Tag Archives: Matthew Whiteside

The Night With . . Juice

Drygate, Glasgow

Composer/promoter Matthew Whiteside’s strategy of presenting cutting edge new music in venues with none of the austerity often associated with that endeavour has never seemed as bold as it did on Saturday night, where the upstairs room was accessed through a pub/restaurant packed with folk who had probably been more concerned with sport that afternoon, and who were never inaudible.

If that meant the audience had to focus their ears more carefully as they quaffed the craft brewery’s ale, it was an exercise well worth the effort. Opening with Meredith Monk’s wordless call-to-attention, Offering, sung solo by Anna Snow, the vocal trio’s first set was completed by two world premieres, the second by Whiteside himself with an electronic underscore triggered from a laptop by himself. And This Too Shall Pass was a lockdown project full of signals of the passing on time – bells and metronomes, breathing and babble – which made considerable demands on the singers’ vocabulary of vocal effects, closely integrated with the instrumental soundtrack.

It was in contrast to the even newer work, by Royal Conservatoire of Scotland composition student Amy Stewart, Mountain High. Completed in workshops with the group, Stewart’s heartfelt lament for the stolen youth of the children caught up in the present conflict in Ukraine married the Kyrie from the Latin Mass with a Ukrainian folk song, There Stands a High Mountain.

Thereafter, the tone lightened, even if the music itself was often complex, three of the following four pieces being specifically concerned with the goddess Venus. Elizabeth Bernholz, a.k.a. Gazelle Twin, and the Afrofuturist Nwando Ebizie both start from the same point with their pieces Goddess Awake and The Birth of Venus, but travel in very different directions. With a looping soprano figure, sampled mezzo and narration, the precision-engineered performance of the former was the easier to appreciate, while the non-singing vocal techniques and pre-language story of the latter was a dense and complex climax to the programme.

The work of French-born sound artist Olivia Louvel has visited the 16th century before, and specifically the story of Mary Queen of Scots. Her composition Not a Creature of Paper draws on the Venusian love sonnets of Renaissance French feminist Louise Labe in a collage of overlapping text and tunes and fireworks in the electronic underscore.

With the rich alto tones of Steph Connor replacing Kerry Andrew in the line-up, these three works were perhaps the building blocks of a future Juice Ensemble album, the exception being Croatian composer Mirela Ivicevic’s Orgy of References, another solo – this one performed by soprano Sarah Dacey. An absolutely hilarious setting of the notional biography/curriculum vitae of a young musician, it plays with all the cliches in a jumble of showstopping moments and academic earnestness, and required huge amounts of skill and panache to pull off as successfully as Dacey did.

Keith Bruce

Picture: Sarah Dacey

New Antonine Brass

Drygate, Glasgow

It would have been terrific to be able to report that the re-start of composer Matthew Whiteside’s enterprising presentation of new music in less formal surroundings, The Night With . . . , signalled a return to normal service for those with voracious ears. Alas, his 2022 season opening, with modern brass quintet New Antonine Brass, was beset by pandemic-related problems.

Horn player Lauren Reeve-Rawlings was already in for founding member Hayley Tonner when trumpeter Lloyd Griffin tested positive for Covid. Despite Whiteside’s best efforts on both sides of the Irish Sea, no dep could be found for the opening of the group’s short tour in Belfast or for the dates in Edinburgh and Aberdeen, which left only the Glasgow concert, for which Alistair Douglas was available to jump in, on the band’s dance-card.

At least they were able to play their inventive broad programme once this time out, and there was a good-sized audience to hear it – and huge plaudits to Douglas for his last-minute role in making the presentation of such challenging music possible. Although the intimacy of the project’s previous Glasgow home at The Hug and Pint was fun, it seems to me that the extra space at Drygate suits the artistic director’s vision for The Night With . . . even better.

Formed at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in 2014, and with original members Mark James (trumpet), Lewis Bettles (trombone) and Danielle Price (tuba) present and correct, the group’s programme embraced some famous names and brass quintet repertoire favourites alongside two box-fresh works and others that were nearly new. It is no slight on the safe reputations of Witold Lutoslawski, James MacMillan and Olivier Messiaen to say that the new pieces were at least as memorable on the night.

Following the Lutoslawski Mini-Overture that opened the concert, this web-site must give big thanks to Bettles for his solo feature (complete with audience participation and some radical playing techniques) of John Kenny’s Pandora’s Box, because it is the first occasion on which we have been able to mention the work of the trombonist composer since we began. As the Pictish war-horn he had reconstructed to play gave VoxCarnyx half its name, that recognition is long overdue.

The other solo of the evening was Messiaen’s Appel Interstellaire, from Des canyons aux etoiles, played by Reeve-Rawlings and similarly extending the usual sonic possibilities of her instrument. Tuba player Danielle Price perched on the edge of the stage to take the solo part in the world premiere of her own Room in Shared Apartment Looking for a Soul, which also involved all her colleagues as she moved easily from a rhythmic bassline to melodic improvisation.

That piece was followed by the first performance of Siobhan Dyson’s The Silence of the Blue Star, a commission by The Night With . . . inspired by a real celestial phenomenon and the composer’s fondness for science reaching into the unknown and finding itself surprised. That was reflected in passages of probing inquiry finding a calming, philosophical conclusion.

The other composer present was another trombonist, Ronald MacNiven. His JAPONICA was inspired by a Charles Rennie Mackintosh watercolour, its mix of colour of varying intensity reflected in the score.

The range of light and shade there was reflected throughout the programme, from MacMillan’s Adams’ Rib to the concluding Dowland Suite, Mike Svoboda’s smile-inducing re-purposing of tunes by the early English composer.

Keith Bruce

Portrait of Matthew Whiteside by Julie Howden