A composer whose music has been described as 'shimmering' and 'dramatic', Elizabeth Ogonek was a participant on the LSO Panufnik Composers Scheme in 2013. At the end of her time on the scheme, she was commissioned to write a 10-minute composition, performed by the Orchestra in a main season concert of the Barbican stage. This year, once again, Ogonek's music finds its way onto the Orchestra's stands, as we perform her work All These Lighted Things, commissioned while she was Mead Composer-in-Residence for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and premiered by the CSO in 2017. Here's a sneak peek of what's in store.
All These Lighted Things takes it's name from a poem by 20th-century poet and Trappist monk, Thomas Merton. The poem itself is a meditation on dawn, and a sense of relief that darkness is cast away. That translates into Ogonek's piece, a set of dances run through with overwhelming happiness and joy, she explains. Speaking of each movement individually in an interview with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Ogonek characterises the first dance as 'really ecstatic and very bright', while the second is a 'slow dance that only reveals itself as a dance very sparsely'. Of the third and final movement, she says it is ecstatic but in a different way. 'It's very much about the orchestra as a community. There are all of these different personalities that poke out of the woodwork, but then there is a big moment in the middle where you will not necessarily hear it as all these individual things, but as one big whole thing.'
The concert which featured the premiere of All These Lighted Things opened with Rossini's William Tell Overture, and culminated in Bruckner's Symphony No 4. In the shadow of such peaks, wrote Nancy Malitz (Classical Voice North America), 'Ogonek's work shone its own graceful light'. The reviews were in, and here's what else they had to say…
'The piece began in a lighthearted, exploratory manner, later to be interrupted by ominous lines.' (Carlyn Kessler, San Francisco Classical Voice)
Ogonek instructs the first movement of All These Lighted Things should be 'exuberant, playful, bright'. It opens with quiet detail in the woodwind and trumpets over barely-there harmonics in the strings.
'The juxtaposed themes and creeping transitions painted a real depiction of the human experience and our perception of the world around us, complete with moments of joy and sorrow, and maybe something in between.'
She highlighted that the 'strings, winds and brass played hauntingly beautiful melodies'. Perhaps like this one in the second movement …
A solo violin takes the melody in parts of the second movement.
Cristina Schreil also mentions juxtapositions within the piece in her review in Strings magazine.
'The wonder of the piece lies in its juxtapositions … with cellos asserting rumbling tremolos one moment and the violins gliding through a nostalgic melody the next.'
Tremolo passages in the strings are passed down the section, through the rumbling cellos to the double basses, at their height marked fff.
Schreil went on to describe the second movement as 'a dreamy delight. It feels forged within the inky dark of an ancient, moist cave'.
The second movement, marked 'gently drifting, hazy' in the score, starts even more delicately, with sizzle cymbals and rainstick in the percussion section, and passages in the strings marked pppp.
Onto the third and final movement, or dance, with a distinctly different opening from the first and second.
'After a juicy spotlight on the bass section at the opening, it grows to a near-cerebral level of detail, sounding like a bustling urban network that gathers more life as the morning progresses.' (Schreil, Strings)
The third dance opens with tuba, timpani and double bass, at first marked f, a marked difference from the first and second movements.
Many of the reviews, including Schreil's, mentioned Ogonek's use of percusson in All These Lighted Things.
'There's a bevy of textures rising up from the percussion section alone.'
A quick look at the instrument list on the first page gives a sense of what's in store, with instruments including burma bells, Japanese singing bowls and crotales:
'The music is driven by its dancing rhythms … and various effects in the percussion section, including a rain stick and clapper.' (Kessler, San Francisco Classical Voice)
A slapstick and vibraslap feature near the start of movement three, just a small taster of the many instruments the percussionists will use.
Even more than that, 'the strings added to the percussion section as well, using a 'snapped' pizzicato'. (Kessler)
The string section build to a tutti ffff snapped pizzicato chord (look for the circle symbol with an upwards stick).
There is plenty to look (and listen) for in Elizabeth Ogonek's All These Lighted Things. John von Rhein, critic for the Chicago Tribune, sums up why:
'Ogonek works painstakingly at her craft, and it shows in the acutely wrought instrumental details that pervades her 15-minute opus.'
Elim Chan conducts Elizabeth Ogonek's All These Lighted Things on Thursday 27 February, alongside a world premiere of previous LSO Panufnik Scheme composer James Albany Hoyle's Thymiaterion, Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No 3 with soloist Lukáš Vondráček and Suite No 2 from Ravel's Daphnis and Chloe. Click here for more information or to book tickets.