Tag Archives: Hugo Ticciati

SCO / Ticciati

Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

It requires a sharp musical intelligence to take on the three-concert residency of such a distinctive musician as Pekka Kuusisto, stay faithful to the spirit of the project, but also add ingredients of one’s own. Not only has violinist Hugo Ticciati achieved that balance this month, he has met the challenge of responding to the plight of the people of Ukraine from the concert platform with compassion and imagination in his additions to the programmes.

When the concert already contains Barber’s Adagio for Strings, however, that last task is unnecessary. Deployed in many previous sombre contexts and a trope of screen soundtrack heart-string pulling, the achievement of the SCO, directed by Ticciati, was to make it work once again without seeming mawkish. That was entirely down to the quality of the ensemble playing. When, for example, the four cellos assumed the top line, it was the sound of a single instrument that we heard.

Ticciati’s substitution in this programme was the Third Symphony of Philip Glass, a work from 1995 that both fulfils and contradicts its categorising title. Composed for strings alone, and just 19 players here, unlike many a classical symphony its outer movements are short, while the second and third are more extended. Eastern influence permeates the work, particularly in the raga-like openings of the second and fourth sections, but the latter quickly sounds as if it would be at home soundtracking a cinema Western.

It is the third movement that sounds most characteristic of the composer, a limited “sample” of musical material repeated with small variations and Ticciati’s solo violin entering to soar above – music that is both “minimalist” and lyrical. Crucially though, the players brought an organic humanity to the performance of the work from its very first bars, so that it never sounded mechanical but was movingly meditative – the word violist Brian Shiele had used in his introductory remarks.

For the other two works, Ticciati was on a conductor’s podium for the first time in this short series. Contemporaneous with the Barber, Stravinsky’s Dumbarton Oaks – played here by ten strings and five winds – and Copland’s Appalachian Spring Suite both display rhythmic originality that pre-figure the Glass. That made it especially interesting to hear the Stravinsky straight after the Symphony, with Ticciati as eloquent an indicator of mood as of beat.

With the hall’s small platform filled with musicians for the only occasion of the night, the opening of the Copland struck a hopeful note after the Barber, and the work’s fantastic orchestration has never sounded clearer in every detail than it did here.

The concert is repeated at Glasgow City Halls this evening.

Keith Bruce

SCO / Ticciati / Polwart

City Halls, Glasgow

Recorded for broadcast by BBC Radio 3 on April 1, this collaboration between the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and folk singer/songwriter Karine Polwart has been long in gestation and had a tricky last few weeks before eventually reaching concertgoers. But not only is it well worth the attention of both classical and traditional music-lovers when they have the opportunity to listen in, it must surely be the basis for an album, or the substantial part of one.

The other crucial contributor to its composition is Pippa Murphy, Polwart’s regular collaborator, particularly on the award-winning Edinburgh Festival show Wind Resistance. That was categorised as theatre, but this four-movement work, Seek the Light, is close kin to it, not least because it begins with a song, You Know Where You Are, that also find inspiration in the migratory birds Polwart sees near her Midlothian home.

There are other themes in common, particularly in the third movement’s mix of spoken and sung narrative in a feminist revision of Greek myth A Love Too Loud, closely linked to the navigational use of constellations referenced in that opening song.

In between sits the most “trad” section, The Night Mare, musically redolent of the early Scots composition canon explored by Concerto Caledonia, and the suite ends with a beguiling lullaby, Sleep Now, its chorus melody distinctly East European in flavour and sung by the entire orchestra, as well as – encouraged by Polwart – bolder members of the audience.

Whether that audience was drawn from the fanbase of the chamber orchestra or its guest vocalist was the subject of a show of hands when cellist Su-a Lee introduced the concert. My guess is that there is a good deal of crossover, with many, like myself, having recordings by both at home. And this was, in the best sense, the acceptable face of “cross-over”.

There are many routes the SCO might have chosen to present this new commission. The imaginative one chosen, in consultation with Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto, was to intersperse the sections of Seek the Light with contemporary classical pieces from Scandinavia and the Baltic states, kicking the whole sequence off with the Adagio from Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony. It was a tactic that was an exceptional success, keeping audience ears as sharply tuned as those of the performers.

There were many notable individual ones amongst the orchestra – and Polwart winningly selected a few of her favourites in her own remarks after the interval – but chief among them was Hugo Ticciati, who had stepped into the role mapped out by the absent Kuusisto. His largest contribution was as soloist in violin concerto Distant Light by Peteris Vasks, a huge work in itself that alternates between solo and ensemble, melody and cacophony, fast and slow, soft and loud and was played second from last here.

He was also responsible for inserting into the programme further eloquent recognition by the orchestra of the plight of the people of Ukraine, first clarinet Maximiliano Martin playing the country’s anthem as a brief solo after Polwart’s first song.

The SCO strings showed their superb individual technical range and ensemble coherence in the other two works in the programme. Swede Andrea Tarrodi’s fascinating Birds of Paradise begins in minimalist mode before becoming much more playful in tempo and featuring extraordinary imitation of bird calls, which were then echoed in the opening of Estonian Erkki-Sven Tuur’s Insula Deserta, a hugely evocative score using the sparest number of musicians.

If the music in the programme created imaginative landscapes, stories and ecologies beyond the auditorium, its final choral moments also brought the absent Kuusisto into the hall: I cannot be the only audience member reminded of his memorable encore at the BBC Proms in 2016 that had the Albert Hall joining him in a Finnish folk-song.

Keith Bruce

Portrait of Karine Polwart by Suzanne Heffron

SCO / Ticciati

Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

It is not to diminish the role of violinist Hugo Ticciati, brother of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s former principal conductor Robin, who stepped in to the breach when a tragic combination of bereavement and family illness prevented Pekka Kuusisto from fulfilling his residency, to say that Sunday afternoon’s first concert of the three would have been a very different event with the Finn in charge.

Entitled New York Counterpoint after the seminal Steve Reich work from 1985 that closed the concert, the focus on the sound of the US, never mind its Eastern seaboard, was diminished, although there was still plenty of music from there.

Few were likely to complain about the oldest addition in the new programme. Dating from 1931, the violin duos by Bela Bartok are playful delights and were charmingly performed by Ticciati and the Italian violinist leading the orchestra in the previous week’s concerts, Cecilia Ziano. Following those with Berio’s contemplative Aldo duet was Ticciati’s ingenious way of incorporating a moment of silence to think of the war in Ukraine.

By contrast, the violinist’s duo with SCO first cello Philip Higham was full of ferocious duelling, as well as some singing and chord strumming. Finnish composer Sauli Zinovjev’s Double Trouble followed Swede Albert Schnelzer’s violin solo Solitude and completed a quartet of works by musicians with connections to the world of pop and rock.

The other two were Bryce Dessner of The National, and Nico Muhly, whose collaborators include Bjork and Anohni. Dessner’s string quartet Aheym was composed for the Kronos, and its full-on opening and frantic folk-hued finish bracket some very Glass-influenced minimalism. In the palindromic pattern of the programme, it was mirrored by the penultimate work, Ziano again leading a quartet of SCO front-deskers in Entr’acte by Caroline Shaw, already a modern classic by one of the most celebrated contemporary composers, and a writer whose music has broad appeal.

Much of that description of course also applies to Steve Reich. In some performances of his New York Counterpoint it can be hard to identify the live lead line from the other eleven clarinet and bass clarinet parts on tape. Using an existing multi-track by English National Opera’s first clarinet Barnaby Robson, SCO principal Maximiliano Martin soared majestically over the backing in an interpretation that was marvellously climactic and cheered to the rafters.

Martin’s mastery of his instrument, on repertoire a long way from his new Delphian album of French sonatas with Scott Mitchell, also launched the afternoon, playing Nico Muhly’s It Goes Without Saying. Obviously owing a substantial debt to the Reich of two decades earlier, Muhly’s backing track involves an array of other intriguing percussive sounds, as well as clarinets, and is another work of ample charm.

If Kuusisto’s personality would have made for a different afternoon, the shared focus on familiar SCO players and their guests was a different sort of success. With DJs from eh-fm before the live music and during the interval, it owed much to the trail blazed by SCO spin-off ensemble Mr McFall’s Chamber. When considered alongside Matthew Whiteside’s The Night With . . . events, it is clear that Robert McFall’s group did much to pave the way for colleagues.

Keith Bruce