north east scotland's festival of new music

press reviews

Inspired new music hits the right note

Written by Michael Tumelty, The Herald

Reproduced with the permission of the Herald & Times Group.

article | The Herald

Five years ago, a venture was launched in Scotland that sounded, at the very least, hare-brained.

A group of like-minded, music-loving enthusiasts decided that in the north-east, to say nothing of the rest of the country, there was a distinct lack of performances of contemporary and new classical music. Their solution was to create sound: north-east Scotland's festival of new music.

Unlike orthodox festivals, there would be no director. The sound Festival would be created from within the community. The founders based their principal strategy on the idea of creating a network. Without a big budget, how to secure artists? Where to base the festival? And how to guarantee the integrity of the programmes as being part of a new music venture?

The answer was simple but breathtakingly imaginative. They looked at the plethora of musical activities across the north-east, within schools and universities, and from music clubs and concert halls to community organisations and churches. It also became transparent that, as elsewhere throughout Scotland, at any given moment there is a mass of musical activity taking place, with a touring circuit of professional ensembles and groups plying their wares.

But how do you unite these resources? How do you form an integrated festival of new music out of all these disparate components? Create a network. Any organisation, group or individual musician coming into the area with a programme of music for a concert will be invited to become part of the sound Festival network if they agree to one condition: include at least one new work in your programme.

The results were astonishing. Everybody piled in. Composer James MacMillan came up for a day and, with a scratch orchestra of amateurs young and old, put together a performance of Into the Ferment, one of his early orchestral pieces. At that point, the organisers had no idea how sound might develop. Indeed, one of them remarked during the first festival that they didn't know if there would be a festival the following year.

And here they are in year five, with Evelyn Glennie and MacMillan as patrons (joined this year by a third patron, the legendary cellist Rohan de Saram, formerly of the Arditti Quartet) and a huge programme of over 50 events crossing all manner of musical boundaries. Performance venues range from the fabled barn at Woodend in Banchory, where the festival was conceived, to Aberdeen's Music Hall; from the formal surroundings of churches to the Salmon Bothy at Portsoy.

James MacMillan will be in residence for his 50th birthday celebrations, judging a composition competition, overseeing performances of his music, preaching a sermon (I jest not) and giving a festival lecture. The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra will be there. Composers, including Gareth Williams, Oliver Searle and Eddie McGuire, will be bailing out of the central belt and taking their latest compositions to the north-east.

Performers will follow suit, with the Edinburgh Quartet, the Primrose Quartet, the Dunedin Consort, the new Red Note Ensemble, soprano Irene Drummond, fast-rising pianist Alasdair Beatson, the Fidelio and New Oxford Trios heading for a festival that flourishes and continues to expand its dimensions.

And those dimensions are not restricted to tough, modern classical music. This year, violinist Chris Stout will join harpist Catriona Mackay and the live electronics of Alistair MacDonald in a fusion of roots, folk and contemporary music; there will be an evening with Chemikal Underground Records, established in 1995 by The Delgados in a show featuring latest signings, The Phantom Band.

Only five years ago, the sound Festival was an idea driven by enthusiasm, no more and no less. Today, it is a magnet.

Reproduced with the permission of the Herald & Times Group.