With a debut opera for ENO in the pipeline for next year and residencies with both Wigmore Hall and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, things are currently looking bright for Julian Anderson. To celebrate this, Wigmore Hall turned 2 November into Julian Anderson Day, devoting two concerts and a talk to exploring his music. I didn’t make it to the first, but the second concert on its own showed that he is well worth all the attention.

So did the talk: Anderson’s copious experience as a university lecturer has clearly equipped him well for experiences such as this, and he guided an attentive, young-composer-filled crowd through a few of his own interests and concerns. Most striking was his welcome insistence on the openness of his music – like all music – to whatever interpretation a listener grants it: “It’s up to them to make their minds up”, he stressed, meaning listeners. Composers can intend whatever they like with a piece, but that doesn’t make others’ interpretations less valid; in fact, it’s surely this inevitable process of misunderstanding – the literary critic Harold Bloom calls it “misreading” – that keeps critical interpretation, and perhaps art generally, moving onwards.

Julian Anderson © Maurice Foxall
Julian Anderson
© Maurice Foxall

And as far as I’m concerned, this is what Anderson’s beautiful 2009 score The Comedy of Change is about, even though according to the programme note it’s about evolution, complete with a musical depiction of Galápagos tortoises. I like my reading because interpretation is a comedy of change, and Anderson’s piece, ever changeable, seems set on defying words or easy answers. The seven movements flit by, connected and yet totally different. As soon as you try to pin it down, it’s something else. It's music on edges, between things. Not unsure of itself, but comfortable in its ambiguity.

It’s a little bit similar to the evening’s world première, Another Prayer, a smallish but serious solo violin work which is a counterpart to Prayer for solo viola. Unconventional tunings for some pitches threaten to destabilise it, but somehow all the quarter-tones and so forth integrate. There are no histrionics or flashy effects, but it’s effective and beautiful, and a worthy addition to the solo violin repertoire. András Keller's performance lacked some of the lofty serenity it may have needed, but he still sold the piece effectively enough.

The other piece of Anderson’s on the programme was Tiramisu (1994), like The Comedy of Change, a piece for chamber ensemble vividly realised by a miniature Aurora Orchestra, Thomas Gould playing the concertante violin part, and conductor Nicholas Collon. Anderson’s programme note talks of its Italian title’s literal meaning, which he gives as “drag me up”, suggesting the way in which material is gradually accumulated through the series of brief, almost unrelated episodes that make it up – but some sweet overtones and a frankly alcoholic percussion part hinted towards a simpler explanation.

Anderson’s three pieces were complemented effectively though obliquely by works by Hans Abrahamsen and Salvatore Sciarrino. Abrahamsen’s Walden, a wind quintet, is a marvellously soft tribute to Thoreau’s famous book with a crazy, cheeky final movement. Sciarrino’s …da una Divertimento – the only two movements of it which have been published, anyway – takes the traditional forms of the Romanze and the Scherzo, and swaps the set of pitched notes that you’d generally expect for a vexing litany of soft rustles and murmurs. It was hard to discern any direct links between these pieces and Anderson’s, but it was also hard not to enjoy them anyway.

Collon conducted an energetic account of the Sciarrino with great clarity, and the Aurora Orchestra players sounded on top form once again – I can’t better Jaime Robles’ description of them as “kickass”. This was a great success of a concert, enthusiastically received and very well attended despite stern competition from various other enticing bits of modern repertory elsewhere in town (Anderson was head to head with his former teacher Tristan Murail, whose new piece was premièred at the Barbican – and Anderson may have come out on top). In a sense, though, this is all a warm-up to Thebans at ENO next May – mark those diaries now.