Fervent Fitkin London Prom premiere

Yesterday saw the London premiere of Graham Fitkin’s L, a fiftieth-birthday present for cellist Yo-Yo Ma, originally written in 2005.

Yo-Yo Ma / Kathryn Stott: image, BBC Proms

The ten-minute piece opens with an harmonically ambiguous cluster chord that hangs in the air, before breaking into a typically Fitkin-esque, rumbustious, rhythmically dynamic texture, in which agile cello lines are supported by a piano accompaniment of stabbed chords. There’s great rhythmic bounce to it, bounding along in a style redolent of Antheil’s Ballet mecanique meeting John Adams’ Road Movies, before the pace lessens as the cello introduces a lyrical melodic line, answered by some chuntering in both the cello and the piano in unison octaves.

A contrastingly still section follows, with the same bubbling piano texture now supporting a more contemplative cello melody; respite comes, too, in the texture, as both instruments move into a higher register. The piece becomes progressively more still, until a single, sustained note in the cello floats above slowly changing piano chords, before the unison chuntering begins again in the piano, forcing the cello off its perch and into movement. The piece races off in the movement perpetual style once more, becoming increasingly frantic until it gradually susides, fading out on a repeated pizzicato cello gesture and a hushed piano chord.

The nature of the ending escapes me, I have to confess;  I will have to return to it, to see if I’ve missed the logic of the final moments; it seems as though the piece has had a slow ending imposed upon it, rather than such an ending occurring as an organic growth from out of the preceding material, on this first hearing. (Listen for yourself and see what you think: it’s on Radio 3 iPlayer until Monday.) And certainly, at the age of fifty, Yo-Yo Ma shows, in this performance, absolutely no signs of fading away, such is the dynamic flair with which he and pianist Kathryn Stott perform the work.

Image: Universal Music Publishing

A new Fitkin piece, like a new piece of Steve Reich, is always a cause for much ‘fervent’ excitement – for me, anyway – and there’s more in store later this week, with the Prom premiere of Fitkin’s Cello Concerto, again with Yo-Yo Ma. Make sure you’re tuned in.

And here’s a taste of Fitkin at his elastic, rhythmic best:

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