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