sound festival 2019 review: Uniquely oboe

The Closing Party of this year’s soundfestival took place in the Café Bar of the Belmont Filmhouse on Saturday 2nd November. However, the Festival was really not quite over because on Sunday, there was an afternoon concert at The Barn, Banchory promoted by the Woodend Music Society with the Kapten Piano Trio playing music by Mozart, Debussy and Brahms along with two world premières, ‘Bowheads’ by the Canadian composer Emily Doolittle (b. 1972) now living in Glasgow where she is an Athenaeum Research Fellow at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, and a piece simply entitled ‘New work’ by the Japanese born composer Shiori Usui now also based in Scotland.

However since this was the year of the oboe at sound and it was also the very first concert in the Cowdray Hall after its refurbishment, I decided to go along to the UNIQUELY OBOE concert in the Cowdray. The main auditorium has not changed all that much although the entrance and I am told backstage have, this is probably a good thing because the Cowdray was hailed by many visiting musicians for the excellence of its acoustics. There are new very comfortable seats however with the names of donors on plates on the backs of the chairs and best of all, the gloomy cinnamon coloured walls have been repainted in an attractive light blue making the entire Hall a much more attractive and welcoming venue, designed I thought to lift the spirits.

Lets get on to the music however. There were nineteen oboists arrayed in a semi circle at the front. Most of them were young players but there were a couple of, dare I say, more mature oboists taking part. Leading the ensemble and taking part in it was the marvellous Nicholas Daniel who has given so much to SOUND this year. He had spent the day with the performers readying them for the late afternoon’s performance and he had done a marvellous job. The performance began not really with new music but with an arrangement for our nineteen oboists, or twenty including Nicholas, of a piece by the French baroque composer Joseph Bodin de Boismortier (1689 – 1755). It worked well. Tansy Davies produced the percussion sound and the big oboe sound made by twenty players was beautifully clean and clear. They all looked so happy too.

The second piece however was much more modern. Composer Tansy Davies who has also given so much to this year, had worked with the players on a piece, the ‘score’ of which was on an easel in the centre of the group. On it was a circle of sketches – you could probably call them musical hieroglyphs. One looked like raindrops, another like a musical crescendo sign, each one telling the players the kind of tonal sound qualities they were to produce. There was breathing into the instrument with the breath sound only, little pips (that was the rain drops), vocalisations, a strong swelling chord, (that was the crescendo mark), clicking of the instrument keys, and stamping in perfect co-ordination of the right foot across the ensemble. Tansy was in full control of the piece entitled ‘Elemental’. With a pointer she indicated which of the hieroglyphs the players were to follow, bringing them together in different orders to create the piece. It sounded good and was great fun too. Not entirely unique at this year’s Festival though because at the Blue Lamp exactly a week ago, Christian Marclay’s two pieces also used pictures to spark off musical responses from the players.

Nicholas Daniel introduced the third and final piece in the concert, ‘Array’ by John Woolrich. Scored originally for ten oboes, it got double that number in today’s performance. The original performance in May of 1975 was described by Claire Seymour as ‘an oboe aficionados dream’. I reckon looking at the happy faces of the performers at the end of the concert that was a just description. Filled with fanfare-like toots and tantaras, it was exactly the sort of celebratory music that was required for this special event celebrating the culmination of the successful oboe day, the reopening of the Cowdray Hall and marking the final conclusion of sound 2019 but in such a happy joyful way!                                     

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