Thursday, 21 May 2009


Sorry to learn that Nicholas Maw has died aged 73. This New York Times piece captures more than the London obits I’ve seen. Even past the decades-long stranglehold of the twelve-tone boys which cast Maw in the shade, our contemporaryites remained for the most part resistant to his long lines and lush scoring. Sophie’s Choice at the Royal Opera was not a great success with the press, despite the imprimatur of Rattle and Kirchschlager.

I wonder if this has something to do with the critical mentality that makes up its mind early on. For me, there were a few striking ideas in the first act – especially in the library scene, very touching (remember Meryl’s request for ‘Emily Di-ckin-son’ in the film?) – then a scherzoid second act to be forgotten. After that, Maw's mastery of the bigger picture took hold. Most composers who try buckle at the gates of Auschwitz, but Maw describes Sophie's ultimate nightmare and its aftermath in a great Wagnerian arch that I found compelling and, yes, very moving. Having written this, I discovered Alex Ross expanding eloquently on the opera's late return to Maw's best form at the time of the Covent Garden premiere.

It's good to be reminded, too, that the not-then-Sir Simon renegotiated his EMI contract with the condition that he could record Odyssey in all its ninety-minute orchestral glory. That’s a piece I’d still like to hear live.

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