Live Reviews

Review: Tectonics 2015

First published in the Guardian on 4 May, 2015

Rapt, intensely subtle, exquisitely slow, the music of Eliane Radigue was the heart and soul of this year’s Tectonics. The 82-year-old French composer was a pioneer of electronic music in the 1950s and for decades only produced synthesiser sound art, but it was her recent acoustic series OCCAM OCCEAN that featured in two concerts here, with playing of virtuosic control from harpist Rhodri Davies, bassoonist Dafne Vincente-Sandoval, cellist Charles Curtis and tuba player Robin Hayward. In shifting configurations they dovetailed ultra-quiet sounds to reveal infinite gradations of pitch, timbre and overtone tints, culminating in a glowing, graceful quartet. Radigue’s message is uplifting: slow down, listen in close and marvel at the radiant colours contained in the detail.

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Review: BBCSSO, Collins, Trusler

First published in The Herald on 24 April, 2015

On June 8 it will be 50 years since the death of Erik Chisholm — pianist, organist, conductor, concert promoter, musicologist, educator, Scotland’s greatest 20th century composer and a name too rarely heard, even in his home country. The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra is doing its bit for Chisholm’s weirdly neglected legacy: it programmed the Second Piano Concerto last year and now the Violin Concerto, with Michael Collins conducting and Matthew Trusler as eloquent soloist.

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Review: Oliver Coates

First published in The Guardian on 16 April, 2015

Oliver Coates mixes things up: a fine classical cellist who collaborates with Johnny Greenwood and Massive Attack, who reworks music by Squarepusher and Boards of Canada, whose website lists Pierre Boulez next to MF Doom. He’s of a generation of composers and performers whose horizons take in indie, electronica and folk as well as contemporary classical music, all of which chimes happily for those of us whose listening habits do the same.

But genre blending can’t work as an end in itself. This hour-long show staged by Glasgow’s Theatre Cryptic comprises eight short pieces, three with insipid accompanying video art by Laura Colmenares Guerra. With no real meat to the programme, no particular thrust or substance, it is weirdly back at square one, fixated on same labels and packaging it’s so self-consciously in the act of ditching. “Sometimes I feel like I’m wandering through a deserted video game,” Coates told us from the stage, which seemed about right.

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Review: Jenufa

First published in the Guardian on 8 April, 2015

“Don’t abandon my joyful stepdaughter,” Kostelnicka implores of the rakish young Steva at the heart of Janacek’s desperately harrowing opera. But Steva walks away, disowning his baby and leaving its mother, Jenufa, with options that are anything but joyful in a society whose women pay for mistakes beyond their due.

Annilese Miskimmon’s intelligent and sensitive new co-production for Scottish Opera and Danish National Opera relocates the drama from Moravia to the west of Ireland in 1918, where interior decorations and social dynamics feel unnervingly close to home. The first act plays out against the whitewashed exterior of a life-size stone cottage; later the drama moves inside to a handsome period kitchen, astutely rendered down to the Brown Betty. With heartbreaking empathy and an eye for subtle gesture, Miskimmon makes every character reasoned, every disastrous decision explicable, every relationship as complicated as real life. It’s like watching a troubled slice of your own family history.

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Review: Counterflows 2015 (Friday/Saturday)

First published in The Herald on 6 April, 2015

Counterflows is no timid affair: here is a festival that trusts its audience to handle what it dishes out by way of bold, borderline mystifying experiments in sound art. Judging by sizeable and attentive Friday and Saturday crowds at this fourth edition, the trust goes both ways.

On Saturday round about teatime I had my eyes cast heavenwards along with the rest of the congregation at Glasgow University Chapel, trying to make sense of unworldly sounds being unleashed by Sten Sandell’s organ improvising. He made the beast throb, palpitate and squeal; he was clearly drawn to its extreme ends, with notes so high and piercing it hurt, and so low you didn’t so much hear as feel them at the back of the skull. Down on our level, saxophonist Evan Parker kept things grounded with softer-edged lines and the occasional frenetic Parkerian blast, so irrepressibly exuberant he had to circular breath for long minutes to uphold the flow. I’m not sure how much of a duo this performance really was, or whether each musician was simply doing his thing in the congenial company of the other. Either way, that the playing ended just as the chapel bells chimed time was a nice touch of straight-up synchronicity after the fray.

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Review: BBCSSO, Litton, Donohoe

First published in the Guardian on 3 April, 2015

It would be a stony heart that wasn’t charmed, at least a drop, by the zippy, genial sweep of Andrew Litton’s conducting. Appearing here as a guest with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, he gamely punched the air at climaxes and pointed to the brass section for more — brave move, or reckless, in the dazzlingly bright acoustic of City Halls.

Positives first: there was nothing remotely ponderous or tortured in his account of Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony. The strings gave well-oiled ardency; the winds were sturdy and soulful — the Adagio’s clarinet solo a rare moment of calm — and the brass made for a blazing, nuance-obliterating finale. The problem was it was so much, so soon, and so very loud: exhilarating until it became exhausting.

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Review: Dunedin Consort’s Matthew Passion

First published in the Guardian on 29 March, 2015

Bach’s St Matthew Passion begins as though it has already begun. “Come, ye daughters,” sings the chorus over a churning, darkly surging orchestra; “help me lament”. From the opening bars we’re plunged into a drama that implicates every person in the room — Bach leaves no chance of bystanders, even if today the chorales aren’t quite the hum-along tunes they were for his original 1727 congregation.

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Notes from Bergen’s Borealis festival


First published by Sinfini on 16 March, 2015

Some contemporary music festivals are plonked into their environs and feed off the surreal energy of culture clash and downright unlikeliness. Not so with Borealis, whose spirit of playful, wholesome creativity is surely a product of its city and those drawn to living here. In the words of Borealis’s new artistic director Peter Meanwell, introducing a programme of nine new scores and abstract films made by Bergen-based artists, “it’s amazing to run an experimental music festival in Bergen because there are so many people already making experimental music in Bergen.”

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Review: RSNO, Søndergård, Kriikku

First published in the Guardian on 9 March, 2015

There are no cheap thrills from Thomas Søndergård, principal guest conductor of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Even in a programme as potentially overwhelming as this — the sensory onslaught of Lindberg’s Clarinet Concerto, Tchaikovsky’s blazing Sixth Symphony — the Dane sticks by his undemonstrative cool. He uses clarity and restraint to set up moments of totally frank expression. The operatic passion of his climaxes is irresistible, and all the more-so for being built without an ounce of sentimentality.

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Review: SCO, Ticciati, Capuçon

First published in the Guardian on 8 March, 2015

Franz Schubert began work on his Ninth Symphony in 1825, the year after Beethoven unleashed his own great Ninth on the world. Schubert wasn’t shy to acknowledge the influence — he quotes the Ode to Joy in his last movement — and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra turned to earlier, brusquer Beethoven to set up this performance. Principal conductor Robin Ticciati takes the art of programming seriously; if there’s poise, sweep and astute detail in his conducting, the same tends to be true of the way he puts together a concert programme.

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