Stephen Bryant

The British violinist, and one of the two leaders of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, on giving the UK premiere of Detlev Glanert's Music for Violin and Orchestra


Can you give us a flavour of Glanert's Music for Violin and Orchestra?

It’s based on some poems by the German lyric poet Rainer Maria Rilke, the Sonnets to Orpheus. They’ve got two main themes: the outdoors, and the passage of time and the fading of memory. The piece is about 20 minutes long, quite lyrical and very virtuosic.

Glanert seems to be quite fond of animal-related music. He composed a piece called Theatrum Bestiarum, and there’s quite a lot of animal-type noises in this Concerto. It’s a bit like being in the middle of an overgrown jungle, with rustlings in the undergrowth. There’s birdsong in the flutes for instance, and in the solo violin part there are a lot of imitations of breezes and winds. 

How did you come to be involved with the UK premiere?

At the 2009 Proms the BBC Symphony Orchestra (SO) was doing a piece of Glanert’s, Shoreless River, and I was leading. I was already thinking of looking for a contemporary concerto to play with the BBC SO, and I really liked Glanert's music. I met him then, and when I looked the score I just thought this was the one I wanted to do.

The Concerto was actually given its world premiere back in 1996. Why do you think it's taken so long for it to be performed in the UK?

It’s peculiar as it’s a very good piece. I can’t think of any explanation, except that it’s extremely difficult! But then there are a number of difficult concertos out there and people play them.

But there’s an interesting comparison with the Korngold Violin Concerto. Many years ago I gave the first British performance of the Korngold, which is a fantastic piece. Yet although it had been given a first performance by Jascha Heifetz in the 1940s in America, it had never been played in this country. It’s incredible. No one had really heard of it then. You couldn’t get the music here, and I had to get the music from America.

I’m hoping this will be sort of similar, as the Glanert isn’t known, but maybe it’ll take off and lots of people will play it, as has happened with the Korngold.  

Do you have a favourite moment in the Glanert Concerto?

I like the ending actually, because the music has been slightly mad and frenzied up until that point, and then it suddenly dissolves into comparative calm, and is pretty Romantic really. It's like a thing that Martinů does in his violin compositions quite often – they go all over the shop for a while and then suddenly come together in this beautiful, lyrical ending. 

What's it like to swap the leader's chair for the soloist's spotlight?

It’s different in the obvious way that when you’re leading you’re responsible for everybody else. When you’re playing a concerto you can be a lot more selfish. I have done it quite a lot of times, so it won’t be strange from that point of view. Also, I’m playing with the orchestra I love and know, and the one that’s probably better than any other at playing contemporary works, so I’m kind of laughing from that point of view.

Interview by Rebecca Franks

Stephen Bryant performs Glanert's Violin Concerto at the Barbican in London on Friday 11 February