Mak­ing mu­sic with mean­ing

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE -

in­skaya, was pre­miered at the Proms in 1989 and led di­rectly to MacMil­lan com­mis­sion­ing The Ju­das Tree – “My jaw ab­so­lutely hit the floor,” Elias re­mem­bers.

While the Ra­tushin­skaya Songs and The Ju­das Tree dealt with har­row­ing emo­tions, Elias’s use of Jewish ideas has been al­to­gether gen­tler. Be­sides L’Ey­lah, he wrote a piece for the un­likely mix of so­prano and hurdy-gurdy based on The Song of Solomon, and in 2004, A Tal­is­man, a set­ting of He­brew texts for bass-bari­tone and cham­ber orches­tra. “Among my mother’s things after she died I found a tal­is­man, an Iraqi Jewish mid-19th-cen­tury piece of sil­ver full of in­scrip­tions,” he says. “I was in­trigued and wanted to find out more.” A pro­fes­sor from Jerusalem Univer­sity helped to iden­tify its con­tent, which in­cluded quo­ta­tions from the Psalms, mys­te­ri­ous Kab­bal­is­tic phrases and the begin­ning of the First Book of Moses. This work is on the new NMC re­lease.

Usu­ally, though, Elias’s mu­sic is ab­stract. “I’ve al­ways writ­ten very or­gan­i­cally,” he says, “and very in­stinc­tu­ally. My need to com­mu­ni­cate is greater than my need to push in­stru­men­tal­ists to ex­tremes, so I only use ex­tended tech­niques if it’s nec­es­sary for ex­pres­sive pur­poses.” The pared-down pu­rity of ap­proach is per­haps re­flected in the fact that when Ni­cholas Daniel asked for an oboe quin­tet, Elias sug­gested a quar­tet in­stead, “be­cause what on earth do you do with the sec­ond vi­olin?”

The re­sult — a quin­tet after all — has de­lighted the oboist. “Brian’s work is beau­ti­fully wrought,” Daniel says. “The ar­gu­ments he makes in­side the piece are fierce and in­tel­lec­tual, yet it’s pure mu­sic with no stated nar­ra­tive. It has a par­tic­u­larly strong line, while re­tain­ing a beau­ti­ful ear for colour. I’m es­pe­cially proud to play it as Brian only writes about one work a year. I con­sider him one of Bri­tish mu­sic’s great­est trea­sures.” One work was for so­prano and hur­dygurdy

Brian Elias’s Oboe Quin­tet is at the Wig­more Hall on

19 April at

1pm. Box of­fice: 020

7935 2141

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