Tobias Hume, Tectonics & other festivals

First published in The Big Issue, 4-10 May 2014

Tectonics is back (Glasgow, May 9-11) with another bold, off-message weekend that’s arguably the hottest festival on the UK classical music calendar this summer. Although ‘classical’ is a tenuous term here: Tectonics’ mission statement is “to perform as broad a series of works and sound-worlds that you are likely to hear anywhere”. Yes, there are orchestral concerts, with the host ensemble (the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra) performing new works by David Behrman, John Oswald, Georg Frierdich Haas, Michael Finnissy and more. But it’s the not strictly orchestral – the scrubbing out of borders, the lingering in mucky musical no man’s lands – that makes Tectonics really interesting.

The concept involves opening up an orchestra and its concert hall to experimental forces from outside of the classical sphere. Conductor Ilan Volkov launched the festival in Reykjavik three years ago and has since staged various versions in Adelaide and Israel as well as in Glasgow, where top of the bill this year is the maverick American composer Christian Wolff. “His work has been described as the folk music of outer space,” says Volkov, “which I think is a pretty good place to start.” Wolff will be in residence throughout the weekend and is worth travelling some distance to hear.

Sheffield’s Music in the Round Festival (May 9-14) offers nine days of chamber concerts hosted by the excellent Ensemble 360. This year’s theme is ‘love and war’ (show me a piece of music that wouldn’t fit into one or the other category) and there’s plenty of enticing stuff: Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin, Schubert’s Death and the Maiden, Schoenberg’s Verklarte Nacht, Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale… The list goes on. Guest appearances by the viol consort Fretwork and the soulful, brilliantly skittish klezmer band Moishe’s Bagel.

Meanwhile the Brighton Festival (May 3-25) is an altogether more sprawling line-up, with theatre, comedy, books, circus and all sorts. This year’s classical music component spotlights Harrison Birtwistle‘s 80th birthday. His chamber opera Down by the Greenwood Side (May 9-11) was commissioned for the 1969 Brighton Festival and first performed on the city’s iconic West Pier; now it comes home to Sussex, this time staged in the disused Harvey’s ale depot in Lewes. Think mummer plays and 17th century murder ballads. Also check out the Elias Quartet (May 3, 17 & 23), who close their long-running Beethoven quartet cycle with the mighty Opus 130.

CD mention this week goes to the roving Scottish early music outfit Concerto Caledonia and their new disc of music by Tobias Hume. We don’t know a whole lot about Hume, except that he was a soldier, a composer and a mean viol player. He left behind two volumes of beguiling music plus some cheeky tidbits of self-promo (“Hear the Viol de Gambo in his true Majestie” –16th century equivalent of a Tweet?). ConCal bring his tunes to buoyant, boisterous life, giving every note a spring in its step, while tenor Thomas Walker croons, cries and caresses the vocal numbers. Hume once described music as his indulgence – “my Life hath beene a Souldier,” he quipped in 1605, “and my idlenes addicted to Musicke” – and this recording duly conjures a sense of unmitigated fun. [Delphian 34140]

AND ANOTHER THING: The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and soprano Julia Doyle perform the songs of Henry Purcell in two informal London dates. Battersea’s Doodle Bar (May 13) and Wilton’s Music Hall (May 14).

GO TO: The BBC Young Musician of the Year final at the Usher Hall, Edinburgh (it’s also live on telly (BBC 4) and on BBC Radio 3). May 18.