north east scotland's festival of new music

press reviews

Graham Fitkin Ensemble

Written by Alan Cooper


The third concert in the "minimalist-inspired weekend" proved to me that minimalism can quite easily find a comfortable home at the very heart of so many different types of music. In Latin American music and in many types of jazz for instance it has always been there, even if at the time it did not realize what its name was.

Graham Fitkin always manages to maintain his own distinctive style of composing even when he embraces an amazingly eclectic range of influences. Jazz, Latin American, early music, classical piano and electro-acoustics all had their part to play in Fitkin’s dazzling cavalcade of musical thrills in the Lemon Tree on Thursday. His all-star Ensemble thrilled the audience with a performance that brought wonderful new sounds to more traditional forms. In the opening piece Totti, (not Tutti but rather a tribute to the Italian football star Francesco Totti) big band jazz textures were given an unusual spicing with the strings of Ruth Wall’s harp for instance. Tuned percussion extended the sound palette still more enticingly.

In Bait, Latin American rhythms and repetitions were given a special electric charge by the exotic sounds of the Brazilian semi-percussion instrument the berimbau. This is the first time I have heard this instrument played. When I worked in a music shop some years ago we took delivery of one of these instruments in a job lot of percussion and it nearly got thrown out with the rubbish because it looked just like the branch of a tree with a bit of fence wire attached! On Thursday however, Joby Burgess really showed us how to make it sing.

Fifty was a piano solo played by Fitkin himself. Its charm, delightful quirky turns and slightly wistful qualities recalled something of Eric Satie. Danse Real on the other hand had its roots back in medieval times. The buzzing tones of the bray harp played by the wonderful Ruth Wall backed a sinuous interplay of saxophones – just one example of how Graham Fitkin is able to derive a performance that encapsulates the spirit of medieval music using some unlikely instrumentation. Here is a composer who understands the essence of sound itself regardless of its provenances. This was especially true of the piece which employed electro-acoustics to broaden the musical palette just before the piece entitled Mistaken Identity where the wind players got their chance to show what they could really do.

There was another marvellous example of electro-acoustic magic in the second half with Ruth Wall creating a whole landscape of sound with her harp. And what a second half it was too with another nod in the direction of early music in Estampie or Vamp which fairly jangled along with its rip-roaring sense of good humour. The piece that really blew me away however was South. For me this was the best piece of locomotive music ever written. It sped me along on the most thrilling train ride of a lifetime.

Last year at the opening concert of the Sound Festival given by Piano Circus they played a piece by Graham Fitkin the pounding rhythms of which nearly had one young lad in the audience take off for the ceiling of the Beach Ballroom. Well, with South, the roof of the Lemon Tree was definitely in danger too.

  • published on 21 October 2010
  • written by Alan Cooper

Reproduced with permission of the author.

relevant events
  Date Day Time Location Event Details
21Thu 7.30 pmAberdeenGraham Fitkin Ensemble