Review: Anno

First published in the Guardian on 14 November, 2016

At the start of Ken Loach’s latest film I, Daniel Blake, the beleaguered Daniel spends hours on the phone to the DWP, driven nuts by a chirpy holding jingle. Later we see Dan take a spray can to the local Job Centre: “I, Daniel Blake, demand my appeal date before I starve. And change that shite music on the phone.”

The ‘shite music’ in question is the opening of Spring from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons: overplayed to numbing point, life-sappingly familiar. Various musicians have made various efforts to strip back the naff associations and remind us that these four concertos are real and wonderful pieces. “Gentle confusion can give everyone a chance to hear something in a new way,” writes Jonathan Morton, artistic director of the Scottish Ensemble, and to demonstrate he commissioned sisters Anna (composer) and Eleanor (illustrator) Meredith to make an audiovisual work that might frame, refract and refresh Vivaldi’s originals.

The result is Anno, and it beguiles in exactly the gently confusing way Morton wanted. Anna’s remix avoids the biggest tunes. As a composer drawn anyway to fragments and loops — and who currently spends much of her time making romping avant synthpop — she hones in on the most tetchy, evasive and repetitive aspects of the concertos then dismantles and smudges them into plush electronic builds. More than anything else she’s done, Anno blends her classical and club personas and proves that the fusion can work. It helps that the Scottish Ensemble attacks it all with such nimble, kinetic energy, and that Eleanor’s visuals are such eloquent counterparts: animated watercolours projected onto massive screens surrounding musicians and audience, they are playful, redolent, occasionally menacing.