata, but also manages to touch though a wonderfully serene ‘Quasi adagio’. With five amazing concluding fugues in the third part Sorabji shows all his capabilities. An unforgettable pianistic event.

3 thoughts on “Sorabji’s 6th Symphony for piano

  1. The review hardly begins to express the staggering impression both the work and the pianist made on me in Den Bosch! This work is possibly the (emotionally) most far-reaching work of Sorabji I’ve heard so far (and one of his best!), and the pianist played it as if indeed posessed by the muscal spirit of Sorabji. Definitely a performance somewhere in my top-5 of most overwhelming musical experiences ever!

    What’s next? 🙂

  2. Dear Mr. Powell,
    Thank goodness Concertzender still had the “Sequentia Cyclia” up for listening! I only just now found out about it!–astounding playing of one of the composer’s most appealing works. Any chances for the same station offering the Symphony? Gallino? Salome? How about offering your performances for a fee as downloads. I, for one would be gladly willing to pay. Living in the USA (Houston, Texas), I can’t afford to just “hop the pond” whenever I’d like!

    Dace Gisclard (Mr.)

    1. Dear Mr Gisclard, thanks for writing. There are plans for Concertzender to broadcast all or part of Symphony no.6; also, I’m trying to organise performances of Sequentia cyclica in the US this autumn. All best, Jonathan.

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