Concert and composer reviews
An Evening with Albert, 2018
The PLUG 8, Composer Collective concert on 10th May, 2018, 1:00pm, involved pieces by Royal Conservatoire of Scotland students Jack Laidlaw, Stuart Bramwell, Siobhan Dyson, Amit Anand, and Crystal Serghiou. The performers were all RCS students also, and the entire programme was conducted by Charles Baumstark, an RCS composer and conductor. Anand’s work, An Evening with Albert, I had seen the score for previously, and thought well of, but the performance itself was immediately arresting. The juxtaposition between the tedious adult life Anand endures, and the yearning for an extended childhood was stunning, and incredibly personal. The quasi-tonal harmony, indicative of this reminiscing mindset, was orchestrated exceptionally for all instruments involved; violin, viola, cello, double bass, flute (doubling piccolo), clarinet, French horn, vibraphone, and piano, and I was left with a strong sense that Anand knew each instrument and their capabilities, before putting pen to paper. The playful interaction between the piano and vibraphone was conversational in tone, and fed well into the theme. Being very familiar with Anand’s work, and having collaborated with him on several projects, I feel as though whilst indicative of his usual style and individual flair, An Evening with Albert is a turning point for him in his compositional development, likely influenced by having recently completed an entire film score for the movie Gultoo, which is already a huge success in India. I anticipate, with excitement, to see more of Anand's work performed, hopefully sooner than this time next year.
A Tribute to Max
Peter Maxwell Davies and Rolf Hind, 2018
On Friday, December 1st, at 1:00pm, I attended a concert at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, a tribute to the esteemed late composer Peter Maxwell Davies, in which pieces by Robert Reid Allan, Sally Beamish, Stuart MacRae, Darren Bloom, Alasdair Nicolson, Rolf Hind, and Maxwell Davies himself were performed by established composer and pianist, Rolf Hind.
The programme as a whole included sentiment and indicated personal relationships with Maxwell Davies, as well as pieces by composers heavily influenced by his work, and the respect and admiration that all the works expressed was clear. According to Sound- Scotland, three of these pieces, by Nicolson, Beamish, and Hind, were commissioned (along with another work by Gemma McGregor), for a concert at the Elphinstone Hall in 2016, in accordance with the University of Aberdeen, in which Rolf Hind also performed Maxwell Davies’ complete piano works (Sound-Scotland, 2016).
The pieces were all well thought out and composed, but three especially stood out to me; Robert Reid Allan’s work, Four Songs from an Interview with Peter Maxwell Davies, Stuart MacRae’s piece, Lento in memoriam Peter Maxwell Davies, which was the Scottish Premiere, and Rolf Hind’s work, The Dark Hug of Time. Robert Reid Allan used text taken from Alison Hennegan’s interview with Peter Maxwell Davies in an issue of Gay News in 1979, and was set for Hind to speak, with extended piano techniques, whistling, foot- bells, and body percussion. I was both impressed by the text setting, with some complex speech rhythms, and by Hind’s performance of such an incredibly difficult piece, requiring coordination and quick thinking. I am familiar with some of Robert’s work, from PLUG concerts at the RCS in previous years, and I felt that this piece bore some resemblance to his 2016 work, Les Minets Sauvages (Reid Allan, 2016), for oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet, percussion, and piano, not necessarily in terms of musical material, but in concept and meaning. Robert has a certain stylistic approach to composition that is very distinctive, and his works are consistently easy to engage with for me, and his political and social influences are clear, and appropriate.
Stuart MacRae’s piece was meditative and thought provoking; his use of a four note phrase that is presented, developed and expanded upon, is reminiscent of holidays MacRae took as a child in Skye, and interlinked with his personal relationship with Maxwell Davies. This piece was representative of MacRae’s individual style, but remarkably different in tone to all of his other pieces I have heard, such as Gaudete (MacRae, 2015), where musical material competes for the foreground spot, and conflict and tension are a large part of the interest. Lento in memoriam Peter Maxwell Davies was far calmer and on one level, which felt appropriate as a tribute, as more contrast and opposition between motifs may not have suited the setting. The audience reception of this new work seemed to be a successful one, based on applause and discussion afterwards.
The Dark Hug of Time was a deeply moving and intimate work by Rolf Hind, for prepared piano - one piece of blu-tack on the note G4. Based on the ‘magic squares’ compositional technique that Maxwell Davies himself used, this piece contained many thematic ideas, including a musical cryptogram of Peter’s name, an extremely fitting tribute. The contrast of dark and light is something that Rolf Hind writes and executes well, as shown in many of his other works, Cloud Shadow and Solgata, for example, or The City of Love (Hind, 2013). Like the MacRae piece, although the composer’s style is recognisable, the nature of this piece is different in mood and colour to other works, which is fitting for the theme, and takes the listener on a personal and sensitive journey as the piece progresses.
The concert experience was both a sobering and uplifting one, seeing the impact that one man had on so many others, and I left the event feeling as though I wanted to listen to more of Maxwell Davies’ work, only really being familiar with Farewell to Stromness and Eight Songs for a Mad King, and have since broadened my knowledge of his compositions, which has been an enriching endeavour.
Drake Music and DaDaFest, 2018
On November 27th, 2018, I attended Destination Sound, as part of DaDaFest (Disability and Deaf Arts Festival) at the Bluecoat in Liverpool. The concert featured musicians from the RCS, RNCM, Drake Music/Drake Music Scotland, exploring the works of d/Deaf/Disabled musicians in an informal setting, all curated by Ben Lunn. As accessibility and inclusion were key aspects of the concert, a BSL Interpreter was provided, as well as audio descriptions, within the wheelchair accessible space. The concert was divided into three sections; the contemporary classical composers (Siobhan Dyson, Rylan Gleave, Ben Lunn, Sonia Allori, and Lucy Hale), with the Gaskell Quartet (Anik Stucki, Abigail Hammett, Rosamund Hawkins, and Gunda Baranauskaite) and Joe Lunn (alto/tenor trombone), Claire Johnston and her iPad quartet, and Kris Halpin and his MiMu gloves/electric guitar.
The concert programme opened with Against One’s Better Judgement (2017), a string quartet by Siobhan Dyson of the RCS. I have critiqued this piece before, yet with the performance by the Gaskell Quartet as opposed to the RCS MusicLab, new expression and nuance was brought to the work. Anik Stucki, as the first violinist, led the quartet with confidence and emotion, ensuring that Dyson’s work was a strong start to the concert.
Another strong piece, written by Lucy Hale, titled Snap, Sustain (2013), for solo cello, was the second work in Destination Sound. Gunda Baranauskaite, an exceptionally talented performer, immediately engaged the audience in this volatile and dynamic piece. The three contrasting ideas, 1. sustained double stops, 2. snap pizzicato passages, and 3. arco melodic arpeggios proved effective, in the short but articulate work.
Ben Lunn’s work, T-4 (2018), for string quartet, alto trombone and electronics was the third work in Destination Sound, originally commissioned by Drake Music Scotland, in partnership with Brighter Sound. Named after Aktion T4, the repeated recordings of Lunn’s own voice, speaking the names of T4 victims found in Holocaust archives, in stark contrast to the ensemble, draw parallels between the treatment of disabled people in Nazi Germany, and the treatment of disabled people now, due to austerity policies. In the original performance of this work, Lunn, as conductor, used the Xbox Kinect motion sensor to trigger the electronics, but in the Destination Sound performance, the performers used foot pedals in between playing.
My own piece, Splinter (2018), for solo viola, was the fourth piece. Written for this concert, the short work explores my own feelings surrounding splinter skills, talents that autistic people have that surpass their usual abilities. The frustration at misinterpreting social interactions, characterised by the fast-paced, rhythmically challenging passages, were brought to life by violist Hawkins, making the opposing material far more effective in performance. Hawkins also made the decision to play some of the transitional music without vibrato, which added an extra dimension to the work, which was received well.
The final work of this section was Last Tango in Liverpool (2018) by Sonia Allori. This charismatic work featured the entire ensemble, and a pre-recorded track of the composer herself humming the opening lines of Yesterday by The Beatles, which continually interrupted the ensemble, who played excellently written tango music. The work bore some similarity in structure and harmony to Allori’s previous work, Excerpts from Lost and Found (2017).
The second section featured Claire Johnston, a Drake artist, and her quartet, all of whom play the iPad, using the ThumbJam app. This set of five pieces explored different timbres, pre-programmed rhythmic devices, and a mix of synth and virtual instrument sounds. Whilst I enjoyed the set, and each individual artist’s input, I felt as though the pieces in this set only explored one sound-world, and whilst the effort put into creating rhythmically and melodically interesting work was clear, the harmonic elements were very similar.
The third and final section was performed by Kris Halpin, who played the electric guitar, with motion sensor gloves (MiMu gloves) designed by Drake Music Scotland, which facilitated his playing with the challenge of limited movement in his hands. Kris is able to manipulate sound by triggering a sensor on his computer with his gloves; he can activate pre-recorded sounds, loop sounds live, and access multiple effects. The music itself was stylistically similar to rock, yet played with elements of ambient music and even film music, as the piece progressed. The audience reception to this was by far the most positive, and in my opinion, deservedly so.
Against One's Better Judgement, 2018
Dyson’s score I had perused a couple of months ago, and I had suggested some recommendations that I thought would add to the drama and theatrics of the piece, which I was delighted to see had been taken on board; some tempo changes to show off the slower material, some additional slur/notational markings, all of which contributed to the ‘consequences’ theme so vividly painted for us by Dyson. The rhythmical development she explored was riveting, and the idea of marking each section with a word to indicate the mood to the performers really came across. Structurally, I also felt this piece was sound, and the block-type sections with clear repetition and development made this the strongest piece of Dyson’s I have heard; the progress she has made, measured from her piano duet, Back Beat, last year, to this piece, is remarkable.