Tag Archives: Glasgow Barons

Glasgow Barons / MacAlinden

Pearce Institute, Govan, Glasgow

There was a note at the end of the printed programme for this concert that encapsulated what the Glasgow Barons are all about. “Please feel free to applaud as you feel,” it read.

The audience, arranged in a curve of seating around the players and close enough to see every note realised by the players, did not need asking twice. There are assuredly those who would have sniffed disparagingly, but the Govan Music Festival ticket-buyers clapped every movement of Anna Clyne’s cello concerto, Dance, and filled all the available gaps in Sibelius’s Symphony No 2 with applause. Did that impair the performance or our enjoyment of it? Not a jot.

The rest of the programme for the week-long festival is diverse indeed, with folk and rap, school choirs and the launch of a hip-hop album, but it all springs from the work of Glasgow Barons artistic director Paul MacAlinden. The conductor’s own concert sensibly opened with something that many in the audience would already know, Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings.

Like composers of yore, Barber re-used the hit tune from the slow movement of his string quartet many times but this was the best-known version, and a perfect opener in the way it uses the sections. There was some variation in the use of vibrato within those – and more consistency in the lower strings – but MacAlinden was more concerned with the overall balance and shape of the piece.

It turned out to be the best possible work to preface the Clyne concerto, with Bartholomew LaFollette as soloist, because the composer’s sound palette for the opening movement is very similar, before the cello enters at the top of its range, joined by the similar frequencies of flute, oboe and bowed percussion. The elegiac melody of the third movement also seems to owe a little to Barber’s influence.

Each section of the work is named for a single line from a verse by Rumi, the 13th century Persian poet whose work has inspired many composers. That’s particularly clear in the second movement, “If you’ve torn the bandage off”, when LaFollette had a great deal more to do and the orchestral music was full of Eastern sounds, rhythms and accents. The fourth movement, “In your blood”, looks to earlier Western music, beginning with the structure of a canon and then subverting it with wind machine, gong, timpani and tuba.

Dance is a big piece, as much an ensemble work as a virtuoso showpiece, although LaFollette brought a compelling intensity to his part. MacAlinden and his team deserve huge credit for giving the Clyne its Scottish premiere.

There were a lot of good things about the Barons’ Sibelius 2 as well, although it was sometimes a little over-powering in the venue, and the conductor could perhaps have done more to keep the sound at a sensible level. Having said that, the first pizzicato crescendo was right on the button and sitting in the firing line of brass and timps on one side and five horns on the other was often rather thrilling.

Keith Bruce

Glasgow Barons / Whistlebinkies

Film City, Govan Town Hall

It’s often said that the test of a new piece is not so much its premiere as its revival as a second performance. It’s taken 30 years for someone to resurrect Eddie McGuire’s Riverside, in its day a novel and, according to the Glasgow Barons Orchestra’s founder and conductor Paul MacAlindin, the first ever example of a major work combining folk group and orchestra. So well done to him for rescuing it from obscurity and performing it at the very heart of Govan, the Clydeside community that inspired it.

Commissioned originally by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, and first performed by the SCO and McGuire’s own Whistlebinkies folk group as part of Glasgow’s 1991 Mayfest, it’s a fresh and accessible expression of the River Clyde’s importance in shaping the existence of a community once dominated by the workaday reliability of its former shipbuilding industry. 

A near-uninterrupted thread of folk melodies echo that sense of social confinement, briefly offset by the Chinese-flavoured middle section inspired by a cruise ship tour by the Whistlebinkies down the Yangtze River and through which McGuire captures the universality expressed in the complementary presence of pentatonic melodies.

MacAlindin conducts this filmed performance, recorded in Govan Town Hall and available online, which is visually enhanced by periodic black and white film footage of Govan at its industrial height. 

That’s a useful counterpoint to McGuire’s music, which has a ghostly lugubriousness about it. Rising from rumbling, amorphous beginnings, the folk melodies enter surreptitiously before establishing themselves as the driving force of a tempered conversation between orchestra and folk group. There is nothing particularly euphoric about Riverside, more a questioning reflection on the mundanity of industrial life, where the warmth of human spirit is contained, but not extinguished, by the strictures of routine survival.

It is also, I think, a work that might be best experienced in the flesh, both from the player and audience perspectives, where the subtleties of nuance defining the respective classical and folk idioms can be lived rather than observed. 

But this is yet another impressive initiative from MacAlindin – nominated in last year’s RPS Awards for his wider groundbreaking work with refugee musicians in Govan – and his enterprising Barons, more of which will be rolled out over the coming months. There is genuine belief and affection throughout this performance, and a visible interaction among the musicians that translates into spirited musical response. Above all, it brings a forgotten work back to the community that first gave it life.

Ken Walton

Available to watch at https://vimeo.com/661006336 

RPS Awards

There has been much understandable mutual congratulating on social media in Scotland after the announcement of the shortlists for the 2021 Royal Philharmonic Society Awards. The pioneering spirit of music-making in Scotland is well represented, and there are Scots in the running in many categories.

Conductor Paul MacAlindin, founder of the Govan-based Glasgow Barons orchestra, is up against veteran director of Ex Cathedra Jeffrey Skidmore and Royal Conservatoire of Scotland alumnus now at BBC National Orchestra of Wales Ryan Bancroft in his category.

Tenor Nicky Spence is nominated in the Singer category, where his rivals are mezzo Jennifer Johnston and Scottish Opera’s Alice Ford in Falstaff, Elizabeth Llewellyn.

Violinist Nicola Benedetti is nominated for the Instrumentalist award, and the concerto written for her by Mark Simpson is up for Large Scale Composition.

The Ensemble award boasts two nominees in the Dunedin Consort and the Nevis Ensemble and the Inspiration award includes nominations for Orkney Camerata and Orkney Winter Choir, and Aberdeen Saxophone Orchestra for its online partnership with the Phoenix Saxophone Orchestra of Market Harborough in Leicestershire.

The winners will be announced at a ceremony in London’s Wigmore Hall on November 1.


Pictured: Orkney Winter Choir and Orkney Camerata rehearsing in St Magnus Cathedral

Pandemonium: Sweeney

The Galvanisers, SWG3, Glasgow

Govan’s ongoing online music festival, Pandemonium, moves northwards across the River Clyde this week with the release of a single performance of William Sweeney’s suite for strings, Sian Orainn. The venue is The Galvanisers, part of the former Clydeside industrial yard now known as SWG3, and perfect as an adaptable bare-bricked performance space for these socially-distancing times.

That ruggedness is ideal for Sweeney’s atmospheric treatment of the South Uist songs that are the basis of the suite’s six-movement sweep, and which the strings of the Glasgow Barons Orchestra – a slick freelance band under Pandemonium’s artistic director, Paul MacAlindin – embrace completely as a resonant soundboard. The irrepressible folk muse casts its spell at every turn and in numerous hues.

Written for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s Highlands and Islands Tour in 1989, these six songs range from the patriotic to the pious, the romantic to the pragmatic. And while Sweeney conserves the traditional melodies themselves, his treatment of them, both virtuosic and affectionate, gives fresh character and dimension to their central presence. 

The galvanising unisons of “O my country” are a sturdy framework to the episodic solos that intersperse, immediately countered by the pragmatic motorised pace of “Have you seen Euphemia”, a waulking song with a catchy, jaunty gait. Ghostly heterophony adds wistfulness to the third song, shades of English pastoralism strike a foreign note in Buxom Mór, before the painful fate of the cook-in-the-pot drake – the one moment where the string ensemble falters from its otherwise solid togetherness – gives way to the solemn density of “Praise to the Saviour”.

MacAlindin’s players, led by Ben Norris, are a young outfit with fire in their belly. Between the many solo demands of Sweeney’s hauntingly coloristic score, and the mix of translucent and full-bodied texturing he variously calls upon, the Barons’ lustre and finesse capture the iridescence of these alluring pieces.
Ken Walton 

Watch the concert via Vimeo at glasgowbarons.com

Pandemonium: Tchaikovsky

Pearce Institute, Govan

The title conductor Paul MacAlindin chose for The Glasgow Barons season of filmed concerts for the Covid era, Pandemonium, might better suit the other work Tchaikovsky wrote in 1880, The 1812 Overture, with its booming canons celebrating Russian resistance to Napoleon. The composer, however, thought that a worthless piece of hackwork and was dismayed by its popularity, while the Serenade for Strings, a suite of four movements of meticulous construction that falls, purposely, just shy of being symphonic, was a labour of love of which he was very proud.

His ideal ensemble to perform it would probably be rather larger than the one MacAlindin has around him in this performance, but the conductor draws the fullest sound from his socially-distanced players, many of them – although by no means all – familiar faces from Scotland’s top-notch youth orchestras and the back desks of our professional bands. MacAlindin keeps a very precise beat at all times and this is a very crisp performance that underlines the inspiration of Mozart and earlier baroque music in the score.

That purpose of the composer is especially evident in the opening and closing movements, and the final bars of both here brought to mind the “old style” of Edvard Grieg’s almost contemporary Holberg Suite. The Waltz and Elegy in between, however, are prime Tchaikovsky, the tune of the former as fine as anything in his first ballet score, Swan Lake, from a few years earlier.

The Elegy is no less melodious and altogether more complex, and is particularly beautifully paced here. Special credit should go to the single double bass of Stirling’s Daniel Griffin, carrying the root of the movement through all the variations of key and dynamics around him.

That light and shade is also enhanced by the acoustic of the Macleod Hall, which is the orchestra’s home in Govan’s Pearce Institute. The showcase it is having in this series is a nice counterpart to the more lavish profile other Glasgow venues are enjoying through online Celtic Connections concerts.

The big noise of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture might have more in common with work at the John Elder (soon to be re-named Fairfield) shipyard that Sir William Pearce had taken to the peak of its international reputation in 1880, but the Serenade for Strings is a more fitting memorial to the pioneering businessman who would be dead at 55 before the end of the decade, and memorialised in the name of the community building at the start of the new century.

Watch the concert via Vimeo at glasgowbarons.com

Keith Bruce

Glasgow Barons Pandemonium

The Govan-based orchestra Glasgow Barons, founded and directed by Paul McAlindin, has announced an ambitious and eclectic digital season of seven concerts filmed in Glasgow venues and building into an archive available free to view via Vimeo.

The series begins on Thursday January 7, with a programme of songs of exile, set to an electronic score by Hamish MacLeod and filmed by him with sound engineering by Tim Cooper at Govan and Linthouse Parish Church. MacLeod is joined by Hannah Rarity, Midya Xan and Aref Ghorbani in exploring repertoire that ranges from Gaelic songs of the Highland Clearances to Kurmanji Kurdish and Farsi lyrics of life as a refugee in Scotland today.

MacLeod and Cooper are also behind the realisation of the Thursday January 28 concert, entitled Flux, for which composer Matthew Ward has worked with Shona MacKay and Nick Olsen from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland on a five-movement suite exploring the power and memory of water.

The MacLeod Hall of Govan’s Pearce Institute is the venue for performances of Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings (January 21) and Thea Musgrave’s Night Windows (Wednesday January 13). On the latter the orchestra is joined by oboe soloist Amy Turner. Concerts of William Sweeney’s Sian Orainn, originally written for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, and of Alasdair Nicolson’s Stramash, commissioned by the City of London Sinfonia, have been filmed at SWG3 on the other side of the Clyde, and are premiered on February 4 and 11 respectively.

The season concludes with a live recording of Steg G’s new album Live Todays on March 4, featuring new pieces by RCS graduates Aidan Teplitsky – entitled Almost Achilles, Always the Heel – and by Kevan O’Reilly – Scotland versus Scotland.

The films are part of the orchestra’s residency project with Glasgow Life and will be available from 7pm of the day of release  via glasgowbarons.com and remain online for a year.