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Interview: John Harris on Crumb, Varèse & Andriessen

First published in The Herald on 7 September, 2016

“It’s all completely wrong!” says John Harris, co-artistic director of Red Note Ensemble, by which he really means it is all completely right. Harris is talking about the notion of staging George Crumb’s modern classic Vox Balaenae underneath the body of a Concorde airplane — which is what Red Note are doing at this year’s Lammermuir Festival in a concert at the National Museum of Flight in East Lothian: audience under the belly of the plane, musicians between the wheels. Crumb’s iconic 1970s score is as much a salutation to the wonders of the natural world as the Concorde is to the wonders of machine technology, and for Harris, a clanger of a paradox like that is an ideal place to start any concert programming.

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Review: Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra

First published in The Herald on 20 August, 2016

Mahler had dark things on his mind while he was writing his Ninth Symphony in 1909-10. Antisemitism had cost him his job at the Vienna Court Opera, his daughter had died of diphtheria and he had developed a heart condition that meant he wouldn’t live to hear a full performance of the score. The epic emotional gamut in the music — despair, resignation, twisted nostalgia, nihilism — eventually trails off into a silence that feels like the bleakest oblivion or the sweetest transcendence or, if you’re Adorno, like simply “peering questioningly into uncertainty.”

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Review: New Icelandic Voices

First published in the Guardian on 6 October, 2014

It’s tenuous to describe a country’s contemporary music ‘sound’ – most likely there are umpteen – and even more tenuous to ascribe that sound to landscape. But this BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra concert of new Icelandic works revealed a pronounced shared aesthetic among some, at least, of the country’s rising young composers. And call me prescriptive, but with their expansive vistas, subterranean rumbles, pale textures and chilly microtonal clusters, images of geysers and icy tundra were never far from the imagination.

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