RSNO Centre, Glasgow
There are as many routes to making classical music accessible as there are creative musicians putting their minds to that purpose, but there have been few hours to that end as entertaining as this one. After a run of performances in schools and a couple of public ones further north, this was the last outing – for the time being at least – of a collaboration between the Scottish Ensemble and Mish Mash Productions, which exists to bring classical music to young people.
They may be the target audience, but the programme worked just as well for those of us half a century beyond our youth.
Much of the musical content was typical for the group, moving easily between contemporary pieces by Anna Meredith, Jessie Montgomery, Jonny Greenwood and Caroline Shaw and arrangements of Purcell, Shostakovich, Piazzolla and Debussy. But with the players in motion around the auditorium, engaging one-to-one with the audience from the start, dressed more colourfully than is habitual and – crucially – performing everything from memory, the presentation was entirely different.
Beginning with an engaging explanation by violinist Laura Ghiro, there was also a fair bit of talking, and precious little of it was about the music. The clutter on the colourful stage set – picture frames, a coffee set, a shepherd’s crook and stirrups – turned out to be less random than first appeared, as the musicians used emblematic objects to speak of their lives beyond their professional career.
They ranged from the aforementioned crook (aspirant goat farmer violist Jane Atkins) and a Nintendo Switch portable games console (violinist Kate Suthers) to Carol Ella’s bonkers (and possibly entirely fabricated) turnip obsession. And was I the only one slightly disappointed by a mere photo of Kirsty Lovie’s motorbike, rather than the actual machine?
Here’s the thing though: did I listen more intently to her Carnatic violin solo from Reena Esmail’s Darshan as a consequence of her sharing some personal stories? I think I did, and the 15-year-old me certainly would have.
There were other fine solo turns – notably double bassist Diane Clark’s party piece adaptation of Jay Leonhart’s It’s Impossible to Sing and Play the Bass – and the Montgomery, for example, required just a string quartet, but the main emphasis was on the collective “ensemble”. That included lots of movement – the choreography for Piazzolla’s Verano was really rather slick – as well as music, some audience participation percussion following musical director Donald Grant’s excursion into traditional Scottish music, and harmony vocals on the closing piece by the Danish Quartet’s Rune Tonsgaard Sorensen.
This was one of those projects that derived its success from a vast amount of work by people unseen as well as onstage, to appear almost effortless in its final form. A triumph from start to finish.
picture by Tommy Ga-Ken Wan