Tipping the balance Sir Michael’s way in Brighton

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Sir Michael Tippett’s works have seen a little bit of a dip in interest since his death in 1998.

But as West Chiltington-born conductor Sian Edwards suggests, that simply makes his rediscovery all the more rewarding.

“After his death, there was a bit of a lull in performances, but there does seem to be now a new burst of interest,” Sian says. “I think that is always going to be the case. You just won’t hear for a while and then it is ‘Wow!’

“I think the difficulty is that his music is difficult. The work of Britten is wonderfully practical but with Tippett, there is always a struggle to get it to work. You have to make it work. It needs more rehearsal. It’s harder to realise and I think a lot of people rather gird their loins when they approach it.”

But again, that simply makes the rewards all the greater - as Sian hopes will be the case when she conducts Tippett’s King Priam for the Brighton Festival, on Sunday, May 27 at 7pm in the Concert Hall, Brighton Dome.

It’s a piece depicting the “eternal impulses and inherent futilities of war-making” - and therefore bound to strike a contemporary chord in this 50th-anniversary concert performance.

When King Priam is confronted with an impossible decision – to kill his baby son or face his (and Troy’s) own destruction (as foretold in Hecuba’s dream), the seeds are sown for a brutal tale of betrayal, vengeance and human suffering.

Based on Homer’s Iliad and first performed to coincide with the reconsecration of the rebuilt Coventry Cathedral in 1962, King Priam explores personal and political struggles in making moral choices.

Lewes-based Sian says she has conducted Tippett’s work whenever the possibility has arisen: “Partly it’s the sound world that attracts, but there are actually different phases to his composing career which gives quite different pieces. The early stuff is very rich in sonority, in a way a direct descendant of Elgar and Vaughan Williams.

“But this more austere music of King Priam and the work of the 1960s also has an incredible vibrancy and energy. The sparseness in the writing for King Priam gives it an extra edge.”

This Brighton Festival performance features the talents of both Brighton Festival Chorus and the Britten Sinfonia, plus bass Brindley Sherratt.