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
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
Perth Concert Hall
24th November 2017
Two of the finest acts in traditional music came together for a spectacular evening of Trad and Gaelic music and song at Perth Concert Hall. Both Julie Fowlis and Session A9 were making a very welcome return to Perth, having performed as part of Perthshire Amber Traditional Music Festival in past years.
Session A9, a Trad supergroup if ever there was one, opened the evening with an eclectic set from an extensive catalogue of contemporary and traditional pieces. The opening set of “Wedding Polkas” promised a taste of the truly devilish fiddle-playing to come from Charlie McKerron, Adam Sutherland, Gordon Gunn and Kevin Henderson. These guys play with all the energy of a storm force ten and as tightly as any classical quartet. When slowing the tempo for a rendition of the exquisite “Sleeping Tune,” a piece written by the legendary piper Gordon Duncan, the band had the emotional range of a full symphony orchestra. A fine performance of Jackson Browne’s “These Days” let vocalist and guitarist Marc Clement shine out with a wistful voice that suited the song perfectly. On another Gordon Duncan composition, “Bellydancer” the syncopated rhythms of Brian McAlpine’s electric piano playfully shimmied between some blisteringly hot fiddle and guitar playing.
The traditional tunes like “The Miller of Drone” had a rag-time makeover at these fiddlers’ bows, giving them a freshness and feeling that these guys love what they do as much as the audience loved listening. My own feet couldn’t keep still all night!
Julie Fowlis is an artist in a class of her own. Her reputation as both a curator of historic folk songs from her Hebridean home and a contemporary singer-songwriter, pushing the edges of Traditional music into new territory, has earned accolades from the traditional music scene as well as admiration from mainstream artists like Bjork and Radiohead. Her voice has an absolute purity and a velvety smoothness that makes of the mainly Scots Gaelic songs a beautiful soundscape, so that language comes second to feeling the magnetic pull of her voice. She has the power to transport you to the islands and hills, to hear the sea toss and the wind blow over the dunes on some remote and wild island. The opening “Oran an Roin” (Song of the Seals), with Julie singing unaccompanied, sent a shiver down the spine. Her voice enveloped the concert hall with an otherworldly air.
Julie was joined by Éamonn Doorley and Tony Byrne on guitars, and Duncan Chisholm and local artist Patsy Reid on fiddles to perform songs from her new album, “Alterum” which sees Fowlis sing in English (and Galician!) for the first time. The beautiful “Go Your Way” and “Camariñas” (a traditional Galician folk tune) showed such purity and innocence, with understated accompaniment that only highlighted the strength-in-softness of Fowlis’ perfect phrasing. A Gaelic rendition of the Beatles’ “Blackbird” (Lon-dubh) again displayed how international the scope of Celtic music can be in the hands of an artist like Fowlis.
A warmly appreciative audience had the opportunity to join in some Gaelic singing – which actually sounded rather good! Perhaps it was the excellent sound engineering of the venue. Fowlis is a rare talent in a musical landscape already heavily populated with great female interpreters of traditional songs. If you get a chance to hear her sing live, grab it!
Reviewer : Mark Mckenzie
Stevenson Hall, Glasgow
Why write about a concert which has already happened? Play, literature or film reviews might help you to choose whether to buy a book, or attend a performance. But concerts are usually one-offs, so recommendations are surely less important than impressions. Here are some thoughts, then, on the inaugural performance of the RCS Symphonia, when Bach’s Suite in D No. 3 and Richard Strauss’ Metamorphosen were performed in Stevenson Hall.
I wasn’t expecting to find the Bach so engaging and enjoyable but it really was light, tasty and fizzy, with David Watkin constantly adding air into the mix and encouraging thought and direction into the positioning of each next entry. The famous Air (Hamlet cigars) showed off how special long notes can be if they are given the salt of direction rather than the sugar of vibrato, indeed the whole work showed off a wonderful silvery tone, without any vibrato at all being used. Though there was a wonderful sense of dance throughout, and no doubt because of that, I particularly enjoyed the final chords of each movement which were level and true as horizons at sea.
Metamorphosen for 23 solo strings could not have been more different. It was written in 1945 when the war Germany started had destroyed most of what Strauss must have held dear. The plangent late romantic string sound of the work is so beautiful, I’m tempted to say I could listen to it all day, but in fact I was ready for it to end when it did. The live experience was marvelous, however, and such was the richness of the musical texture that it was good being able to watch as well as to listen.
There was a casual vibe in the hall, mostly filled with students and staff from RCS, and it was a short concert at a time of night when neither work nor transport should be an issue. So, to contradict my first point, if you see the next one being advertised – keep the date free and go along!
Reviewer : Catherine Eunson
Perth Concert Hall
An entertaining night from one of the most enduring icons of the pop music decades. It’s only when Lulu stands next to someone on stage that her diminutive size becomes apparent. Otherwise, Lulu has a HUGE presence to match an equally charismatic voice. Accompanied by an excellent four-piece band, she gave a performance of real distinction that crackled with energy from the start.
Lulu strode onstage to warm applause, dressed in all-black, with a black hat and dark shades, like a blues sister. Indeed, her performance was infused with a soul-filled R’n’B vibe throughout. From the opening tribute to her close friend Bowie with “The Man who Sold the World” to a scintillating, bluesy “Oh Me Oh My (I’m a Fool for You Baby)” from her 1970 Muscle Shoals Studio’s release “New Routes,” Lulu let her blue-eyed soul roots show – a unique and powerful voice that hasn’t diminished one bit over the years.
Sharing stories of a career spanning six decades, Lulu had some real rapport with her audience between well-remembered hits like the James Bond theme to “The Man with the Golden Gun”, “I Don’t Want to Fight” (a hit for Tina Turner, but penned by Lulu following her divorce from Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees) and “To Sir with Love”. These classics were given a soulful treatment that suits Lulu’s delivery well. “Relight my Fire”, a number one hit with Take That, had the audience up on their feet as Lulu playfully teased a cheeky dance out of them.
The band gave a powerful performance of the Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks classic “Stop Dragging my Heart Around”, which, like the original, smouldered with R&B sensuality. Lulu’s band are a talented ensemble, they play tight and rock loud! Of course, no Lulu concert would be complete without “Shout!”, the hit that catapulted the fifteen-year-old Scots girl to fame. The audience went wild in the aisles for it.
Called for encore, Lulu was joined by superb support act Chloe Reynolds to give a spine-tingling rendition of “Amazing Grace”. Once again, Lulu’s soulful voice gave the familiar song a gospel choir edge. The audience, a surprising mix of ages, showed Lulu and band a well-deserved appreciation for an outstanding show. Get along to see her perform, and you’ll be guaranteed a thrilling night that really is “all about the music”.
Reviewer : Mark Mackenzie
Glasgow City Halls
This is a concert review, but imagine for a moment you’re looking into a wood through a window. Step outside into the trees and you’re in a world of sound; of snaps and creaks, rushing leaves, and from near and far the conversation of birds. Last night’s vivid Hear and Now: Matthias Pintscher conducts concert with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra was definitely an ‘outside in the forest’ experience, partly thanks to the City Halls’ fabulous acoustics, but mainly due to the compositions and their excellent re-creation by Pintscher and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. The ecosystem of orchestral colour throughout was fabulous, with percussion spotters in particular being richly rewarded.
In Siddartha by Claude Vivier the orchestra was divided into groups with physical distance enabling instruments of the same type to dialogue across the stage with each other, or unison duets (e.g. between the piano and clarinet) to fascinate. The programme was also jam packed with stories behind the sounds, the most famous of which was The Emperor and the Nightingale on which Stravinsky based Le Chant de Rossignol. Here I have to confess I lost the narrative plot, and was surprised by the quiet ending, having allowed myself to succumb to first becoming distracted and then intrigued by small extraneous sounds. Paper programmes make a noise when you turn pages… However there was something else – a wooden sound, was it someone’s seat? No, I reckon the back of the conductor’s podium creaked quite often, when the big man shifted his weight about. Which of course he did with the awareness of a dancer, and great charisma. But to get back to Vivier – what a piece! It shows off the sounds of the orchestra so well and is full of dynamic contrast, splashes of sounds growing in intensity before being silenced to a thud. Surely a worthy replacement for some of the tired but trusted works away from which programmers dare not stray too far?
The most contemporary piece of the night was Im Nebel (2013), a trumpet concerto by Hosio Toshekawa, one of Japan’s foremost composers who was born in Hiroshima in 1955. And it felt contemporary, the fog (nebel) of the Herman Hesse poem feeling akin to the enveloping contemporary angst of our information-overloaded times which held the trumpet in its thrall for some time, before the soloist finally managed to take some tentative, and beautiful, steps alone.
I could go on, there was just so much in this totally free, top quality concert. If you missed it, it was being recorded for broadcast by BBC radio 3. But to hear the true sounds of the orchestra in its native habitat you must come to the concert hall. The sound of the quickly articulated tubular bells sending harmonics bouncing off and above the busy brass and strings was only one of the thrilling highlights of this wonderful concert. And I haven’t even mentioned the sonorous tug and push of Takemitsu’s Twill by Twilight.
Reviewer : Catherine Euonson