Review: Tectonics 2014

First published in the Guardian on 13 May, 2014

There are some juicy anomalies at the heart of Tectonics, the festival of new music curated by Ilan Volkov and Alasdair Campbell and hosted by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. Take the last part of that sentence for starters: an orchestra, most 19th century of beasts, hosting indie icons like Thurston Moore and Richard Youngs? The BBC, most upright of institutions, printing off running orders for interpretive dances about fracking and art-rock concrete poetry? It’s to the credit of the BBC SSO that they allow Volkov to pursue his boundlessly gung-ho thing. Few other orchestras could collate such an eclectic programme, and very few could deliver it all with such unwavering skill.

Tectonics jostles up contemporary classical music with the experimental reaches of other genres. This second Glasgow edition presented hardcore orchestral scores by Michael Finnissy, Christian Wolff and Georg Friedrich Haas: his new Concerto Grosso No.2 was a highlight, all lucid textures and gutsy, elemental harmonies. I was thrilled to discover the music of Catherine Lamb, whose hypnotic Portions Transparent/Opaque painted vivid, evocative orchestral colours, while Exaudi’s astoundingly well-sung programme included Christopher Fox’s heady tangle of voices in Preluding and the mesmeric keening of Cassandra Miller’s Guide.

Richard Youngs bookended the festival: his haunting solo rendition of Spin Me Endless was crux of the opening night, while his surreal surround-sound D-Beat orchestration rounded things off. There was exuberantly daft sound-art from Edinburgh’s Usurper; a loveable, playful, gorgeously deadpan set from Icelandic music collective SLATUR; a whimsical installation of mechanical instruments by Sarah Kenchington.

Each act brought its own audience and those audiences intermingled; the weekend could be declared a success on that front alone. Inevitably some pieces worked better than others, and at times the orchestra was under-rehearsed – unsurprising given the sheer quantity of new material. The ideal balance of local versus international, formal versus loose, will no doubt be fine-tuned in years to come. But having the space to explore that tuning is a great thing.