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Venus Blazing
Deirdre Gribbin's new violin concerto, Venus Blazing, is less a terrestrial concert than an interplanetary event. It is staged in the stunning Baroque church of All Saints, whose domed apse is transformed into a temporary planetarium.

Gribbin, an inventive Northern Irish composer, exerts an almost Wagnerian degree of attention to every aspect of the performance. She has even designed the orchestra's glow-in-the-dark costumes. Director Lou Stein has overseen the visuals and Bruce Springsteen's lighting designer, Jeff Ravitz, has been hired to bathe everything in red and mauve.

This novelty could make it easy not to notice the music, but Venus Blazing turns out to be an impressively crafted 40-minute piece that steadily builds in momentum under the fine Finnish conductor Susanna Malkki.

It begins with the composer, in white face paint, welcoming us to "her planet". What follows is a discourse on the scientific and mythological significance of Venus, including the speculations of a 17th-century French philosopher that its inhabitants are "a people of wit and fire, arranging festivals, tournaments and dances every day".

Gribbin's model for the concerto is romantic - two long, introspective movements followed by a manic jig in which one can imagine those fiery Venusians partying. The first movement evokes the darkness and aridity of the planet's surface, and soloist Bradley Creswick mutes his tone accordingly, scraping out harsh, parched lines over the rumbling, sustained pedal points produced by the Northern Sinfonia.

For the second section, Creswick retreats to the back of the ensemble and intones limpid phrases against a wash of chiming percussion. The concluding alien dance movement unleashes fireworks, before the whole piece gurgles into oblivion with the string players progressively detuning their instruments as the lighting fades.


All Saints Church

2 February 2002 The Guardian
Alfred Hickling
  © 2005 Deirdre Gribbin  
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