Harrison Birtwistle is one of the major musical figures internationally and this concert sees BCMG and Oliver Knussen take a programme of his works to the Barbican Centre’s newest venue, in celebration of the composer’s 80th birthday.

An early breakthrough work, Tragoedia (1965) not only marked Birtwistle out as an independent voice but was also one of the first major scores to draw on what would prove to be a continuing interest in his music – Greek theatre, myth and ritual. Today Tragoedia is a classic of modern chamber repertoire, and like the most recent piece in the programme, Fantasia Upon All the Notes (2012), employs two groups of instruments, winds and strings, which are linked and fused by means of a third force, a harp.

All Birtwistle’s music is in essence a single melodic line that is filled out – a compositional trait that perhaps carried over from his early days as a clarinettist – and nowhere is this more evident than in the soaring lines he wrote in the opera Gawain, and in 4 Poems by Jaan Kaplinski (1991), written in its wake and here sung by rising young Belgian soprano Katrien Baerts.

Another of Birtwistle’s continuing fascinations, the medieval and the mythic, comes to the fore in earlier classic Silbury Air (1977, revised 2003), which takes its inspiration from the prehistoric mound of Silbury Hill in Wiltshire..

For this London concert the short but thrilling Cantus Iambeus (2004) for 13 players and the very early Birtwistle composition Monody for Corpus Christi (1959) are added to the Birtwistle works featured in our Birmingham Birtwistle concert on 10 May.

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