sound festival 2019 review: Red Note Ensemble lunchtime concert

Sergio Vega Dominguez: Oboe
Martin Storey: Cello

Gillian Walker Polaroid for Chris Marker
Kevin Leomo Silhouettes
Ewan Mackay Over the Far Horizon
Andrew Blair Moments
Harry Gorski-Brown this is not the girl

This year’s soundfestival just gets better and better. Saturday’s lunchtime concert in association with the weekly Cathedral At Noon series had two members of the eminent Red Note Ensemble playing new compositions by five young composers currently studying in Scotland. The instrumental combination, oboe (one of the special themes of this year’s sound) and cello, was an unusual one, so it was fascinating to hear how the five different composers had succeeded in bringing the two instruments together to create works with real significance. Although the first two composers, Gillian Walker and Kevin Leomo had created very individual works, nevertheless I felt that both came, in a sense, from a similar musical stable. By this, I mean that both pieces put timbre and sound qualities at the centre of their creative impulses. Their music had a certain affinity with electronic music where sound qualities are the driving force.

In Polaroid for Chris Marker, Gillian Walker’s composition, oboe and cello began by being closely melded together. Soon, however, they took their own particular sonic journeys. The oboe was usually clear and slow moving while the slides, shakes and trills the cello carried much of the more lively impetus of the music. At one point there were vocalisations from the cellist. For a second I thought there was an entry of electronics, but no, Pete Stollery was just sitting quietly in the audience and not on stage. It was interesting though that Gillian had included this in her piece – a possible connection with electronics? The interest in this piece was in the way that the oboe and cello took different routes before coming together again several times.

Kevin Leomo’s Silhouettes used the upper registers of both oboe and cello in much of his piece. Once again the cello had shakes and trills and on the oboe, chord-like sounds known as multiphonics were an important part of the sound palette. Kevin’s was a quite quiet piece. Importantly it included moments of silence which, as in Bruckner’s music, were very much a part of the music, not just pauses. The piece worked its way to a very satisfying conclusion when both instruments were brought together at the end, not unlike in Gillian’s piece.

The third piece, ‘Over the Far Horizon’ by Aberdeen born composer Ewan Mackay who studies at the University of the Highlands and Islands was very different. He admitted in the post-concert discussion that his music was more ‘traditional’ in its structure. Nowadays, there is nothing wrong with that. It was an attractive pastoral sounding piece, blending and interacting the two instruments in a colourful and atmospheric way. I thought it described the title of his work - ‘Over the Far Horizon’ in a quite graphic way. Could there be an opening for this composer in the world of film and television in the future? I believe it pays quite well.

Moments by Andrew Blair also described his title musically but in a very different way. There were advanced instrumental techniques in the writing, the oboe blowing down his instrument without its reed or the cello with pizzicato below the bridge to name just two of many. There was a deliberate disjunction in the music, different from the pauses in Kevin’s piece. Here the intention was to separate the sections completely thus dealing in different ways with the idea of ‘moments’. There were some more traditional instants too but here variety and contrast in every way was important.

‘this is not the girl’ (no capitals in the title) by Harry Gorski-Brown was different from all the other pieces in an interesting way which I will come to in a moment. It used advanced techniques from the outset, especially on the cello which was really transformed into a percussion instrument. Again the oboist was required to blow down his instrument minus the reed and like the cellist in Gillian’s piece the oboist had some almost subliminal vocalisations. What I found particularly interesting though, and this was the result of the magnificent rhythmic performance by cellist Martin Storey, was that I thought that a jazz concert audience would also be entranced by this piece, they would say, “Yes, this is very modern and advanced but it is also our kind of music!”  

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