Scottish Ensemble / NYOS / Glass
Minimalism is the natural soundtrack to a train ride. Steve Reich made the point literally in his string quartet “Different Trains”. The connection is more of an interpretational one in this filmed performance of the final two movements of Philip Glass’ Symphony No 3 – the repetitive chuntering of the hypnotic third movement shifting gear to the motorised euphoria of the fourth – but no less incontestable.
Written in 1995 for the strings of the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, it is presented here as a collaboration between the professional Scottish Ensemble and talented senior members of the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland; and rather ingeniously as a film, created by Hopscotch Films, in which all 19 players are cast as passengers in a seemingly endless, dimly lit, train carriage.
There’s a mysterious sense of the surreal from the outset. Through the windows is a restless haze of moonlit smoke and mist, the carriage interior a haunting chiaroscuro in which Glass’s autumnal timbres gradually journey from repeated cello and viola sequences to a point where the full complement of strings are woven deliriously together.
The finale moves instantly up tempo, but now with more impulsive reiterated patterns. Urban images flash past the window. The train hurtles on.
It’s a compelling piece of cross-genre interpretation. The production quality is top-notch, where neither film nor music is compromised. The deep mellow timbre of the opening has a golden glow – beautifully sound engineered, intensely performed – that is only enhanced by the unobtrusive synergy of visuals reflecting the aching dichotomy – stasis versus momentum – that embodies Glass’s personalised, often lugubrious minimalist style.
In the darkness, it’s often hard to pick out who is Scottish Ensemble and who is NYOS in the ensemble mix, but that’s part of this collaboration’s charm. Yes, there are minor slips in detailed synchronisation that could easily be put down to inexperience, but the overall homogeneity is sleekly polished and characterful to the last.
As part of the Ensemble’s excellent ongoing digital work, and its commitment to working with young musicians – who in this instance also get hands-on experience of the filmmaking process – this 15-minute project is as significant as it is entertaining.
Available to view via the Scottish Ensemble website, www.scottishensemble.co.uk