Aberdeen’s soundfestival (19-24 October) resumes normal service this autumn with a week-long programme of live performances that includes over 30 premieres and a brand new series of half-hour Spotlight Concerts featuring emerging and local performers and composers.
At the heart of the flagship contemporary music festival is a climate emergency theme recognising the forthcoming COP26 summit in Glasgow, which features specially commissioned works, environmentally-themed performances under the banner 1.5 Degrees, From the Coast and Distance, and a commitment from all visiting performers not to fly to the festival.
“With COP 26 putting the climate crisis to the fore we have commissioned and programmed pieces that explore the challenge that the world faces,” explained director Fiona Roberson. “We are particularly excited by our co-commission from Laura Bowler, Distance, with which we open soundfestival 2021.” It will be performed in Aberdeen by soprano Juliet Fraser with a live-streamed ensemble in the USA.
Young composers featured in the global warning programmes – also incorporating part of the new Spotlight series – include Jamie Perera, Georgina MacDonell Finlayson, Aileen Sweeney and Emily Doolittle, while established creators Pete Stollery, Pippa Murphy and Alistair MacDonald will direct workshop projects with local teenagers, helping them create electronic soundscapes from discarded waste material. The resulting “instruments” will be used in a performance of More More More, a work originally created for the London Sinfonietta by producer, writer and electronic musician Matthew Herbert.
Premieres in the wider Festival programme include works by Ailie Robertson, Luke Styles, Glasgow-based David Fennessy, and Tansy Davies’ Grand Mutation for violin, horn and piano, a co-commission streamed from France during last year’s virtual soundfestival. Among this year’s guest performers are Red Note Ensemble, the St Machar’s Cathedral Choir with organist Roger Williams and the New Maker Ensemble.
The Festival completes its five-year exploration of “endangered instruments” with a focus on the double bass. French bassist Florentin Ginot – a progressive champion of the instrument through his involvement with Ensemble Modern, IRCAM and Ensemble Intercontemporain – is this year’s artist-in-residence, and will appear as soloist and in various collaborations, including the world premiere of a new sound commission from Pascale Criton with the soprano Juliet Fraser. The scientific properties of the double bass can be explored in an interactive exhibition at Aberdeen Science Centre.
Robertson expressed delight that soundfestival has been able to return to near normal, albeit in line with ongoing COVID constraints. “Programming a festival as we are emerging from lockdowns has not been the simplest task,” she acknowledges. “However, if we’ve learnt one thing over the past 18 months, it’s that it is important to adapt to your circumstances and just do what’s possible.”