Sunday, 1 March 2015

BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. City Halls, Glasgow 28 Feb 2015

BBC SSO, Hear and Now. City Halls, Glasgow. Live review.

The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra play a varied palette of music. They have become proficient interpreters of modern classical music and again this month were recording music for Radio 3's Saturday late-night new music thread, Hear and Now. Modern classical music doesn't seem to shift tickets as well as a night of Beethoven but these Hear and Now concerts for radio transmission are free and I'm always amazed that more people wouldn't just give it a go. 

Tonight the orchestra were led by German composer and conductor Matthias Pintscher. The finale was to be a piece by French composer and polymath Pierre Boulez to mark his 90th birthday. Before that the first half of the programme lent heavily on the conductors tastes and colleagues. First up was a composition by Serbian Marko Nikodijevic, "Cvetic, Kucica.../La Lugubre Gondola". This was based upon Liszt's piano piece, inspired by Venetian funeral gondolas. The title, "little flower, little house" in Serbian, dedicates the piece to the death of a 5 year old girl found dead in the back of of sunken lorry. Thoughts of this solemn tale, mentioned in the programme notes, rather overwhelmed the mournful music, which ebbed and flowed. 

Next was a piece by our conductor's former teacher Manfred Trojahn, "Herbstmusik/Sinfonischer Satz". This takes ideas from Sibelius's Fifth Symphony the programme notes tells us and I liked it a lot. For me it felt like tumbling down rather dark and tempestuous rapids of a river before our head pops above water in the stiller waters downstream. 

Next was a piece by young Slovenian composer, Vito Zuraj. "Hawk-eye( horn concerto)". Whether we were evoking the eye of a hawk zooming in on some prey or the modern computer aided tennis ball tracking system was ambiguous. It was a very visual piece however, from zooming in and out with the opening strings rising and falling to the parping French horn played by Saar Berger. However the image it created in my mind's eye was really of an elephant trying to chase a pesky fly. With the violins largely played ukulele-style and them getting out all the comedy instruments from the percussionists toy box it felt like a light-hearted soundtrack to the Eastern European cartoons I watched on BBC2 in my youth. 

If the first half was a very visual spectacle, the second half was more a pleasure for the ears. Pierre Boulez will always be thought of by me as the inspiration for Private Eye's music correspondent Lunchtime O'Boulez. I wasn't familiar with his music and "...explosante-fixe..." has led me to seek out some more. This particular piece was written as a requiem for a flautist friend of the composer. This piece combined electronic elements alongside traditional musicians. We had 22 musicians on stage divided into strings, brass and woodwind with a flautist standing in front of each third, the stage looking like half of a Trivial Pursuit piece. In the auditorium was another performer working the live electronics. The electronic elements chimed perfectly with the musicians, tonally and in volume, moreso than I have ever seen before when these are combined. It all hung together coherently and was quite hypnotic and delicate. 

Another fascinating evening of things which were all new to me, a fantastic orchestra and a beautiful setting. Why aren't these great FREE concerts playing to bigger crowds?

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