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Jack Schiller performs Of Paradise Lost

John Milton’s poem, Paradise Lost (1667), is the inspiration behind Australian composer Matthew Laing’s Of Paradise Lost, an evocative bassoon concerto that concluded Laing’s engagement as the MSO’s 2021 Young Composer in Residence. Conceived in 2020 against the backdrop of Covid-19, Laing’s work takes it cue from Milton’s legendary exploration of uncertainty and fear. Yet if there are thematic connections between Milton’s time and that of our own, Laing insists that ‘[t]he piece isn't programmatic; it isn't a musical retelling of the poem at all, but more reflects a relationship of the bassoon as an imperfect protaganist/antagonist to both the concept of heaven and hell as presented by the orchestra.’ Laing’s musical language leads us through an emotional labyrinth of the unknown and the apprehensive, as angular phrasings, harmonic irresolution, and virtuosic passagework fully exploit the bassoon’s timbral and expressive capabilities. The concerto, moreover, is suffused with a dramatic irony: the bassoon struggles in heaven in the first movement only to find peace in the second movement within the domain of hell. Having waded through the marshes of the underworld, the concerto ends in silence, at once unnerving and disarmingly comforting. In this world premiere performance from 2022, the MSO’s Principal Bassoon, Jack Schiller, joins forces with celebrated Russian-British conductor Vasily Petrenko to deliver an arresting account of Laing’s work.

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