“I am not counting at all on the creative talents of the performers.” Lutosławski

This isn’t the insult you might suppose it to be. Lutosławski (Lu-to-slvouf-ski) made this comment in relation to his composition technique, known as ‘controlled aleatoricism’, where musicians have some rhythmic but no melodic autonomy. With this technique, influenced by American composer John Cage, Lutosławski brought the element of chance to his music – truly avant-garde when it was written in 1986 (the same year Andrew Lloyd-Webber wrote The Phantom of the Opera) and even to this day it sounds pretty darn revolutionary.

In Chain 2, which violinist Benjamin Beilman performs with LACO in September, the first and third movements and part of the fourth movement are played ‘Ad libitum’. In these movements the musicians are given specific notes to play and an order in which to play them but no rhythmic direction. You can see how this is written for the musicians in the photo below. The effect of controlled aleatoricism is summed up nicely by music journalist Tom Service:

“… you can create textures in which you know what pitches you’re going to hear, but not exactly in what combination or at what speed. It’s an easy way of conjuring a controlled chaos and a complex but relatively static texture”. Read his Lutosławski blog for The Guardian newspaper.

This is the first time LACO performs Chain 2, which was commissioned by the wealthy Swiss conductor Paul Sacher. Chain 1 was written in 1983 and Chain 3, also from 1986, concludes the series. Sacher, who commissioned works from Bartók and Strauss among other prominent 20th century composers, asked Lutosławski to write the solo part specifically for Anne-Sophie Mutter, then a young violinist who was making waves as a performer of classical repertoire. By juxtaposing Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 and Chain 2 – in this concert LACO goes on a fascinating, 200-year journey of solo violin writing with Benjamin Beilman as our guide.

In October LACO joins the Benjamin Britten centenary, but this September we first celebrate centenarian Witold Lutosławski who was born in Warsaw, Poland in January 1913. I’m imagining a controlled yet chaotic rendition of “Happy Birthday” – anyone ready to try Lutosławski’s aleatoric technique?! Let’s bring an original harmonic and rhythmic twist to that most famous of melodies!