As eminent British composer Sir Harrison Birtwistle addressed London Sinfonietta co-founders David Atherton and Nicholas Snowman on the stage of a packed Royal Festival Hall, I wondered whether when the London Sinfonietta gave its first ever concert 50 years ago to that very day, David and Nicholas imagined that their vision would ever have scaled to such dizzy heights. Now, undeniably one of the world’s foremost contemporary music ensembles, I thought about how proud they must feel to have had the courage to follow their convictions, take the leap, and do something they felt so strongly about.
The programme, which celebrated the London Sinfonietta’s 50th year, acknowledged the past but also embraced the future with great anticipation (the second half featured commissions and a number of world premieres by living composers with whom the Sinfonietta works closely). There was something incredibly moving about experiencing music composed by these living composers in their presence. Danish composer Hans Abrahmsen was welcomed on the stage to a particularly rapturous applause after the performance of his 2015 composition Left Alone. It felt really special to be there.
It’s as exciting to think that I experienced the world premieres of a number of works that could one day make their way into the canon as it is to consider how people’s tolerances and tastes have changed over the past 100 years. Stravinsky’s Octet (1923) conducted last night by David Atheron was written only 10 years after his Rite of Spring that was deemed so outrageous there were riots after its world premiere in Paris in 1913. Today, neither of these works would be out of place in any major concert hall. Contemporary music can still be divisive today, but isn’t half the fun of music challenging yourself to experience things outside of your comfort zone?
The London Sinfonietta has called its anniversary season ‘Unfinished Business’. The brilliant composers and musicians who have shaped the sound of the London Sinfonietta over the past 50 years have pushed boundaries and realised their visions and ideas, but there is most definitely unfinished business to attend to. There’s still new music to be made and people to inspire. The future of contemporary classical music is bright. I made a little promise to myself last night, that on 24th January 2068 on the London Sinfonietta’s 100th birthday, I’ll be there!
Click here to view a collation of all the birthday wishes and concert feedback the London Sinfonietta received - https://storify.com/Ldn_Sinfonietta/london-sinfonietta