Perth Concert Hall
It may be unhelpful to say so, but there are certain tropes of the illustration of the climate crisis that are now in danger of becoming just more “blah, blah, blah”. Images of a collapsing glacier wall or plastic bottles bobbing in the ocean are now so familiar that the horror of them has long since dissipated.
Both were present and correct in the film that accompanied this premier of a new composition that is Red Note’s contribution to the artistic activity around COP26. At first the music sounded ominously at risk of going down the same route: fluttering harmonics and percussive use of the bodies of the string instruments and then chords of ambient disquiet from the entire nonet.
Fortunately, this far from unattractive but strangely familiar opening was merely the introduction to sub mari by Martina Corsini and Manuel Figueroa-Bolvaran. For Corsini, who is Weston-Jerwood Creative Fellow with the ensemble following her music studies at the University of the West of Scotland, this was a debut commission, and the singer-songwriter incorporated a showcase for herself at the heart of what was more a 30-minute suite with five distinct sections.
If her song, backed by young choir from Chile (Coro Allegro, directed by Francisco Espinoza) on film and Levenmouth Academy in Fife (directed by Alison Fleming) on tape, made the most immediate impact, it had also given the producers the biggest headaches. With plans for a live appearance by the young Scots scuppered by pandemic restrictions, Red Note artistic director John Harris revealed, in a discussion after the concert, that some pop music auto-tune trickery had been required to bring all the ingredients to the same pitch.
If that accounted for a slight stiltedness in the central section, it was more than made up for by the liquidity of the playing from Red Note’s professionals around it. The work’s inspiration lay in the scarcity of water in Figueroa-Bolvaran’s native Chile, compared to the threat it poses in Crosini’s adopted home of Scotland, and there was a parallel international landscape of sound in the music. Highlights included a memorable combination of Joanna Nicholson’s clarinet, Emil Chakalov’s violin and percussionist Tom Hunter’s floor tom, flautist Ruth Morley soloing over a backbeat of tribal drumming (again involving the strings as percussion instruments), and Malcolm MacFarlane’s gorgeously fluid Hawaiian-flavoured electric guitar.
The final movement, featuring the full group again, had a questioning tone that seemed absolutely correct, and the corollary to all the cliches that have become part of the environmental debate.
The work has further performances at Wellington Church, Glasgow on November 8, at 6pm, and in the Laidlaw Music Centre in the University of St Andrews on November 9, at 3pm.
Pictured: John Harris by Wattie Cheung