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Young Composers' Concert

Written by Alan Cooper

reproduced with permission


Young Composers' Concert: Aberdeen City Music School and Paragon Ensemble

I was glad I went to hear the celebrated Paragon Ensemble in the Cowdray Hall at teatime on Sunday. They were there with one of Scotland's finest contemporary composer's John Maxwell Geddes to play a selection of his music along with six newly minted compositions by pupils of Aberdeen City Music School. John Maxwell Geddes has long been recognised as one of Scotland's best and most generous spirited teachers of composition. The concert was the culmination of a project run by the Paragon Ensemble in association with Maxwell Geddes designed to further the talents of twenty aspiring young composers including entrants from Aberdeen City Music School, Castle Douglas High School, Kelvinside Academy, Jordanhill School and Hutchesons' Grammar School.

The six pieces I heard in the Cowdray Hall on Sunday sounded nothing like the tentative struggles of schoolchildren; here surely was the work of seasoned musicians with a mature approach to writing for a varied instrumental ensemble. It was obvious too that the pieces were not the work of Maxwell Geddes himself since every one of them had its own unique character. Possibly the most amazing thing about these pieces was that every one was by a female composer. It is only in our time that the girls have been catching up with the men and perhaps in the future, collections of composer portraits will look quite different from those of the past.

The performance began with a piece for wind quintet by Maxwell Geddes entitled From Davy Jones' Locker. Based on the melodies of well-known sea shanties, the scoring cleverly tore the melodies apart then reconstructed them. This was a process that continued throughout the piece boosting the feeling of tension before Maxwell Geddes made the whole piece explode in a riotous conclusion.

More serene his Callanish 1 for solo flute was updated by the composer for this concert. Here the flute captured the still expanse of a vast silent night sky, something that was to be the inspiration of the student compositions as well. Winter (1978) was another composition for a solo instrument, this time a clarinet. For me it suggested the eerie stillness of a twilit winter landscape broken only towards the end by the cries of some unseen solitary bird.

Not in the least solitary was the teasing game of chase me and hide and seek that Maxwell Geddes wrote for flute and bassoon in his Tom and Jerry (2007); a nice example of how to write for two instruments that you would not normally think of twinning.

His final piece brought all the members of the Paragon Ensemble together with the six young composers and Maxwell Geddes himself on keyboard to play Orbiter (2008) a kind of musical nonagram built from themes supplied by the six young composers.

And now for their own pieces: all six were scored for oboe (or cor anglais) along with harp and vibraphone and were on the theme of Starscapes. The first entitled Musica de la Luna was by Corinne Candlish. I was impressed by the strength of her melodic invention and by the way she moved the focus of interest from one instrument to another, a technique every composer of a string quartet must master. Even when the oboe was the centre of interest Corinne altered the balance of accompaniment between harp and vibraphone in a most imaginative way.

In Kyron by Rebecca Chalmers the spotlight was shared more evenly between the three instruments and the harp had a strong cadenza-like input to the composition which I thought added an extra level of interest.

Stargazing by Fiona Scott was the first piece to exchange the oboe for a cor anglais. I loved the way she used the three instruments together to deliver a kind of off centre harmonic and melodic content that expressed perfectly the unearthly quality of outer space.

Voyage of the Moon by Fiona Cuthill had a motivic narrative appeal about it using the three instruments equally to tell its story. One of the problems I experience with some contemporary music is that it fails to give an impression of going anywhere, but Fiona Cuthill's piece had a clear sense of direction and led us fearlessly along its path.

Abi Collins also employed the cor anglais in her piece Lacus Somniorum. Here too was a piece with a sense of forward momentum driven this time mainly by the cor anglais while the vibraphone and harp created an atmosphere through which the cor anglais sang its story.

The final composition was by Amber Anderson. In Amalthea Gossamer the composer returned to the oboe and she too gave her three instruments an almost equal prominence. This time the music was more descriptive than narrative and as the programme note suggested it projected a powerful sense of atmosphere.

We have always been aware that the Aberdeen City Music School has been producing a wonderful crop of top flight performers but now it appears that their cornucopia of new composers will turn out to be every bit as replete.

Original article reproduced here with kind permission.

events mentioned
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9Sun5.00 pmAberdeenAberdeen City Music School and Paragon Ensemble