classical music
contemporary classical

Varèse and Debussy: Microcosms

Part of Classical Season 2019/20

This event has been cancelled as we are currently closed due to the coronavirus crisis.

Recalibrate your ideas about sound courtesy of modernist pioneer Debussy, and Varèse, who liberated music from just about every convention going.

Edgar Varèse was one of music’s true one-offs – a composer who rethought the concept of organised sound and was the first to treat percussion instruments as the equals of strings and winds.

Like the best composers, Varèse listened intently to the world around him. His landmark score Ionisation describes a process of atomic fission using a rabble of percussion instruments handled with extreme care to maximum effect.

‘I shall think of Ionisation while the atomic bomb is tearing apart the inertia of the world,’ wrote the critic Slonimsky to Varèse on 26 February 1946.

Varèse went on to predict the rise of electronic music with Intégrales and to examine the nature of sound even more closely in Déserts, with a captivating, unearthly focus on sustained chords.

Even with the single flute of Density 21.5, Varèse manages to upend our expectations.

In this concert, Mirga Gražinyte-Tyla combines Varèse’s bewitching music with the orchestral score that many believe gave birth to modernism.

In his Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune, Debussy imagined a musical world in which absolute beauty took precedence over argument and logic. The result is a work with all the magic of a dream and the radiance of a light-filled painting.

Debussy believed that colour was as important as conversation, a concept taken forward by another French composer, Gérard Grisey, who pioneered the ‘spectral’ technique in which the timbre of the sound itself forms the building blocks of a piece.

The legacy of all those composers can be heard in the music of Rebecca Saunders, whose delicate exploration of memory and confidence, an invisible trace, was premiered in 2006.

Old or new, all the music in this concert offers an extraordinary listening experience – and a reminder that greatness never dims.

BCMG has successfully developed a loyal following that must be the envy of other ensembles.
The Telegraph
Gražinyte-Tyla seems to have that precious conductor’s knack of allowing players all the expressive freedom they want, while still being able to shape every aspect of a performance in exactly the way she wants.
The Guardian


Birmingham Contemporary Music Group
Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla conductor *
Jaume Santonja Espinós conductor, **


Varèse: Density 21.5 for solo flute; Ionisation for 13 percussionists; Intégrales for wind & percussion **;
Rebecca Saunders: a visible trace for ensemble *
Debussy: Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune *; Syrinx for solo flute
Grisey: Stèle for 2 percussionists
Varèse: Déserts for wind, piano, percussion & tape *

Dates & times

This event has passed.


Queen Elizabeth Hall


£15 - £35
Booking fee: £3.50 (Members £0.00)
£15, £25, £35


25% off (limited availability)
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Event information
Please note change of programme from originally advertised.

Queen Elizabeth Hall Foyer at 3.40pm. Young musicians of Birmingham Contemporary Music Group's NEXT training programme, conducted by William Cole, perform Varèse's Octandre. Free.