György Ligeti’s spherical sound-space composition Atmosphères is a classic of Modernism: tactile, sculptural music in which a finely woven fabric of sound without melody or rhythm seems to defy the laws of gravity. It is no surprise that director Stanley Kubrick used parts of the piece as film music in his space parable 2001: A Space Odyssey. With his later orchestral work Lontano, Ligeti developed his Atmosphères further, while retaining the basic revolutionary character of his spatial music.
Daniel Harding presents these two key works of the post-war avant-garde and juxtaposes them with a famous work by a fellow composer Ligeti particularly admired: the orchestral triptych La Mer by Claude Debussy. Here the ocean becomes a symbol of the elemental, immense and majestic. It is music full of sparkling details in colour, rhythm and harmony, unfurled in a staggering orchestral sound which includes harps, glockenspiel, triangle and cymbals.
The programme is complemented by two other 20th century compositions that have the sea as their theme: Jean Sibelius’s tone poem The Oceanides takes us into the serene world of the water nymphs. Benjamin Britten’s opera Peter Grimes is more sombre: mysterious deaths occur on the rough east coast of England. The Four Sea Interludes – from the opera – depict the sea as an expressive atmospheric image: mysterious, unpredictable, threatening.