Hear and Now – Scottish Inspirations


Glasgow City Halls
December 9th, 2017

Another free concert and another great treat. Two of the featured composers were born in Glasgow, three were in attendance, two of the pieces were BBC commissions and three were world or Scottish premieres. The Gokstad Ship by Aberdeen born John MacLeod was inspired by a Viking ship in a museum which had previously lain buried in Norway for around 1000 years. At his composition’s climax its beautiful keel could easily be imagined, cutting through the spray on a fine morning, even though MacLeod envisaged the journey being to the Viking underworld. Throughout the work, conducted and unconducted sections alternate. To me this evoked the fine balancing involved both in boat building and sailing. Also the uncertainty of where now the boat really exists – in the past or the present, in reality or in myth?

Myth and ritual ran all through the final work, Beltane, by Anna Clyne, with its long programme note describing the Beltane Fire Festival events which take place in Edinburgh every year, around which the music was composed. There was great charm in the second movement, as the piece progressed through changing lighting colours and the recorded sound of birdsong. This allowed emotional engagement, whilst the first movement had left me impressed but somewhat uninvolved.  The triumphant end certainly hit a sweet spot in every way and demanded a rousing cheer. Hopefully someday Beltane will be performed in a context which directly involves live dance, film or fireworks to help the grandness of this music truly to come to life. Then I’m sure the cheer will be unstoppable.

Oliver Knussen was one of the composers born in Glasgow, though his family left soon afterwards. His Symphony no 3 is listed by the Guardian as one of the 50 greatest symphonies ever written, and as soon as it began one was aware of its compelling urgency. Here was a living musical world being presented to the audience. It had somewhere musical to go, and it took the audience with it.  In order to explore the destination and fully enjoy the trip, repeated listenings are needed, and at only about 15 minutes, this is perfectly possible. As with the other concerts in the series, the whole concert was recorded for Radio 3 and will be broadcast, and made available by the BBC in February 2018.

If a symphony involves creating and presenting a musical world, then a concerto is more about dialogue. William Sweeney’s concerto involved internal dialogue as well as interplay between orchestra and soloist. Brilliantly played by Yann Ghiro, it was intriguing and personal, with the clarinet encountering and incorporating ceòl mòr, jazz and romantic classical music. These musical styles, apparently so far apart, found their way together and the concerto made complete expressive sense. At one point the whole string section, on a strummed pizzicato seemed to taunt the soloist – perhaps to get him to come up with a ‘tune’? (And how often do people who otherwise completely accept the ‘modern’ in art or poetry, have difficulties with ‘modern’ music?) Thinking about the whole concert, conducted by Thomas Dausgaard, I enjoyed The Gokstad Ship the most at the time, but most look forward to hearing the Knussen and the Sweeney again. (By the way Sweeney was the second of the concert’s sons of Glasgow, having been both born and educated there.)

Reviewer : Catherine Eunson

BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra: Kozhukhin plays Tchaikovsky

Denis Kozhukhin

Glasgow City Halls

Nov 30th 2017

Take any class of schoolchildren (not that last night’s near-capacity audience contained more than a couple of kids); say from p5 upwards, and ask them what leads an orchestra. The answer might emerge, ‘The conductor’s baton’. Continue, in teacherly style, ‘But what leads the conductor’s baton?’ ‘The composer’s score? The conductor’s musical skills?’ Yes and yes, but the best answer might also mention the conductor’s ears! Throughout last night’s wonderful concert Alexander Vedernikov’s listening often seemed almost to physically lead the sound, ensuring entries blended in so that the story of the music could best unfold. Vedernikov showed himself to be a great story teller, and what marvellous stories Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich had given him to tell!

It was just the sort of night which might inspire a lifetime’s enjoyment of the sound of the symphony orchestra. There really wasn’t a dull moment, and after countless highlights (including an encore in the first half) the music ended with much cheering. The City Hall’s acoustic helped considerably, and I have to again mention it; one was constantly aware of being in the same room as every sound, whether it be a lyrical flute solo over pizzicato strings, or the terrifying dynamism of the orchestra at full pelt, loaded up with and deploying tam-tam, cymbals, bass drum, tympani, snare drum and tubular bells. You don’t get the sort of excitement I’m talking about in a recording, and as I’m writing this I’m wishing I could hear all of it, all over again. (It will be on, in Edinburgh’s Usher Hall on Sunday 3rd Dec 2017 at 3 pm.)

The attentive audience was thrilled (despite one sniffy comment I overheard – there is an attitude, best ignored, that you will always get), and went out for the interval, several voices humming the tunes almost involuntarily. Then came the Shostakovich. His symphony 11, subtitled ‘The Year 1905’ is really quite extraordinary. Very briefly, it was ostensibly based on the 1905 massacre of unarmed citizens of St Petersburg by Tsarist troops. But it was actually composed the year after the brutal suppression of Hungarian uprising of 1956. The story goes that one lady at the premiere said, ‘That wasn’t people being shot, that was the tanks rolling in and people being squashed.’ When relayed to Shostakovich he acknowledged the accuracy of the observation. In truth the reason that the symphony was able to face in two directions simultaneously is because of the terrible engaging dynamism of the theme of war. Instead of being sent to prison Shostakovich received a Lenin prize for composition. But the music isn’t too much, is not unpalatable. Children would like it, and I really wonder why there were not more young people there. There were a good number of students, but surely music teachers, tutors, musicians, parents, all those involved in the whole business of instrumental education can’t think that such musical experiences are unimportant? On the upside it only takes one such concert to be remembered for a long time. But this was one of the really special ones.

Reviewer : Catherine Eunson