In his relationship with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, conductor Jac van Steen’s championing of a younger generation of Welsh composers is remarkable. His vigour and commitment constitutes its own advocacy. The new clarinet concerto by Mark David Boden (not to be confused with Mark Bowden, former BBC NOW composer-in-residence and member of the Camberwell Composers’ Collective) was written for the orchestra’s principal clarinettist Robert Plane. By way of invoking common ground, Boden homed in on their shared passion for running in movements entitled Adrenaline, Isotonic, Threshold and Hypertension. Rather than elevated in aesthetic or philosophical terms, this was hyper-energetic, brimful with motor energy, with Plane’s tireless virtuosity speaking for itself.
Sarah Lianne Lewis chooses evocative titles. Her 2017 piece Is There No Seeker of Dreams That Were? took its title from the American poet Cale Young Rice’s New Dreams for Old, and sought instrumental colours to reflect his themes of loss and grief. Lewis was particularly concerned to convey the waves of emotion that rise with their own uncontrollable dynamic, and the inherent austerity of this vein carried more force than the moments of ostensibly consoling tonality.
Guto Puw’s Camouflage was also premiered, a piece in which textures and characteristic sounds merged and re-emerged in the overall picture, as in nature. The music’s constant ebb and flow always held the ear. It was also rather telling that Puw, in his deeply instinctive pursuit of a higher integrity and purity, was unafraid to camouflage himself. Large-scale works by Alun Hoddinott and Michael Berkeley, showcasing what is stylistically a brilliant chameleon ensemble, completed an invigorating evening.