Antwerp Symphony gives wings to Van Hove’s Symphony IV

Sometimes you can hear from the first bar whether the collaboration between conductor, orchestra and composer is right. This rarity occurred at the premiere of Luc Van Hove’s Symphony IV, where the Antwerp Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Elim Chan, showed how energy, pride and pleasure can result in a gripping musical story.

On paper, the new symphony has a classical four-movement structure, but with Van Hove it is with a twist. The first three movements are short and seem to be sketches of the grand symphonic gestures in the finale. The finale, which lasts as long as the three preceding movements together, is both an enlargement and a synthesis of the earlier movements. The basis of the symphony is a division of the twelve tones of the octave into two complementary groups of eight and four tones. In this way, Van Hove wants to achieve a symbiosis between the traditional style in which tones are grouped hierarchically and a contemporary approach in which each tone is of equal value. As a result, the piece hovers between tonal and atonal organisation, or in Van Hove’s words: post-tonal.

The first movement is an andante in which the strings in particular announce with trills that the sun is rising in a mountainous landscape. Woodwind and reed instruments circle the strings with short dance motifs. Brass instruments remain in the background. In this movement, tenderness and modesty go hand in hand. The second movement is a scherzo in which the world comes to life. Wind and percussion bring speed and pleasure to the story and whip up the movement into a spectacular sound fest. Here and there, jazzy elements can be heard, giving the listener the impression that the story is set in 1950s America.  The quiet third movement functions as a moment of reflection, here the twilight sets in and the vibraphone points the way to a tropical sequel.

Dance party

The finale starts with a short look back to the atmospheric end of the third movement, via a short passage of the clarinet (Benjamin Dieltjens), to slowly build up to a dance party of percussion, trumpet serenades, timpani strokes and trombone outbursts. In the end, the symphony is swayed and carefully laid down in a confidence-inspiring cadenza movement, a cool-down that comes straight from the classical book.

Conductor Elim Chan led the orchestra to great heights with unbridled energy and inspiring expression. Sometimes she soared above the orchestra like an eagle, only to tumble down again like a seagull, focused and in total control. Her timing, nuance and sense of colour left a decisive mark on the listening experience of the audience.    

HEARD: Friday 11 February 2022, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Antwerp

PHOTOS: Antwerp Symphony Orchestra & Vincent Callot, Wynold Verweij

LINK:   Symphony IV can be relistened to on Klara:

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