BBC Symphony Orchestra / David Robertson
- Friday, 4 September 2009
The sound of Nomos Gamma turns space into an experience. The orchestral instruments are distributed throughout the concert hall, and surround the listener. The music does not preach, but draws the listener into its centre of force, out of which the music unfolds into ritual. Nomos Gamma responds to an eruption of catastrophes – which shaped the experiences of the generation of World War II – especially the victims of persecution. In the summer of 1945 a similar consideration must have led Shostakovich, in his 9th symphony, not to fulfil official expectations of monumentality and triumphalism. He took himself to the other side of great gestures and poses of victory, to where the experience of the majority of people is experienced, and »raised his voice with the harshness of an intuitive Narodnik« (S. Wolkow). Victors are celebrated with triumphal tones; but victories of militarism and power do not necessarily signify victories of humanity.
A reflection on death and evanescence may have a civilising effect on humanity and may impede the hubris of power and violence. That is the reason why paintings about death and the realm of the dead have also always contained projections of ideas of life and of purification. Arnold Böcklin’s painting Isle of the Dead inspired many musicians to write tone poems, which reflects the darkness and also the glaring white shining out of it. Rachmaninov gave artistic form first and foremost to an essential mood, and to the idea of crossing into the unknown, into uncertainty. Xenakis’ composition Ais (another term for the antique underworld, locus of the afterlife) has, however, always similarly been understood in the sense that through a preoccupation with death a will to live has articulated itself more clearly.
Iannis Xenakis [1922–2001]
Nomos Gamma for orchestra [1967–68]
Sergei Rachmaninov [1873–1943]
The Death Island 
Symphonic poem after Arnold Böcklin op. 29
Aïs for baritone, percussion solo and orchestra 
on texts by Homer and Sappho
Dmitri Shostakovich [1906–1975]
Symphony No. 9 in E flat major op. 70