New Antonine Brass

Drygate, Glasgow

It would have been terrific to be able to report that the re-start of composer Matthew Whiteside’s enterprising presentation of new music in less formal surroundings, The Night With . . . , signalled a return to normal service for those with voracious ears. Alas, his 2022 season opening, with modern brass quintet New Antonine Brass, was beset by pandemic-related problems.

Horn player Lauren Reeve-Rawlings was already in for founding member Hayley Tonner when trumpeter Lloyd Griffin tested positive for Covid. Despite Whiteside’s best efforts on both sides of the Irish Sea, no dep could be found for the opening of the group’s short tour in Belfast or for the dates in Edinburgh and Aberdeen, which left only the Glasgow concert, for which Alistair Douglas was available to jump in, on the band’s dance-card.

At least they were able to play their inventive broad programme once this time out, and there was a good-sized audience to hear it – and huge plaudits to Douglas for his last-minute role in making the presentation of such challenging music possible. Although the intimacy of the project’s previous Glasgow home at The Hug and Pint was fun, it seems to me that the extra space at Drygate suits the artistic director’s vision for The Night With . . . even better.

Formed at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in 2014, and with original members Mark James (trumpet), Lewis Bettles (trombone) and Danielle Price (tuba) present and correct, the group’s programme embraced some famous names and brass quintet repertoire favourites alongside two box-fresh works and others that were nearly new. It is no slight on the safe reputations of Witold Lutoslawski, James MacMillan and Olivier Messiaen to say that the new pieces were at least as memorable on the night.

Following the Lutoslawski Mini-Overture that opened the concert, this web-site must give big thanks to Bettles for his solo feature (complete with audience participation and some radical playing techniques) of John Kenny’s Pandora’s Box, because it is the first occasion on which we have been able to mention the work of the trombonist composer since we began. As the Pictish war-horn he had reconstructed to play gave VoxCarnyx half its name, that recognition is long overdue.

The other solo of the evening was Messiaen’s Appel Interstellaire, from Des canyons aux etoiles, played by Reeve-Rawlings and similarly extending the usual sonic possibilities of her instrument. Tuba player Danielle Price perched on the edge of the stage to take the solo part in the world premiere of her own Room in Shared Apartment Looking for a Soul, which also involved all her colleagues as she moved easily from a rhythmic bassline to melodic improvisation.

That piece was followed by the first performance of Siobhan Dyson’s The Silence of the Blue Star, a commission by The Night With . . . inspired by a real celestial phenomenon and the composer’s fondness for science reaching into the unknown and finding itself surprised. That was reflected in passages of probing inquiry finding a calming, philosophical conclusion.

The other composer present was another trombonist, Ronald MacNiven. His JAPONICA was inspired by a Charles Rennie Mackintosh watercolour, its mix of colour of varying intensity reflected in the score.

The range of light and shade there was reflected throughout the programme, from MacMillan’s Adams’ Rib to the concluding Dowland Suite, Mike Svoboda’s smile-inducing re-purposing of tunes by the early English composer.

Keith Bruce

Portrait of Matthew Whiteside by Julie Howden