north east scotland's festival of new music

press reviews

New Music Groups

Written by Alan Cooper


Quality and variety along with the infectious enthusiasm of youth were the hallmarks of Wednesday's Teatime Concert which brought together the New Music Groups of Aberdeen University and Aberdeen College under the direction of Dr Paul Tierney. He introduced all the young artists taking part in this Sound Festival special. They were all definitely up and ready to perform music by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies along with new works by their colleagues or mentors. Paul Tierney founded and directed the University of Aberdeen New Music Group and has now established a similar group at his new place of work, Aberdeen College.

I was impressed by the standard of performance and by every one of the pieces in the programme. For me though, two works stood out as particularly fascinating. Perhaps it is because Ed Jones is a composition pupil of Dr Paul Mealor that I should have chosen his piece along with that of his teacher as being of special interest. It was none other than Arnold Schoenberg who is reportedly said that there are still many good tunes to be written in C Major. It is heartening that today in a new century and a new millennium many young composers and one or two older ones as well are working to re-evaluate tonality and to find their own special voice within that tradition giving what in my student days was generally regarded as a worn out and defunct musical system a fresh and original new lease of life. I believe that Paul Mealor is one of those composers blazing a trail into exciting new territory in this direction and more and more too Ed Jones is discovering his own voice there.

Ed Jones had chosen to set two famous Shakespeare Songs, Full Fathom Five and Thou Winter Wind. These he has segued together as a single unit for soprano and piano. For the first of these at least, he joins a startlingly long list of composers from Thomas Morley through to Vaughan Williams, Michael Tippett, Stravinsky and even Michael Nyman. It was pleasing therefore to discover Ed making the songs his own rather than borrowing too much from all these disparate sources. Ed himself played piano with Jillian Bain Christie as a superb soprano soloist reaching down without any hint of strain to the bottom of her range in Thou Winter Wind. I especially liked the watery imagery of the piano accompaniment in Full Fathom Five and the key changes mirroring the "sea changes" mentioned in the text.

Paul Mealor's Shine Forth a Path of Stars also brought together two songs, in this case on a Jacobite theme. Tenor Thomas Henderson along with pianist Richard Bailey had just returned from a triumphant performance of this piece before a capacity audience in the Scottish Parliament. "Everyone who was anyone was there", Dr Mealor told me. I liked the freshness of the harmonic writing in the first song and the little Scotch twists in the second which recalled folksong which itself borrowed that flavouring from bagpipe music.

The Kestrel Paced Round the Sun is a three movement work for solo flute by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. It was inspired by a poem entitled Peat Cutting by fellow Orcadian (I think that by now "Max" deserves that honorary designation) George Mackay Brown. Rosemary Anderson easily navigated the pure wide-ranging melodies spiced by key taps and flutter tonguing which pointed up the avian qualities of this music.

Tony Young is a student at Aberdeen College. His nicely atmospheric woodland piano sketch was performed by Ed Jones. I liked the thematic unity which Tony achieved with gentle rising motifs contrasting with crashing chords which became more insistent as the piece progressed.

Musical Director Paul Tierney kept his composition Spatial Concept till last. It brought together a quintet of flute with two trumpets, euphonium and vibraphone. At first glance an unlikely combination, his skill as a seasoned composer made it thoroughly convincing. Gently throbbing notes on vibraphone were nicely reflected in flutter tongued flute before the music gradually built to its climax bringing in the brightness of the trumpets and all supported by the euphonium. Did Paul choose these instruments because that was what he had available? If so, he was following in a noble tradition that goes back to Bach and before. The piece was built largely on just seven notes representing the seven "slashes" depicted on a painting by the Argentinean painter and sculptor Lucio Fontana (1899-1968). I have just had a look at the painting on the internet and, yes Paul, I think I get your point.

  • published on 27 October 2010
  • written by Alan Cooper

Reproduced with permission of the author.

reviewed event
  Date Day Time Location Event Details
27Wed 5.15 pmAberdeenUniversity Tea-Time