sound festival 2020 review: Re-visiting The Big Picture with Judith Weir

Saturday 24th October 2pm

This was a chance to see the performance of Judith Weir’s epic choral masterpiece The Big Picture which was performed at last year’s soundfestival to celebrate the re-opening of Aberdeen Art Gallery after its long closure for major refurbishment. I was there last year and remember the huge sense of occasion that surrounded the performance.

However, dare I say that this film of the event was infinitely better for me than the live performance. The filming was absolutely tremendous. When I was at the original performance standing at the floor level, I could see conductor Roger Williams, the Con Anima Chamber Choir and Jeremy Coleman on keyboard. The community choir and Lisa Nicol on percussion were only just visible but not clearly and only today did I discover that clarinettist Joanna Nicholson was on the very top floor. Where I was standing I thought she must be on the second floor but hidden by the choir. The film makers focused on the particular performers and that was just great. I must also say that on the film, the sound was also so much better. The chattering and clinking of glasses from the side galleries was very much minimised so the music could be enjoyed more fully. This is a film that everyone should see.

It was indeed a wonderful piece in which Judith Weir presents five movements all related to colours, a perfect choice for a piece related to the reopening of an Art Gallery. It was certainly the most lavish performance ever staged by sound, both for its size and the breadth of its musical sounds: semi-professional chamber chorus, community choir made up of children from many Aberdeen Schools (and some older singers). The freshness of the children’s voices was special. They also had some input to the percussion, the main part of which was performed by Dr Lisa Nicol who trains Aberdeen University percussionists who have been star performers at the Music Department for some years. There was also of course clarinettist Joanna Nicholson whose many appearances at sound have always been real star turns.

After the performance Pete Stollery chaired a discussion with composer Judith Weir and conductor Dr Roger Williams about the preparations that had gone into the event over several years. Judith Weir told us that she had visited the Art Gallery with Roger, Fiona Robertson and people from the Gallery to think about the kinds of spatial things she would have to take account of in composing the piece. Dr Williams had also put in a vast amount of work organising rehearsals for Con Anima, the community choir and its various school groups and the percussion and clarinet soloists and then finally binding them all together. The result was stupendous as the film proves. You should certainly take a chance to see what was one of the most epic and enjoyable events ever staged by sound.   

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