Tag Archives: glasgow cathedral festival

Glasgow Cathedral Festival

Artistic Director Andrew Forbes and his small team achieve a minor miracle each year with their long weekend of diverse and often bold and experimental music in the superb environment of Glasgow Cathedral. Saturday evening’s programme was a good indicator of that range, and the unique atmosphere the building provides.

Cellist William Conway’s Hebrides Ensemble brought a programme that was diverse in itself, beginning with a quartet by Mozart and ending with a work for the same forces by Krzysztof Penderecki – the Polish composer to whose memory Sir James MacMillan has dedicated his new violin concerto.

Although Conway himself played in all but one of the five works, much of the focus in the recital was on Yann Ghiro and Scott Dickinson, principal clarinet and principal viola in the BBC SSO, with violinist David Alberman the other member of this edition of the versatile group.

Mozart’s Adagio for Basset Horn and String Trio might only have become such in the hands of German musicologist Ernst Lewicki, but its melodic material is familiar from the composer’s repurposing of it and the lead instrument is one for which he had a demonstrable enthusiasm.

Penderecki’s Quartet exploits the similar tonal range of the clarinet and viola in its opening and closing movements as the cello and violin add single note “drones” to the sound. The clarinet is also to the fore in the sprightly and slightly bluesy Scherzo; only in the third movement Serenade is there a more democratic share of the lead line.

The other curiosity by a big name was Leonard Bernstein’s Variations on an Octatonic scale, five bite-sized miniatures that fuelled his Concerto for Orchestra. They were performed here by Conway and Ghiro, and the fourth, with its staccato clarinet and pizzicato cello was a particular delight.

The programme was completed by two newer works from composers living or working in Scotland, David Fennessy and Helen Grime. Almost the definition of minimalism and restraint, with much use of harmonics, Fennessy’s Changeless And The Changed is a duo for violin and cello that takes a single musical idea, botanical in inspiration, and explores it thoroughly. To See The Summer Sky, by Grime, pairs violin and viola with the lower instrument often taking the lead, especially in the faster sections of the score.

If the Hebrides’ package presented an opportunity to hear music that rarely has an outing, the event that followed was a one-off delight. De Profundis: A Tribute to Scottish Miners began life at the East Neuk Festival five years ago, performed in smoky half-light in The Bowhouse, the former agricultural building that has become the festival’s main large venue.

This revisiting of the work by John Wallace, his professional brass-playing colleagues in The Wallace Collection, and Tony George, the tuba-playing director of the Tullis Russell Band who is now working with The Cooperation Band, also involved Renfrew Burgh Band. The massed brass also included, unbilled, a few players from Fife who simply wanted to be involved again and were prepared to travel to do so.

If the pit-invoking haze was less dense this time, the lighting and use of the building was twice as spectacular. The score Wallace has created, mining material from settings of Psalm 130, Out Of The Deep, ranges from classic brass band sound to choral polyphony, constantly in flux and with the glorious punctuation of a virtuosic trumpet solo from on high and a robust percussion interlude. From the quire of the cathedral, Brenda Craig recited the four poems that are part of the piece, one of them miner/writer Joe Corrie’s The Image o’ God.

Word had clearly got out that this was a spectacular not to be missed and the Cathedral Festival team were rewarded by a very good attendance for an occasion that will live long in the memory.

Keith Bruce

Picture of Hebrides Ensemble by David Lee

Glasgow Cathedral Festival: Sean Shibe

As part of what he called his “Drive to [19]85”, some years before Sean Shibe was born, the King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp used to speak of one of his side projects as “a small, mobile, highly-intelligent unit”. Only oldsters like myself are likely to look at Shibe and see a Fripp de nos jours, but that description fits him rather well.

Of all the many returned festivals and seasons across Scotland this autumn, the live reappearance of the Glasgow Cathedral Festival, with a very diverse programme that crossed genres with style and featured established names alongside the freshest new talents, was a particular achievement by the handful of young people who made it happen. Their resources are slender by comparison with some of the other events you can read about on VoxCarnyx.

Shibe’s one-man international journey was therefore an ideal Saturday night headliner, revisiting his back-catalogue under the title Disjunctions, rather than promoting his new Pentatone recording, Camino. The bulk of the programme was taken from his soft/LOUD project, which became his second Delphian album. The quieter part is taken from lute manuscripts in Scottish collections, which show the pan-European outlook and communications of the country in the 17th century.

The bulk of them were from Wemyss Castle and Balcarres House in Fife, but it is not where the music has been found now but where the tunes originated that speaks of Scotland’s cosmopolitan past. Performing them on a modern classical guitar, Shibe can exploit the full range of melodies, rhythms and tonal colour to be found in the notes.

Before switching to his Fender Stratocaster for louder electric music from living composers, the guitarist included an “intervention” from his third Delphian disc of the music of Bach, his most recent award-winner. The brief suite not only underlined the recital’s international message, it also  set up his encore performance of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies’ Farewell to Stromness, prefaced, as Shibe likes to do, with a reminder about its ecological message.

Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint is a contemporary classic, and Shibe has become one of its foremost performers. The complexities of its rhythms and the technicalities of performing live over several pre-recorded tracks of his own playing now appear second nature. Those whose record collections also include the African-inspired sonic experiments of David Byrne and Brian Eno, with and without the band Talking Heads, will recognise similar sources to those Reich explores, and Shibe’s performance made the most of them in the reverberant acoustic.

That was even more audible in the last work on his programme, LAD by Bang on a Can composer Julia Wolfe. A memorial work, composed for nine bagpipers and consequently not often performed, Shibe has made this a personal showstopper, using multi-tracking, sustain and slide to adapt it to his electric instrument. Heard in isolation, especially booming in a big space, it might have come from anywhere in the world and any era – and that was possibly exactly the point.

Keith Bruce