For a second year, Scotland’s national orchestra added a concert as part of Scottish Refugee Week to its summer calendar, this one quoting Emily Dickinson in its hopeful title ‘. . .a thing with feathers’ and featuring Senegalese kora virtuoso Seckou Keita.
One of the world’s leading players of the West African lute/harp, his last visit to Scotland was in the company of Welsh harpist Catrin Finch. He recently released an album, African Rhapsodies, recorded with the BBC Concert Orchestra and conductor Mark Heron, on which his new compositions have been arranged by Italian composer and bass player Davide Mantovani. A chamber orchestra-sized RSNO played four of them midway through a year of concerts of this new music in the UK and France, where the Orchestra National de Bretagne has taken up the work.
It is not to diminish those arrangements to say that they were well within the scope of the players of the RSNO – they were doubtless designed to present few challenges to professional musicians. What those we heard demonstrated was a remarkable diversity, highly appropriate to the event.
The strings-and-horns opening mimicked Germanic orchestral repertoire, while the string writing that followed recalled the work of Irishman Micheal O Suilleabhain. The conductor here was Ellie Slorach, who will also be in charge of the RSNO’s mouth-watering collaboration with Dunedin Consort on the music of Heiner Goebbels in October. If there were some initial problems of balance in this post-industrial space – brass, and even winds, over-loud – she quickly sorted them out.
Keita’s dedication to his grandfather, the second piece, featured some fine bass clarinet from Duncan Swindells, while the third dispensed with the strings altogether, a pealing-bells figure on the kora answered by brass and winds – a cadenza and ensemble structure that continued until its end.
The set concluded on a real high with Keita’s celebration of Sufi Saint Amadou Bamba, on which his lightning-fingered instrumental playing was paired with his rich baritone vocals and a fine trumpet obligato by RSNO principal Chris Hart.
In an evening that was as much “gig” as “concert” the support act was the equally-inspiring Joyous Choir from Maryhill Integration Network, under the direction of Clare Findon. After the difficulties of the pandemic, Glasgow’s international women’s chorus is on a roll to celebrate its 10th anniversary, with two more appearances this week, in Edinburgh at the Scottish Parliament and outdoors at Glasgow’s West End Festival.
Many of these voices were heard in the community chorus of Scottish Opera’s terrific production of Candide last August, and their own programme covers the globe as rapidly with songs of Native American, Turkish and Zulu origin in quick succession, mixing part-singing, unison, and solo-and-chorus as each demands. A showstopper is their reading of Italian liberation song Bella Ciao with a verse in Farsi.
Picture: Leighanne Evelyn Photography