north east scotland's festival of new music

press reviews

The sound that's out of this world

Written by Alan Cooper, The Herald

Reproduced with permission

article | The Herald

Pianocircus provided a spectacular opening concert for the launch of Sound, north-east Scotland's festival of new music.

Lit by a dazzling array of spotlights in the centre of a huge darkened arena in Aberdeen's Beach Ballroom, the six performers crouched over their circle of electronic piano keyboards, their faces the very embodiment of concentration. I recalled a scene from Stargate.

Pianocircus first got together in 1989 to perform Steve Reich's Six Pianos. They have been expanding their repertoire ever since. Wednesday's audience included a phalanx of teenagers because this concert was also the launch event for the Pianocircus Keyboard Collective Project, involving four secondary schools, from Highland region, Aberdeenshire and Aberdeen city. The reaction of the youngsters to the music of the four composers was fascinating.

Yumi Hara Cawkwell's Groove Study Mega Mix (2005) focused on the percussive nature of piano sound. Gamelan, hocquetage, even fractal geometry were references in this abstract piece. Colin Riley's Recast was an atmospheric sound painting that merged sequenced electronics with live keyboard sounds while Lynne Plowman's Hall of Mirrors, a witty fast-moving collage of every imaginable piano style from Bach to ragtime finally melted into Jerome Kern's Smoke Gets in Your Eyes. At last, connecting with sounds they recognised, the kids sat bolt upright, smiling knowingly to one another. It was Graham Fitkin's Trilogy: Log, Line, Loud with its repeated pounding of post-minimalist motifs that had the young audience totally exercised. I thought one lad was about to take off for the ceiling, powered by Fitkin's insistent throbbing rhythms.

The festival's second concert, in collaboration with Aberdeen University Music at Elphinstone Hall, was more sedate though no less exciting. It featured the Fidelio Trio. Piers Hellawell was present to hear them perform his Etruscan Games (2007). It was the first of two more abstract works in the concert deriving its form from the dominant roles of piano, then violin and finally cello in the concise earlier movements before weaving their material together in the finale. Tschei Hora was composed by Christopher Cadwur James from Cornwall, a lecturer at Aberdeen University Music who tragically died in a road accident in January 2007. His piece set up a tension using the powerful rhythmic impact of fragmented musical utterances before merging these into a coherent whole.

The next two compositions were more pictorial. The eight short pieces entitled The Piano Tuner (2004) by Nigel Osborne based on music from his opera of the same name had the piano depict a train receding into the distance or beautifully delicate harmonics on violin and cello describing a dragonfly. Judith Weir's Piano Trio Two created an appealingly sensual world that was also mysterious and strangely intangible. The piano trio arrangement of Schoenberg's Verklärte Nacht, which completed the concert, flowed nicely from Judith Weir's imaginings. It was surprising to find Schoenberg's the most conventional voice in the concert.

The Edinburgh Quartet, currently on world-class form, were in Aberdeen Art Gallery at lunchtime on Saturday with pianist and composer James Clapperton. This was the first of two concerts that day to explore the concept of musical fusion. Târgu Jiu: In Memoriam Horatiu Radulescu was a commission for piano quintet from Aberdeenshire Council for Homecoming Scotland. Its starting point was a fiddle tune by Paul Anderson. Clapperton's piece toyed with the techniques of eastern European and Scottish fiddle sounds.

In the evening at Zeste, Crombie Hall, The Harmony Ensemble led by Eddie McGuire highlighted surprising parallels between Scottish and Chinese music. As well as demonstrating a wide range of Chinese instrumental and vocal styles, including Beijing Opera and a concerto movement with full cadenza stunningly played by Cheng-Ying Chuang, the Ensemble joined with the Elphinstone Fiddlers in a new Eddie McGuire composition entitled Harmony with Chinese text by singer Fong Liu (for me the star of the show). The Fiddlers' leader Alexander Davidson premiered his composition Glen View combining fiddles with authentic Chinese instruments. Like shot silk, his music wove Scottish and Chinese sound threads convincingly together.

Sound continues until November 22.

Reproduced with permission.

events mentioned
  Date Day Time Location Event Details

Click on the short event titles above to see details of the events themselves.

28Wed 7.30 pmAberdeenpianocircus
28WedBanchorypianocircus educational project
29Thu 7.45 pmAberdeenFidelio Trio
31Sat 1.00 pmAberdeenEdinburgh Quartet and James Clapperton, piano
31Sat 5.00 pmAberdeenChinese Music: traditional and new, from The Harmony Ensemble & Elphinstone Fiddlers