Typically, concertos have a been a way to showcase the virtuosity of a soloist (every so often, multiple soloists) set against the spectacular, multi-dimensional canvas of an orchestra. Typically. But there is little that is typical about the Kosmos Ensemble. They are, indeed, a brilliantly untypical ensemble, who play untypical repertoire and with an untypical philosophy. The violinist (Harriet Mackenzie), violist (Meg Hamilton) and accordionist (Milos Milivojevic) who comprise Kosmos (who have, individually and collectively, virtuosity to spare) are fascinated to explore the relationships between classical, folk and world musics. Errollyn Wallen - one of the UK's most in-demand composers - has similarly been much-admired for her wide stylistic palette and her ability to somehow connect different musical worlds in ways that make perfect sense. So Wallen's new "Concerto for Kosmos and Orchestra" was always going to be about more than virtuosity.
"Classical music has often been inspired by other genres, whether that be Dvorak's deep forays into folk music, Vaughan Williams noting down the songs he heard travelling the British Isles or Osvaldo Golijov channelling music of the Middle East," says Kosmos violinist Harriet Mackenzie, "So we are excited to work with a composer who herself has such vast musical horizons. We knew she would create an amazing dialogue between the three of us and a full orchestra. The piece becomes a conversation about what music is and where it comes from, right there on the stage. Traditionally, concertos would have had an element of improvisation for the soloists, even if that was just a cadenza. Errollyn has been brave enough to let us improvise in the concerto, giving us a tangible freedom. So in this piece, I feel there is a real sense of continuing and expanding traditions as well as challenging and expanding boundaries. It's fantastically exciting to play and, we hope, to hear!"
Kosmos, each of whose members also has a thriving solo career, has enjoyed explosive success since launching nearly 10 years ago. Their two recordings have sold extremely well (with a third to be announced soon), while The Times's Richard Morrison wrote of the group, "(They have) telepathic rapport, dazzling virtuosity, serious scholarship, intellectual curiosity and impeccable musicianship. I defy you not to be mesmerised."
The new concerto had its world premiere last month, at the Jersey Liberation Festival, with Kosmos joined by the Jersey Chamber Orchestra. "It was a sensational experience," says Mackenzie, "The audience reaction was incredibly warm and we all felt part of a very special and thrilling new work. We can't wait to bring it back to Britain." The Chichester performance will be its first in the UK, and there will be subsequent performances later in the year at the Tintern Abbey Festival and the Beaumaris Festival (both with the Welsh Chamber Orchestra).
Watch here, the Kosmos Ensemble play the World Premiere of Errollyn Wallen's new triple concerto, at the Jersey Liberation Festival.
And watch their encore, Libertango.
The Kosmos Ensemble will play Wallen's "Concerto for Kosmos and Orchestra" on Thursday 5th July, 7.30pm, at Chichester Cathedral, at the Festival of Chichester.