Tag Archives: Aberdeen

Sound Goes Live

Aberdeen’s soundfestival (19-24 October) resumes normal service this autumn with a week-long programme of live performances that includes over 30 premieres and a brand new series of half-hour Spotlight Concerts featuring emerging and local performers and composers. 

At the heart of the flagship contemporary music festival is a climate emergency theme recognising the forthcoming COP26 summit in Glasgow, which features specially commissioned works, environmentally-themed performances under the banner 1.5 Degrees, From the Coast and Distance, and a commitment from all visiting performers not to fly to the festival.

“With COP 26 putting the climate crisis to the fore we have commissioned and programmed pieces that explore the challenge that the world faces,” explained director Fiona Roberson. “We are particularly excited by our co-commission from Laura Bowler, Distance, with which we open soundfestival 2021.” It will be performed in Aberdeen by soprano Juliet Fraser with a live-streamed ensemble in the USA.

Young composers featured in the global warning programmes – also incorporating part of the new Spotlight series – include Jamie Perera, Georgina MacDonell Finlayson, Aileen Sweeney and Emily Doolittle, while established creators Pete Stollery, Pippa Murphy and Alistair MacDonald will direct workshop projects with local teenagers, helping them create electronic soundscapes from discarded waste material. The resulting “instruments” will be used in a performance of More More More, a work originally created for the London Sinfonietta by producer, writer and electronic musician Matthew Herbert.

Premieres in the wider Festival programme include works by Ailie Robertson, Luke Styles, Glasgow-based David Fennessy, and Tansy Davies’ Grand Mutation for violin, horn and piano, a co-commission streamed from France during last year’s virtual soundfestival. Among this year’s guest performers are Red Note Ensemble, the St Machar’s Cathedral Choir with organist Roger Williams and the New Maker Ensemble.

The Festival completes its five-year exploration of “endangered instruments” with a focus on the double bass. French bassist Florentin Ginot – a progressive champion of the instrument through his involvement with Ensemble Modern, IRCAM and Ensemble Intercontemporain – is this year’s artist-in-residence, and will appear as soloist and in various collaborations, including the world premiere of a new sound commission from Pascale Criton with the soprano Juliet Fraser. The scientific properties of the double bass can be explored in an interactive exhibition at Aberdeen Science Centre.

Robertson expressed delight that soundfestival has been able to return to near normal, albeit in line with ongoing COVID constraints.  “Programming a festival as we are emerging from lockdowns has not been the simplest task,” she acknowledges. “However, if we’ve learnt one thing over the past 18 months, it’s that it is important to adapt to your circumstances and just do what’s possible.”

Full details of Aberdeen’s 2021 soundfestival available at: www.sound-scotland.co.uk

UnboundSound, Aberdeen

If you consume every morsel on your plate and read books through to the acknowledgements, you will appreciate the thorough approach of Aberdeen’s “new music incubator”, Sound, seizing the earliest opportunity to finish what it began in its last programme before embarking on whatever is possible for its next one.

That meant putting on the North East’s first concert in front of a live audience on Saturday night in Queen’s Cross Church, with Red Note Ensemble and soloist Richard Watkins, and then taking full advantage of the glorious weather the following day with two outdoor performances at Footdee, to give the area known locally as Fittie its Sunday name.

Until pandemic restrictions were lifted, Sound’s recent focus on the French horn had lacked Watkins’s performance of Philip Cashian’s Scenes from the Life of Viscount Medardo. Although the soloist had performed the piece previously with a pianist, this was the world premiere of the original scoring for a chamber ensemble, bringing together top players from Scotland’s orchestras with freelance specialists under the Red Note banner.

Cashian regularly finds inspiration in literary sources, and there is a huge amount going on in this sonic realisation of an Italo Calvino novella from the middle of the last century. The coincidence that its central battle between Italy and Turkey had been paralleled by a football match the previous evening went happily unremarked. With Ruth Morley switching to alto flute and Maximiliano Martin on bass clarinet, phrases were batted across the platform, with the virtuoso soloist using the reverberation of the church acoustic as part of his performance.

The piece was preceded by two works by young composers Sound has mentored, written for the same group of players, minus the horn. Aileen Sweeney’s Feda explores the medieval arboreal alphabet in three movements corresponding to birch, rowan and aspen, with the central one exploiting the combination of harp and violin. Rylan Gleave’s UNSUNG II; even from a loved one, is an extract from a longer, personal work which utilises the classic combination of flute and harp over a rocking two-note bass figure.

What all three pieces shared were fine, upbeat, ensemble finishes, that allowed the socially-distanced audience to bask in the delight of live performance once again.

Down by the dockside on Sunday afternoon, the French horn was to the fore again in the debut of Call, composed by Sound chairman Pete Stollery. Andy Saunders led a gradually-assembled group of seven players on one side of the entrance to the harbour, exchanging calls with two more on the far bank, and ultimately with the horns of vessels in the port.

The score resolved as an overlapping chorale of the old Alexander Brothers hit The Northern Lights of Old Aberdeen, surprisingly moving in itself but entirely upstaged by the Cyprus-registered offshore supply ship Normand Surfer, which added its own horn as it sailed out into the North Sea.

Stollery’s work, long in the planning and superb in execution, was preceded earlier in the day and a few yards away, by Esther Swift’s The Call, a three movement work which she was refining for the forces to hand that very morning. With two fiddles, cello, electric bass, bassoon, trumpet, flute, soprano sax, her own harp and a couple of singers, it included some very creative collective improvisation and ended on a lovely song of her own composition that spoke directly to the later commission.

Keith Bruce

Sound Festival 2020

However quickly its necessarily online incarnation was assembled, there was plenty of evidence that the composers and players featured in this year’s Sound Festival from Aberdeen had thought deeply about the predicament in which they found themselves.

That was most immediately obvious is Ben Lunn’s profound Th’forst munth is th’wurst iv awl, a contemporary spoken-word oratorio in which the composer conducted a trio from the Red Note Ensemble and narrator Tayo Aluko appeared on screen above the musicians. The Nigerian actor was a compelling absent presence, even when he was not speaking, and the words he had to say, culled from the letters of political prisoners, made his every utterance essential listening.

Lunn’s selection of those will surely prove controversial if this work goes on to have the further performances it deserves. IRA hunger-strikers Bobby Sands and Patsy O’Hara sit alongside Ernst Toller and Antonio Gramsci and figures whose persecution is more contemporary. Their words are given proper musical treatment, and Aluko had some very precise cadences in his contribution, all scored to a highly listenable, but still demanding, mix of electronics and live instrumentation.

The three players, flautist Richard Craig, Jessica Beetson on viola and guitarist Sasha Savaloni, also had to turn their skills to intricate percussion as well as being experts on their own instruments. Lunn’s work is beautifully structured: nine movements in three groups of three, with an Overture and two Electronic Interludes, and it builds its smaller elements into an impressive edifice.

That very specific form of isolation from society found a much more abstract echo in the programme EXAUDI pianist James Weeks assembled for himself and singers Lucy Goddard and David de Winter.

lonesingness took its lower-case title from the short work for male voice by Greek composer Zesses Seglias, but the recital was a seamless sequence of ten works, three of them piano interludes written by Weeks. He also took vocal part in Michael Pisaro’s setting of Getrude Stein, A Bird in the Beast, in which many decisions are made by the performers, and which sat well with the choice of Cage’s 1983 call-and-response Ear for EAR to open. In more conventional art-song mode, but each very different, were the world premiere of Lisa Robertson’s Almost, Linda Catlin Smith’s setting of Shakepeare’s Sonnet No.65, In Black Ink, and the concluding miniature by Rodney Lister, using the words of Robert Frost, Devotion.

Robertson also had a work, Archipelago, among the six new pieces played by the North East’s New Music Ensemble, Any Enemy. Founded by violinist Guera Maunder and bassoonist Lesley Wilson, it was a ten-piece group in this incarnation, conducted by composer and festival co-director Pete Stollery. His own Social D(ist)ancing made instrumental play of present restrictions, as, in its own way, did Ups and Downs by former Sound composer-in-residence John de Simone, which is destined to become the opening of a larger work.
Keith Bruce

Image: Composer and conductor Ben Lunn