First published in The Herald on 15 September, 2014
‘Re-defining the string orchestra’ has been the Scottish Ensemble motto for some time; more and more, they’re risking the kind of projects with the imagination and dynamism to live up to it. They’re getting out of standard concert formats and concert halls and determinedly crafting an image to appeal to a younger, hipper crowd. This latest venture was called 20th Century Perspectives: City Spaces and Strings. It was staged in a disused part of Richard Seifert’s 1972 Anderston Centre, that quietly brutalist concrete warren overlooking the throng of M8 interchanges just south of Charring Cross. A bar had been set up, lights were low, the Ensemble wore regulation jeans and trainers. Site-specific art by Toby Paterson feaured large, intriguing Perspex screens painted in primary colours and begging to be walked around, hidden behind, gazed through.
With their trademark gutsy attack and colours as bold as Paterson’s screens, the Ensemble played music chosen to match the setting. They gravitated towards the angular, the minimalist, the brutalist: sawed scrunches of Tüür’s Insula Deserta melted into Prokofiev’s fleeting Inquieto; the fractured interchanges and retro futurism of Xenakis’s Analogique A + B cut to snippets of Stravinsky and Britten. Ensemble leader Jonathan Morton played Reich’s Violin Phase passionately but without quite enough fluidity for the phases to shift seamlessly in and out of focus. During Philip Glass’s Echorus my eye was drawn to cars streaming along the M8 like a scene from Koyaanisqatsi. The dark thrust of Gorecki’s Quasi una Fantasia faded to Elgar’s fervently elegiac Sospiri, but the evening ended in dazzling optimism: John Adams’s A Final Shaking from Shaker Loops, radiant and brimming with energy.