sound festival 2022 review: Any Enemy

NENME(North East New Music Ensemble) instruments:
Violin, Cello, Flute, Cor Anglais/Oboe, Bassoon/Contra Bassoon, Trumpet/Flugelhorn, Percussion and Piano
Conducted by Pete Stollery

Cowdray Hall, Aberdeen
Saturday, 29th October 2022


John De Simone - Gone & Lost (Two pieces from Ups and Downs)
Cameron Duff - In Midian
Jenna Stewart - Colour Wheel (Five short movements)
Scott Manson - views from a Mountaintop

A startling variety of new pieces, all world premières, by upcoming young composers, were brought magically alive by our local musicians who make up sound's unique ensemble, Any Enemy. They were all so helpfully introduced by Saturday’s programme notes which were absolutely excellent.

Any Enemy have been taking part in the soundfestival for four years now. Their regular conductor is Professor Pete Stollery. He is principally known for his compositions and other work related to the world of Electro-acoustic music but he is also a very accomplished conductor as was proved once again today. I feel he really connects in detail with his musicians.

The first two works in Saturday’s programme ‘Gone’ and ‘Lost’ were by John De Simone who is currently Senior Lecturer in Composition at Aberdeen University. These two pieces are actually two final pieces from his ‘Ups and Downs’.
It was fascinating to discover the very different reactions of today’s four composers writing for the mixed instrument ensemble of NENME, which if you say it quickly sounds exactly like Any Enemy. John De Simone is a very affable gentleman. He takes a close interest, not just in the various instruments laid out before him, but in the people who are playing them. As a result, he has chosen to write in concerto style, spotlighting each of his musicians. 
In today’s first piece ‘Gone’, it was the flute player who was highlighted. She began the piece as a soloist. She was joined with a tinkling of very high notes on the piano. There were moments of solo piano and vibraphone, shimmers from cello and violin echoed moments later by the percussionist on glockenspiel. The music was harmonically and melodically attractive, so pleasant to digest.
The second piece, ‘Lost’ fronted the warm mellifluous tones of the cor anglais. Vibraphone and piano were important as were cello and delicately played trumpet in this piece and there were exciting moments from the violin adding stratospherically high harmonics. It was like the hint of chilli Jamie Oliver likes to add as a special surprise to one of his dishes. In John De Simone’s piece, this delighted my musical palate in a similar way.

Cameron Duff’s ‘In Midian’ in the programme note is described as representing a sense of ‘Otherness’. His piece is based on the biblical story of Moses leaving Egypt for the first time. I quote,’Disparate fractured bits of our lives appear and disappear through the opening and concluding sections (of the work) as we assess where we have been placed’.
Cameron Duff achieves this special story telling part of the music using less usual instruments like the contra bassoon or the flugelhorn. That special instrument shone proudly in this piece. Perhaps it was the principal story teller? Explosive bangs and thunder rolls on the bass drum added real drama to the story.

Jenna Stewart’s ‘Colour Wheel’ was a cycle of five very short pieces gathered together as one. Each piece had a very different instrumental flavour. What really impressed me was the way in which Jenna twinned instruments together in such telling ways, by the ‘colours’ of their sound qualities, trumpet with oboe, flute with clarinet, violin with cello and so forth. The final piece had plucked piano strings bowed notes on vibraphone and a small timpani. It was like a concluding fanfare to the piece and I loved it.

‘views from a Mountaintop’ by Scott Manson was the most atmospheric composition. His music painted a whole succession of mountain scenes. There was what sounded like mountain people calling to one another, a suggestion of height and open landscape were there, a side drum and trumpet call suggested a military event happening below the mountain and the piece ended with a lively march. There was the use of interesting percussion instruments too, glockenspiel and a caxixi for a moment. After listening to his piece, I think young Mr Manson could have a future as a film composer?

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