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The Mahler Chamber Orchestra Premieres George Benjamin's Purcell Transcriptions, Three Consorts

Jul. 15, 2021

Three Consorts, George Benjamin’s set of Purcell transcriptions for chamber orchestra, will be premiered by the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and conducted by the composer at the BBC Proms on August 30. Performances in Hamburg and Berlin follow. The program centers around the eagerly anticipated world premiere of George Benjamin’s Concerto for Orchestra.

Of Three Consorts, the composer writes:

“Though normally played by consorts of viols, a degree of ambiguity regarding the intended instrumentation for these extraordinary pieces gave me the green light to make transcriptions for modern chamber orchestra.

These orchestrations express my intense attachment to this music while, at the same time, exploring – and, indeed, exposing – the fabric of its intricate polyphony.

The setting of In Nomine 1 is archaic in tone, except for a visionary moment of harmonic stasis near the middle of the piece. The cantus firmus is given to hocketed brass in the center of the texture.

With its mesmerising intersection of line and harmony, Fantazia 7 changed my path as a composer; this is my second attempt at transcribing it (the first, for the 1995 Aldeburgh Festival, was scored for clarinet, violin, cello and celesta). On this occasion, the orchestra is reduced to strings and a pair of muted horns. Most of the material is given to the front desks, while the remaining players (using practice mutes) sporadically surround them with a halo of sound.

This transcription of Fantazia on One Note emphasizes the wide (and enchanting) diversity of moods Purcell is able to conjure despite the unbroken presence of a static middle C from first bar to the last."


Listen to George Benjamin's Canon & Fugue (from The Art of Fugue), for ensemble (2007):

(George Benjamin/Canon & Fugue (from The Art of Fugue)/
Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra/Martyn Brabbins, conductor)

To learn more about George Benjamin, visit: fabermusic.com.

George Benjamin/Henry Purcell
Three Consorts (2021)
for chamber/small orchestra
2(pic).2.2.2–2.2.2.0–perc: t.bells / Korean temple bell / tgl–str(6.6.4.4.2)
All violins and violas require practice mutes, except for the front desks
11'

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