sound festival 2020 review: Digital Horn

PETE STOLLERY: Electronics

Friday 23rd October 12 midday

The background to the creation of this concert is fascinating in itself. Since for today’s usual reasons Ben Goldscheider was unable to come to Aberdeen for a live performance, he recorded his horn part of the music then sent it to Professor Stollery who then added the electro-acoustic sections afterwards. I was amazed at how brilliantly well that worked. There are not many good things to say about the Corona Virus. Perhaps the only one is how it has acted as a powerful developmental incentive for the development for electronics, especially in music. I myself have attended numerous zoom meetings in addition to watching a host of musical events online. Oddly enough, my memory tends to tell me I was really there!

The first piece in this concert was entitled In the Crypt by the Welsh composer Bethan Morgan-Williams. Both the electronic and live sounds were darkly unsettling, matching the supposed atmosphere of the title. The melodic part for horn was echoed and intensified by the electronics. Think of how Britten’s piano parts for some of his songs add to the emotional charge of the music. Well done Pete Stollery, dare I say this was one of your best compositional forays yet! 

The piece was a graphic atmospheric exploration of the title of the piece. Later on there were piano chords which slotted in nicely with the whole spirit of the music.

Nottingham-born composer Adrian Moore’s title is more abstract. It is simply Three Pieces but they are bound together as one. The electronic sounds were very complex and in a sense mechanistic, a bit like an abstract painting in sound. There were some advanced horn techniques but later on, in the final section,  there were distant horn melodies with the electronics having more of a pure musical impact. I was reminded, as I often am with the French Horn of a poem by Alfred de Vigny that I learned at school “J’aime le son du cor, le soir, au fond des bois”.

That idea followed on into the next piece for unaccompanied horn, Laudatio by the German horn player and composer Bernard Krol (1920-2013). It was a well shaped solo piece that included echo effects. It could be thought of as an advanced étude for horn exploring its range of melodic possibilities.

The final work in the concert was Fantasie for horns II by Hildegard Westerkamp, born in Germany but now living in Canada. The piece opened with a soft wash of electronic sound which grew and then died back suggesting at some points an almost choral texture. An attractive horn melody had a second horn pre-recorded in the background. Ben seemed to be working this with a small foot pedal device. Oh! The wonders of contemporary electronics. Some of the horn melodies had an almost balletic effect.

There were several other horn ideas in the piece, motor horn, ship’s or perhaps train horn suggesting all sorts of different surroundings. Bubbling water sounds suggested a mountain spring with the horn here being an alp-horn. Towards the end, Ben played very high soft notes on the horn against lower notes. In a sense, the piece deconstructed and then reassembled the sounds of the horn.

I conclude by reminding people that the French Horn is this year’s special instrument at the soundfestival.   

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