Alan Cooper Reviews: Bozzini Quartet with Sarah-Jane Summers and Monty Adkins

In association with WOODEND BARN, NEAT and BUCHANAN FOOD

CLEMENS MERKEL: First violin
ALISSA CHEUNG: Second violin
And MONTY ADKINS: Electronics

Thursday, 03 November 2016

Thursday evening’s concert was presented as part of Curious, a series of evening events sharing food and contemporary performance with like-minded people organised as a collaboration between sound, Woodend Barn and NEAT (North East Arts Touring). For this concert, Woodend Barn was arrayed as if for a medieval banquet with long tables illuminated by soft candlelight. Before the concert, we were treated to a light supper. A delightfully piquant vegetable casserole was served with couscous and exceptionally delicious bread. A variety of drinks were available at the bar as was coffee later on. This meant that instead of seating ourselves down in serried rows keeping ourselves very much to ourselves and almost resenting those sitting beside us if we did not know them, the very fact of passing round the various dishes for us to share meant that we got talking to those beside us. I sat next to a lady who turned out to be from the Inverness region and knew Kingussie and Newtonmore near to where I once lived in Boat of Garten when I worked in the Highlands. The subject of local accents moved us on to the question of music and it turned out that this lady was none other than the mother of Sarah-Jane Summers who was about to perform with the Bozzini Quartet in Water’s Edge by Monty Adkins scored for classical string quartet, Scots fiddle and electronics. I discovered many details of Sarah-Jane’s musical past and her interest in Norwegian music- more than anything that was available in the excellent programme note that covered the concert. All this happened just by chance but what a wonderful example of happy happenstance for a reviewer.

The programme note informed us that Water’s Edge was created in collaboration between composer Monty Adkins and writer Deborah Templeton. Templeton’s short story of the same title was written alongside the music. It develops themes of isolation, longing and love. The piece was in eight movements and was built on the obvious contrasts and possible consonances between the three sound elements in the piece, the String Quartet, the solo fiddle and the prepared electronic sound backgrounds to the instruments. Those electronic sounds were derived from drones and resonances produced by the sympathetic strings of a hardanger fiddle, Norway’s National Instrument. Monty Adkins had worked intensively with Sarah-Jane who can also play the hardanger fiddle. After harvesting the sounds he had worked on shaping and altering them electronically in order to produce the electronic backgrounds for the piece. The opening movement, Prelude began with a gentle wash of sound from the electronics before the first violin, viola and then the other instruments added their voices to the blend. Every movement was vastly different in colour and musical texture. They had some fascinating titles like Winter Tendrils, Hollow or Distant Waters. The movements were all extremely slow allowing the colour contrasts between the string sounds of the quartet players and Sarah-Jane’s fiddle to come through clearly. The fifth movement entitled just Fiddle Solo was for Sarah-Jane by herself and her playing was seductively beautiful. Monty’s electronic sounds often introducing the movements came in an amazing range of colours and dynamics, sometimes just a whisper or then opening out into a full powered blossoming of sound.
To the uninitiated, it might seem that the quartet players were having an easy time but the ability to produce long lasting sounds that were unwavering and remained at the same level is one of the most difficult things that you can ask a string player to achieve. The Bozzini players managed this to an astonishing level of perfection. At times the music had a hypnotic quality to it and as Professor Pete Stollery said the piece as a whole had the power to abolish time itself. It took roughly an hour but it could have seemed much more or much less.

After the performance there was a very revealing soundconversation between Professor Stollery, the composer Monty Adkins and all the performers. I wondered why we had not been told the different titles of the various movements before the performance. Monty told us that above all he wanted us to react to the various sound worlds he created without any preconceptions. I did find though that the titles added quite a bit to the impact of the music. Was I right or was I wrong? That is just one of the questions that the soundfestival encourages us to consider – one of its raisons d’être – n’est-ce pas?

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