Two Night Stand

Matthew Whiteside talks to Keith Bruce about the festival of new music that has sprung from his concert season The Night With . . .

With dismal news recently about long-established events south of the border in Dartington and Cheltenham, this might not seem the most auspicious time to be launching a classical music festival, but Glasgow-domiciled Irish composer Matthew Whiteside is not a man to be looking over his shoulder at events elsewhere.

Since he arrived in the city to do a masters degree at the Royal Conservatoire, Whiteside has been an entrepreneurial force for new music in and beyond Scotland, his undergraduate student concert promotions at Queen’s in Belfast blossoming into a concert season visiting a touring circuit of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Belfast under the banner “The Night With . . .”

Next month, The Night With . . . becomes a two-day festival in Glasgow’s newest post-industrial venue, The Engine Works in Maryhill. On Thursday and Friday December 14 and 15, the two spaces on the site will have a rolling programme of 15 performances featuring five new commissions among a total of 12 world premieres.

There are in the line-up composers and performers that will be familiar to fans of The Night With . . . season concerts, but in the festival they sit alongside work by more established names both from home and abroad, Caroline Shaw, Alvin Lucier, Kaija Saariaho and Terry Riley on a list that also includes Helen Grime, Stuart MacRae, David Fennessy, Janet Beat and Claire McCue.

In part that is down to the involvement of the Hebrides Ensemble, whose Thursday concert opens the programme in the venue’s larger space.

“The Hebrides is an ensemble I’ve wanted to work with for a while,” says Whiteside, “but because of the venues I’ve used, an acoustic piano is not usually something I can programme and that’s one of their core instruments. For the festival I’m hiring a piano, so we can do that repertoire and we’ve commissioned a piece from Rylan Gleave for them to play.”

Paul McAlinden’s Govan-based Glasgow Barons are also bringing a chamber group to the party and their programme includes work by another Scotland-based Northern Irishman, Gareth Williams, as well as William Sweeney’s 1989 Sharakan for quintet and electronics.

The other large ensemble taking part is United Strings of Europe. Their Thursday night concert includes a new work written by Whiteside, teaming the strings with soprano Emily Thorner.

“United Strings of Europe is a scale of ensemble [13 players] that we couldn’t have toured with The Night With . . .,” say the composer. “Their leader and artistic director, Julian Azkoul, is first violin on my album, Entangled, and I’ve made them an arrangement of my Sixth Quartet.”

As well as Whiteside’s new work, United Strings of Europe will be playing Claude Vivier’s Zipangu and Henryk Gorecki’s Three Pieces in the Old Style at Whiteside’s instigation. “That’s a pairing that has been in my head for about 15 years,” he says.

Thorner has her own programme on the Friday, opening with a Berio Sequenza and including works composed specially for her.

Viola virtuoso and established The Night With . . . associate Garth Knox opens the event on Thursday afternoon, and he appears again on Friday in an ensemble that also includes Xania Pestova Bennett on Magnetic Resonator Piano. Her presence over the two days begins with a recital featuring two works for the instrument submitted to a call for scores from The Night With . . ., by Ollie Hawker and Rebecca Galian Costello.

“The Magnetic Resonator Piano is essentially 88 guitar e-bows that resonate all the strings of the instrument,” explains Whiteside, “so you can crescendo the piano from nothing, and have infinite sustain. It is like a crossover between a digital synth and a piano, and does things a piano shouldn’t do. It’s utterly stunning!”

As he has done with his season concerts, Whiteside will be recording everything at the festival, and a live album should appear in the Spring. Completing the synergy, one of the Friday concerts, by Ensemble 1604 and show-casing composer Timothy Cooper, is a live iteration of an upcoming studio release on TNW Records.

This side of Whiteside’s practice, as a passionate spokesperson for fairer treatment of musicians by streaming companies, as well as a self-made expert on techniques and pitfalls of selling your own music, will shortly arrive in book form.

“During the pandemic I started lecturing and giving webinars about how to self-release your music,” says Whiteside. “It’s not talked about in the classical world at all, although universities and tertiary education institutions are getting better at introducing their students to the business of music.”

“The webinars were selling out and people were really enthusiastic about the information I was giving them. There was a clear demand for more resources, like a book.

“It’s basically sharing my own experience and knowledge of releasing music. It goes into rights and registration, and distribution, but also recording sessions and the psychology of talking to performers, how to mark up a score, cover art, and the business of branding.”

If that seems like a packed 180 pages or so – and available for Christmas, the composer hopes – it is backed up by links to more information on his website. And that is not the end of Whiteside’s current entrepreneurial agenda.

“One of my other hats is as an agent for contemporary classical and avant-garde music, placing music with film and TV producers.

“I’ve gone to Los Angeles twice and had meetings with teams at Disney, Universal and Sony to tell them: ‘I’ve got all this weird stuff; the next time you’re doing a film like Shutter Island, come to me.’ It’s a long game but I’m building those relationships and that’s another side of where I’m going with TNW record label. Synchronisation could generate income in tens of thousands of dollars for composers.”

As well as taking an agent’s percentage, Whiteside is himself one of those composers and he sees none of his other work as separate from that essential self-description.

“It is not a distraction from composition, because I see it as being all part of the same thing. I write the music that I want to write, and I take any opportunities to sell it on. I just can’t be arsed waiting for gatekeepers!”

The Night With . . . festival is at Glasgow’s Engine Works on December 14 & 15.

Pictures: Soprano Emily Thorner and violist Garth Knox