First published in The Herald on 26 March, 2014
Emahoy Tsegue-Maryam Guebrou is a 90-year-old Ethiopian nun whose piano music is like none other: bluesy, spiritual and spacious, it’s music rooted in the unique traditions of Addis Ababa yet also timeless and placeless. For nearly three decades Emahoy has lived in a monastery in Jerusalem, where last year the Israeli musician Maya Dunietz helped her publish her compositions. Dunietz performs some of these composition at the closing concert of Counterlflows in what should be a rare insight into the music of an Ethiopian master. Glad Cafe, Sunday
First published in the Guardian on 24 March, 2014
Susanna Malkki has a knack for weightlessness. The Finnish conductor brings luminosity to the darkest score and somehow makes a sprawling symphony orchestra sound feather-light. In this concert she drew the most poised and delicate playing I’ve ever heard from the strings of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and a terrific all-round clarity. There wasn’t enough brawn for the programme’s Russian repertoire, but the sound was just right for the UK premiere of a finespun work by Malkki’s compatriot, Kaaija Saariaho.
First published in the Guardian on 23 March, 2014
With its regular home (the Theatre Royal) currently under construction, Scottish Opera migrated south across the Clyde to the Citizens Theatre for its latest production. It’s a revival of Dominic Hill’s Macbeth, originally a 2005 touring piece that uses seven singers to cover cast and chorus. Instead of Verdi’s full orchestra we get a chamber ensemble â€“ an awkward compromise in terms of timbre and balance. I wonder why the company didn’t just choose an opera that was written for smaller forces in the first place.
First published in The Big Issue, 23-30 March
Polar Bear is London’s fiercely imaginative jazz-ish five-piece led by drummer Seb Rochford. Their new album is called In Each and Every One and it’s a dazzling listen. The first track, Open See, takes us hazily down the rabbit hole, where we’re immersed in a roaming, grooving, outlandish world of catchy beats, staunch folk tunes, nightmarish episodes and daft synth-pop. It’s kaleidoscopic and never trite; Rochford and company play clever tricks with our aural perspective â€“ now we’re dreaming, now we’re right here and very awake. Everything is delivered with the classy virtuosity and flare you’d expect from this band. [LEAF LC 12877] No doubt it’ll make a great live show, too: catch Polar Bear on tour in Manchester, 20 March; Leeds, 21 March; Bristol, 22 March; Brighton, 26 March; Birmingham, 27 March; Nottingham, 28 March; Norwich, 29 March; London, 2 April; Oxford, 3 April and Gateshead, 6 April.
First published in The Herald on 20 March, 2014
Ten years ago the theatre director Dominic Hill staged his first Macbeth. It was a graphic, claustrophobic, psychologically dense exploration of Shakespeare’s play, in which characters wore combats and fought ruthlessly on modern-looking battlefields. The following year Hill directed his first opera, Verdi’s Macbeth, for a Scottish Opera touring production that roamed the Highlands with a piano and a tiny cast of seven. Again the setting was contemporary, again inspired by recent conflicts in the Balkans, and again the dramatic tension revolved around the characters’ destructively intense relationships.
First published by Sinfini on 18 March, 2014
Delusion of the Fury: Heiner Goebbels and Ensemble musikFabrik
Harry Partch had a wild imagination. Not only did the American composer invent his own harmonic system, he also built bizarre and beautiful instruments to play it. Delusion of the Fury is his final full-scale opera and inhabits a beguiling realm of myths and dreamworlds â€“ the seductive, haunting margins of reality. Cologne’s brilliantly gung-ho Ensemble musikFabrik rebuilt Partch’s instruments in 2011 when this production was first outed at the Ruhrtriennale; composer/director Heiner Goebbels has the creative mind to match this outlandish masterpiece.
First published in The Herald on 17 March, 2014
Kelvingrove Museum, Glasgow
With its lofty vaults and vast central hall, Kelvingrove Museum doesn’t make the ideal venue for every vocal group: the sound tends to get mushy, diluted or plain lost. But the Hilliard Ensemble isn’t every vocal group. For a group that cultivates aesthetic austerity they really thrive on extravagant echo. Their performances with Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek welcome resonant space like a collaborative partner. They’re never static, either: this concert began with Garbarek alone on stage and the four voices wafting in from all corners of the hall, setting up the mysticism that has become a key component of the Hilliard-Garbarek formula.
First published in The Herald on 14 March, 2014
Jacques Tchamkerten first heard the sound of an ondes Martenot on Radio France in 1978. “It was shocking: it was like nothing else,” says the Swiss organist, librarian and ondist. Three years later Geneva’s Orchestre de la Suisse Romande gave a performance of Olivier Messiaen’s Turangalila Symphony – a vast, ecstatic orchestral love song that features piano and ondes – and Tchamkerten was mesmerised. When Messiaen himself came to Geneva to give a lecture not long after, the young organist seized his chance and introduced himself to the composer’s sister-in-law, Jeanne Loriod, who was the finest ondiste of her generation. Loriod invited him to Paris for a lesson; he took up the offer, and before long he was hooked.
First published in The Herald on 12 March, 2014
It’s a big year for the Hilliard Ensemble. The all-male vocal quartet — iconic for their icy-pure tone, their piercing attack, their soaring, spacious phrasing in repertoire from Perotin to Arvo Part — turned 40 in December and are celebrating their birthday season with a 12-month global retrospective. They are also breaking up. Their last concert will be on 20 December, 2014, after which the four members go their separate ways. It will mark the end of one of the most distinct and ground-breaking vocal ensembles of our age.
First published in the Guardian on 11 March, 2014
City Halls, Glasgow
The occasion felt bureaucratic: a concert added to the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra’s calendar to mark Commonwealth Day, the arbitrary figure of 135 days until the Commonwealth Games kick off in Glasgow and the orchestra’s upcoming diplomatic tour of India with James MacMillan conducting. I’ll take any excuse to hear a piano concerto by Erik Chisholm, though. The Scottish composer – nicknamed ‘MacBartok’ for his pioneering integration of folk idioms in the early 20th century – isn’t nearly as well known as he should be, even in his home country. Three years ago Danny Driver and the BBC SSO made a superb recording of his two piano concertos; here they returned to the Second, the Hindustani.