Four Hands and Four Voices

Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
Glasgow
October 22nd 2018


The Ledger Recital Room at the Royal Conservatoire is the perfect venue for the RCS’s popular Mondays at One series, with its striking open space and fantastic acoustics. For today’s performance (22 October) the stage was set with a grand piano and four sets of chairs with music stands. Entering from the back, the singers took their places – two male and two female voices, with the pianists (Timothy Dean and Geoffrey Tandi) seated at the piano – the four hands. They were to perform love songs from those two masters of the Romantic movement, Johannes Brahms and Robert Schumann.

A short introduction by Timothy reminded us of the power of music to express deep emotions and tell a heartfelt story which would include darkness and anguish as well as the transformative effects of love. Firstly Brahms with his Liebsleider Waltzer Op 52, a collection of love songs said to have been inspired by Schumann, whom he greatly admired. The lyrics are taken from folk songs and love poems. Schumann’s Spansche Liebsleider Op 138, is a cycle of 10 love songs written in 1840, the year after he married his wife Clara.

First up were Catrin Woodruff (Soprano), Lea Show (Mezzo-soprano), Robin Horgan (Tenor) and Rhys Thomas (Bass), rising to perform the Brahms songs in various different combinations – solos, duets, quartets, their voices soaring beautifully to fill the wooden auditorium. They sang to us, stirring and absorbing us, commanding our attention in a theatrical, operatic way. The lyrics flowed over us in a deluge of themes and ideas, with the backdrop screen translating from the German to aid our understanding.  “…if in her happiness, she thinks of me…” expressed all the hopes of the heart that love would conquer all. As I observed each singer I found myself transfixed by the power of voices and how each singer moved in different ways to reach the height and the depths of vocal intensity.

As we moved on to the Schumann pieces, four new singers took to the stage, Sara Neally (Soprano), Carolyn Holt (Mezzo-soprano), Matthew McKinney (Tenor) and Arthur Bruce (Baritone), introducing a somewhat lighter, livelier tone, giving us a fresh perspective on the familiar theme. “She’s as fair as the flowers, as angry as the sea” telling of the contradictions and unanswered questions that tormented the composer, and the irony of “I would have become a monk long ago if it weren’t for woman”. The vocals always being guided by the piano as they wove their complex story in different combinations; a solo here, a duet there, a quartet, an intermezzo where the piano played alone.

By the time the artists took their bows, to enthusiastic applause, I felt I’d been told a story encompassing whole lifetimes of emotion and experience, alongside some truly magnificent music, from slow, almost mourning, melodies, to great storms of sound or lively joyful strains which lifted the heart. I had found myself captivated by each singer in turn, fascinated by all the different ways in which they brought their performances to life, either solo or interacting with each other. The translations by Eric James and Emily Ezurt also enhanced my enjoyment, meaning I could enjoy the German culture while being able to appreciate the significance of the words. And then there was the piano with its duo of players, providing the perfect, unifying, final piece of the jigsaw.

‘Four Hands and Four Voices’ was the ideal way to spend 55 minutes. If you have an hour to spare at lunch time in Glasgow, take yourself along to the Royal Conservatoire for ‘Mondays at One’. Each Monday lunchtime is a little gem in itself, a perfectly formed one-hour chamber recital featuring world class musicians and the very best of music. Come along and be inspired, uplifted and refreshed.

Daniel Donnelly

Vieux Farka Toure

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Speigel Tent
Paisley Spree Festival
October 16th 2018


It was a great pleasure to be back at the Paisley Spree’s best venue, the fabulous Spiegel tent. A circular, swirling, special space with a spectacular stage surrounded by mirrors (hence the name), and with a great view from any perspective. The stage was set with instruments standing ready to be played, making the period of suspense as we waited for the music to start all the more potent.

Callum Ingram is a Paisley born musician trained on the cello and is known for mixing a wide variety of musical genres. Sitting down with his electric cello, he took the room by storm with highly charged vocals, the lyrics and melody strongly influenced by blues tradition. But his talent far extends beyond just one simple musical genre, including at one point a sound similar to the sitar. Having got us in the mood quite beautifully, his music introduced the main act for the evening with passion and a great deal of enthusiasm – Vieux Farka Toure from Mali, often referred to as the ‘Hendrix of the Sahara.’

Vieux sat down with a guitar and a mic and proved instantly that power in music does not always come with numbers. In fact, his musical grace somehow pulled us in to a far greater degree than more lively music could have. As he began to sing in sync with his guitar, I found myself listening to music that I had only ever heard in recordings, and like everyone in the room, was mesmerised and filled with awe and respect. His African lyrics brought a style with them that his melodies translated into something that was free for all to understand. This performance was pure, joyful entertainment.

We could hear multiple genres in each of his masterful nuances. Entwining them and using them to tell stories the highs and lows of his life experiences, understood in the universality of music. There was something pure and wise streaming from his fingers as they moved up and down the neck of his guitar. Later, he brought Calum back on stage and the two musicians jammed together, blending their instruments in a masterly way to fill the space with ever more intriguing melodies and new musical insights. They smiled in appreciation of each other’s skill.

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It was wonderful to walk into that famous tent to a warm welcome and an enticing evening; to be surrounded by music at its most meaningful and universal; to be glued to your seat by the sheer virtuosity on display. If you ever get the chance to go and see Vieux or Callum live, take it, you won’t regret it.

Daniel Donnelly

Let It Be

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Edinburgh Playhouse
08-10-18


In 2012 I saw the Stone Roses play at Heaton Park, Manchester. It was a wonderful experience, emotional really – finally, one of my favorite bands in the flesh. Somehow, I felt the exact same sensations yesterday at the Playhouse, when 4 talented young musicians replicated most meticulously what the Beatles would have sounded like. Here was had Ben Cullingworth as a bang-on Ringo, Michael Bramwell as John, Emanuelle Angeletti as a head-bobbing Paul & John Brosnan as George.

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This is the second incarnation of the Let It Be touring show, which includes a post-interval section set at John Lennons’ 40th mythical birthday get together in 1980, when the lads jam through some of their solo work. All in all dozens of classic songs were played immaculately , a key plus to all this was the hearing some of their later music live – the Beatles had initially quit touring after their momentous gig at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park in 1966, the height of Beatlemania. No-one could hear a note over all the screaming. They began recording some killer albums, & apart from a gig on a London rooftop in 1969, that was it for live concerts.

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To see some of Sergeant Peppers being played by the Let it Be company is worth the entrance fee alone. Meticulous costume work, sublime & visual treats & incredible musicianship create the perfect illusion. Despite George Martin’s profundity for overdubs & orchestras, the arrival of keyboard wizard (I didn’t catch his name) replicated everything perfectly. It wasn’t flawless – George Harrison’s accent, for example – but pretty damn close; all the instruments were played live, while the four tvs beamed love footage of the gig, or of concert crowds from the 60s & even adverts between set changes. I cannot praise Let It Be highly enough – what a cracker, & to see an entire auditorium on their feet singing Hey Jude was an even greater spectacle than the brilliant show I’d been completely immersed in for two & a half hours.

Damo

Gamelan and Piano : Wilson Chu and Gamelan Naga Mas

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Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

Thursday 27th Sept 2018


This Gamelan and Piano concert was chock-a-block full of treats. Here are four for starters; the celebratory atmosphere of a student’s final event; the attraction of the gamelan instruments themselves, before a note was even played; the professionalism of Wilson Chu (he should run a masterclass on how to receive and respond to applause), and the variety the programme packed into one hour.

Gamelan music, with its ancient origins, comes from Indonesia and is played on an orchestra of metallophones and gongs. It has a characteristically shimmery sound, as the instruments are tuned in order that the harmonics produced should jostle and dance against each other, this effect being called ‘ombak’.  If that sounds quite exotic, it is, but what surprised me was what a welcoming sound world the gamelan proved to be, with several styles sounding perfectly at home beside it.  I was even reminded of some Scottish traditional music (e.g. ‘The Joy of It’ by Catriona MacDonald), and of Debussy (not surprising, he was one of the many classical composers to love and be influenced by the gamelan). The gamelan-inspired piano pieces worked extremely well, and were tuneful, lyrical and sometimes flamboyant. These pieces for solo piano i.e. Tembang Alit, by Jaya Suprana, Java Suite by Leopold Godowsky, and Chu’s own Paraphrase on a Javanese Theme should be widely played.

 

The prepared piano piece by John Cage introduced wit and humour, as the preparations acted like a costume for the piano, so that it could play a new role alongside the gamelan with the help of many unusual timbres. You can judge for yourself what the finished effect was, but I thought it was glorious. The addition of voices allowed for what was the highlight of the evening for me, as the voices were left solo chanting a rapid motif, one of the deeper gongs came in with the drama we associated with gongs, but a lot of playfulness as well. By the last two pieces it was as if the gamelan instruments had really woken up, there was rather a lack of volume of the shimmering sonorities previously mentioned prior to that, and rather a lot of drum. But the last two pieces, by Wilson Chu and the leader of Gamelan Naga Mas, J. Simon van der Walt were a fitting dramatic and musical climax to a wonderful evening of music. Now listen again to the wonderful music of Wilson Chu and the Gamelan Naga Mas, and wish him well in the future, as do I.

Catherine Eunson

Neu Reekie #2: With the Vaselines, The Pastels & Linton Kwesi Johnson

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Leith Theatre
August 17th


With Neu Reekie events, you know it’s going to be an eclectic mix of performances with a thread of connection running between them, with a challenge to trace the links and currents between one and the next. The loyal followers of these legendary mashups of animation, music and poetry veers towards an artsy, Scottish crowd with plenty of beards, craft beer and irony. They are a chilled bunch too; able to stand up through endless off-the-wall animations as the warm up entertainment. The renovated art-deco Leith Theatre is truly a beauty of a venue, with quality acoustics, a domed ceiling and a solid, spacious stage. Founders of Neu Reekie Kevin Williamson and Michael Pederson are almost like a hipper, sweary version of Ant n Dec, rightly thrilled with their continuously impressive lineups. Big respect to them for messing with the territorial hoarding that can come with the middle-class dominated arts scene in Edinburgh, as they have been at the forefront of the genre blending that is rapidly becoming commonplace.


The series of short films kept us mildly occupied for the first half an hour, kicking off with an iconic Canadian animation Ryan about the difficult life of Ryan Larkin by Chris Landreth that won an Oscar for Best Short Animation in 2005. Das Rad, a clever, short subtitled German short film featuring conversations between rocks, was also a winner of many awards. An episode of the original Batman was next, to appeal to the nostalgia of a mainly British middle-aged demographic who could fondly appreciate the kitschiness that was normal to us as children. Molly Nilsson is a Swedish singer based in Berlin. With a stereotypically serious Swedish stage presence, her slightly stilted dancing wasn’t without an underlying self-consciousness. Her clear, strong vocals matched her neat and defined appearance. Her most recent album Imaginations was released in 2017, and continues the poetic synth pop that she’s known for. Tracks like Mona Lisa’s Smile brought in a reggae soundtrack that would neatly create the vibe to welcome the following act.

Linton Kwesi Johnson influenced not just Black youth struggling under state oppression and everyday violence in the 70s, but developed a cult following across the country, particularly among the punks and reggae lovers in Scotland around that time. Author of seminal collections of dub poetry, Voices of the Living and the Dead, Dread Beat An’ Blood, Inglan is a Bitch, founder of record label LKJ Records The crowd was dutifully respectful as he outlined the life and death struggles of the Black community in London in the 70s and 80s, and made sure to emphasise that the struggle is ongoing The poems he chose touched on many of the significant moments in Black Caribbean British history in the past few decades, from the infamous Sus laws, the sickening arson attack of the New Cross Fire that inspired the Black People’s Day of Action, the resistance and uprisings that erupted across the country. Without the usual backing beat from a live band or backing track, the silence brought a solemnity to the occasion. LKJ, now in his sixties, has lost none of his gravity, power and presence. The griot of our times, he explained how the original Windrush generation heroically endured a great deal of the racism coming their way, as they had to provide for their family and make the best of their situation. However, the next generation, born in Britain had different expectations and became the rebels, fighting for many of the rights the new generation take for granted today. He finished by making the point that despite all the pressure and struggles, what a victory it has been for Caribbean people on the 70th anniversary of the Windrush to know they have successfully integrated into Britain, to huge applause and appreciation.

Wishing LKJ could have still been speaking, rather than standing around watching more animations, I waited impatiently for the next two very different sets. There was huge anticipation for the doyennes of the Scottish ‘pop-punk’ scene, the Vaselines and the Pastels. The Glaswegian duo, Eugene Kelly and Frances McKelly form the heart of the Vaselines, an alternative rock band with an interesting history, a cult following in Scotland and a wee one across the water in the grunge scene of Seattle, mainly because their songs were covered by the legendary Nirvana. With a full band to back them, their lyrics are satisfyingly strong and clear, and the good humoured banter between them and the rest of the band likely a left-over from their former marriage. Crowd favourites like Son of A Gun and Molly’s Lips had everyone rocking and enjoying themselves. The band split in 1990 and reformed in 2008 to everyone’s delight. Think slightly jangly guitars, lovely harmonies, strong storylines and some cheeky banter.

The night closed with more Scottish indie pop legends, this time in the form of band The Pastels. Having added and shed various members over the decades, the present incarnation is formed of Katrina Mitchell, Tom Crossley, Alison Mitchell, John Hogarty, Suse Bear and Stephen McRobbie (who also founded the Monorail Music shop, a hub for Glaswegian music lovers). This performance brought a full ensemble of the 6 band members on guitars, drums, keyboard, flute and vocals. Kicking off in 1981, they became a staple of the British Indie scene in the 1980’s. Fading away for a while, they had a great come back with their 2013 album Slow Summits which was shortlisted for Scottish album of the year. For a band that’s been going for 35 years, with cult status among the Brit-pop loving Japanese, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a few more decades of quirky performance yet to deliver to their adoring Scottish fans, nodding blearily but joyously along right to soothing songs like Secret Music through to the end of the night. With DJ sets by Chris Geddes and Andrew Divine thrown into the mix, you can’t say this unique night isn’t great value for money.

Lisa Williams

Pussy Riot: Riot Days

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Summerhall

 Sunday 19th August, 2018


Seldom have I experienced Punk Rock with such potency and power. Possibly the most famous punk rock outfit in the world. Not famous for the music that they create, but famous for actually being Punk as Fuck. I mean these Girls really suffered for their art at the hands of the Russian Orthodox Church and Vladimir Putin. Imprisoned for two years for singing some of their songs in a church. Pussy Riot became world famous with freedom fighters the World over, campaigning for their release from prison, while also highlighting the Homophobic regime suffered by gay people in the Soviet Union.

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As you can guess, with it being the last of Pussy Riot’s performances at Summerhall, it was completely sold out. Luckily for Divine, He has friends in high places. Thankyou Will McC for making it possible for me. People were crying because they couldn’t get a ticket. The support band Swoon warmed the audience up brilliantly, they reminded me a lot of Modern day Gary Numan, only with a beautiful blond Italian on lead vocals. Indeed they rocked. Pussy Riot were then introduced By a gentleman, Explaining thus.

Alyokhina’s show is poignant, because she very nearly didn’t make it to Edinburgh. Last week it was reported that she had “smuggled herself” out of Russia. She had refused to undertake the community service given to her after she had participated in yet another “unauthorised” protest, and as a result the government had forbidden her to leave the country. In the end she ignored their orders, drove all the way to Lithuania via Belarus, and boarded a flight there instead”

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And thank god she did, because Riot Days is more than just a gig – it’s somewhere between a gripping piece of Putin-skewering musical theatre, an urgent jazz-punk book recital and a film screening that unfurls like a nerve-shredding thriller. With a cast of ever-changing actors. Turning their pain into an art form that vocalises the necessity for political change that is not too distant from the oppression of Tory austerity in the UK. These young people, all of which are under 30 years of age are such a massive inspiration for people to stand up and fight back. But fight back with Art as truth.

The performance is relentless; techno punk, with a story to tell. Projected onto a screen with film footage of Pussy Riots history and the English translation of the Russain Vocals being sung. The Dissection Room at Summerhall was packed to the rafters and every single person was immersed in the experience. Fuck the Spice Girlz. This was real Girl power.

Mark ‘Divine’ Calvert.

The Great Song Cycle Song Cycle

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August 20-25 (20:35) 

Triplex Studio, The Space UK


I have just witnessed one of the most startlingly enigmatic pieces I have ever beheld at the Fringe. An enchantress of astounding ability & a music-maker of kaleidoscopic proportions, Joanna Wallfisch wants to tell us a story. Caught with the restless spirit of adventure, she cycled the Pacific coast of the United States. ‘Your eyesight tangibly improves,’ she tells us, ‘from looking outward every day.’ We are totally at one with her, & can almost visibly see the mountain passes & eternal beaches she describes.

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A journey through the meditation of the road, adventure, beauties, strange things and people and more.
Read the full interview…

The tale is constantly accompanied by her deft ukulele work & her complete mastery of loop-pedals, which swathe her poetical words with a mesmerizing soundscape. Sometimes she speaks her simile-laden soliloquies, sometimes she sings her self-crafted songs exquisitely, all times she wears an expression of sheer sweetness. Joanna Wallfisch is a 21st century troubadour par excellence, a siren on the shores of sublime thought, & to see her perform is something of a necessity for those seeking beauty at the Fringe.

Damo