Dennis Russell Davies and the Brno Philharmonic to Perform the World Premiere of Thomas Larcher’s Symphony No. 3
The chief conductor of the Brno Philharmonic, Dennis Russell Davies, presents the third symphony by the Austrian composer, Thomas Larcher, on Czech Radio. A masterfully performed work of art, it captivates the listener with its light in the time of the pandemic and commemorates British rock climber Tom Ballard.
A Line above the Sky is the name of Symphony No. 3 by Thomas Larcher, which was jointly commissioned by the Concertgebouw Amsterdam, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the Brno Philharmonic, Sveriges Radio, Symphonieorchester Voralrberg and Orquesta Sinfónica de Castilla y León. Its name refers to a climbing route that is considered to be the most difficult in the world. It was created by Tom Ballard, one of the most courageous climbers of his generation. He died in February 2019 during his attempt to climb Nanga Parbat. Larcher, who lives in the mountains and is a climber himself, was deeply affected by the news of Ballard’s tragic death and decided to dedicate his third symphony to him.
The symphony celebrates Ballard’s life, honours his memory and evokes the stern beauty of steep rock faces and snowy mountains. Larcher followed Ballard’s adventures and regarded the young climber as “an inventive, empathic and modest man.” The name of the route, A Line above the Sky, refers to a dream of life in the light of the mountain. Larcher’s eponymous symphony depicts the arduous environment of the climbing route as well as turning the mountain light into music.
The Brno Philharmonic’s chief conductor, Dennis Russell Davies, calls Larcher’s symphony “a child of the pandemic” as it was not only finished but also first performed and recorded during the time of the pandemic. The Brno Philharmonic used the opportunity to perform the world premiere of the composition when the initially planned premiere, which was to have taken place in May 2020, had been cancelled due to the Covid-19 restrictions. Inspired by his long-time friendship with Larcher and by the quality of his work, Davies was determined to present A Line above the Sky to the world, so it was first played on 5 February 2021 in Brno, where it was also recorded by Czech Radio.
Larcher uses unusual instruments in order to evoke the specific atmosphere of the mountains. Percussionists are asked to expand their sets of drums, timpani, cymbals and bells by adding ethnic instruments, empty barrels, baking paper and thunder sheets as well as flexatones, which imitate the whistling of icy winds. The composer places high demands on the performance of his work by notating specific tones for unpitched instruments. The orchestra’s principal percussionist, Lukáš Krejčí, says that he had to “grind the woodblocks so that they sounded the way they should” and to “play unusual glissandos on the timpani.” The orchestra is enriched by the piercing sounds of the cimbalom and accordion and also by the deepest colours of the contrabass clarinet brought from Austria. The brass players take bows and run them over the protruding rods of waterphones, i.e. metal bowls filled with water. These atmospheric but completely musical sounds carry us to the Dolomites, where Ballard felt most alive.
Davies emphasises that “it is extremely important for the composer to hear his work.” He has collaborated with Larcher for more than 20 years and in 2006 the composer wrote a piece called Böse Zellen (Bad Cells) for him. Davies perceives Larcher’s music as the composer’s reflection: “It is generous, innovative, spontaneous, but very disciplined.” Although Larcher’s home is a Tirolean mountain solitude, it is essential for him to be involved in social activities. He regularly argues against racism, oppression and social injustice in public. He has also founded two music festivals and keeps supporting young composers.
Time and date of premiere broadcast: 12:00 PM CET, 27 February 2021, Czech Radio Vltava
Written by: Tomáš Bazika
Translated from Czech by Jan Hokeš
1. Interview with Thomas Larcher
Thomas Larcher was interviewed over the telephone by music editor Tomáš Bazika from Czech Radio’s Prague studio on 15 February 2021.
2. Interview with Dennis Russell Davies
The chief conductor and artistic director of the Brno Philharmonic, Dennis Russell Davies, was interviewed by music editor Tomáš Bazika in Besední dům in Brno on 5 February 2021.