north east scotland's festival of new music

press reviews

Scottish Ensemble Trio

Written by Alan Cooper

reproduced with permission


Music in the University - Scottish Ensemble Trio - The Atrium, Institute of Medical Sciences

There is always something uniquely special surrounding the atmosphere of concerts in the Atrium at the Institute of Medical Sciences. Although it is hardly ever an arena of perfect silence, the background sounds are well enough dissipated so that you do not lose anything much of the performances. It is rather like the aural ambience you get with buskers I have heard playing in the Paris underground. All three of the performers used the entire area when they played a movement each from Bach's solo string Partitas. Cellist Alison Lawrence was in the middle of the highest balcony while viola player Catherine Marwood chose the walkway just below her. Finally, Cheryl Crockett was just behind us at the back, somewhere among the climbing vines with her violin. The huge cathedral-like acoustic seemed to add an extra dimension to Bach's music making it sound much more romantic than it really is.

For their final piece, the trio coalesced downstairs in front of the main audience, drawing in quite a number of the medical students and staff who seemed intrigued by what was going on. I have always been interested in the fact that a huge number of medical practitioners are also talented musicians.

Judith Weir's The Bagpiper's String Trio is an adaptation for strings of a piece originally written for clarinet and piano. She describes her piece as "a very short instrumental opera based on the life of James Reid, a bagpiper in Prince Charlie's Jacobite Army captured by the English in 1746 and executed after a judge had classified the bagpipes as a weapon." As I sat listening to the piece in the Atrium I wondered what the reaction of James Reid himself would have been if he had been able to have a vision of this piece about his life and death ringing out amid these almost heaven-like surroundings through which passed angels in white coats some two hundred and fifty years after his death.

The opening movement had stark open air harmonies that suggested bagpipe music. The whole effect was further enhanced by the acoustic ambience of the Atrium. Some of the rhythm of the first movement was carried forward into the second, providing the music with its unifying force before the cello sang its lament beautifully against a ghostly background created by violin and viola. Finally the viola joined the cello in a few bars of the lament before all three instruments took up the background effect leaving just the atmospheric content of the piece as death takes the bagpiper away. This was a wonderful performance by the trio and I was glad I had gone to hear them despite the terrible weather and the parking problems round the Hospital area.

Original article reproduced here with kind permission.

events mentioned
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17Mon 1.15 pmAberdeenScottish Ensemble Trio, lunchtime concert