Monday, 4 May 2015

May Music in Glasgow. Tectonics and Minimal 2015 Review

Review : Minimal Glasgow 2015, Tectonics 2015 Glasgow


If you have flicked through the pages of the excellent new book "Dear Green Sounds - Glasgow's Music Through Time and Buildings" you will know that Glasgow has a long history of being an enthusiastic creator and audience for live music. In 2008 Glasgow was named one of nine UNESCO Music Cities and ever since the days of the "Glasgow's Miles Better Campaign" the city has tried to re-position itself as a cultural rather than an industrial hub. 

It seemed that this May Day weekend there were multiple entertainments fighting for our attention, and I just fear that as a result attendances at some of them may have suffered a wee bit. In the Venn diagram of musical tastes the overlapping set of people interested in modern classical music, jangley indie-pop and experimental new music contains maybe only a handful of people. However I was one of those people so could not attend all the Glasgow music festivals on the go this May Day weekend that I fancied. We had three days of Minimal 2015 at the Concert Hall, three days of the Tectonics Festival in the Fruitmarket and City Halls and Live at Glasgow playing at various venues around Sauchiehall Street on Sunday. Add to that the fact that Take That were playing 5 nights in the city, Partick Thistle were at home to St Mirren on Saturday and the Glasgow Open House art festival was on this weekend there were almost too many choices on offer. (I thought that the Rugby Sevens were on all weekend in Scotstoun too, but that is next weekend - not that I was planning to go to that, but I suppose some people do as it is already sold out). I have certainly spoken to a few people who fancied attending some of the above, but could not decide between the various offerings or just couldn't afford it.

Minimal Glasgow 2015 - Philip Glass, Music in 12 Parts


Glasgow Royal Concert Hall has been running a series of Minimalist music concerts for 5 years now and this year they had attracted two of the world's foremost modern classical composers. First up was Philip Glass on Friday night. This is the third time that I have been lucky enough to see him perform (1 and 2), and it was by far the most intense performance. Now 78 years old, he performed his 1975 piece "Music in 12 Parts" with the seven piece Philip Glass Ensemble. Glass, from Baltimore, and is most associated with the term minimalism which he dislikes, preferring to describe himself as a composer of "music with repetitive structures". Nowhere is that more clear than in this composition. The 12 parts of roughly 20 minutes each, can be played singly or in any order but tonight we were given the rare chance to hear the whole piece from start to finish, divided into four hour long sections with an hour long "dinner break" in the middle meaning the performance lasted from 6pm until after 11pm with both the musicians and the audience showing rapt concentration throughout. 

Philip Glass Ensemble in Glasgow


On stage three musicians, including Glass, played electric organs throughout whilst the other three musicians alternated between flutes and saxophones with a solo female vocalist the final part of the jigsaw. With a burbling, repetitive structure, small changes over time grow and shift giving it a gripping, mesmeric quality. Over the piece I found my thoughts drifting off occasionally, being drawn back into the room with a change in the rhythm or tone. It reminded me of an overnight train journey that I once took across Europe, with the constant soundtrack of the train on the track and the countryside out of the window slowly changing, almost imperceptibly, over time. A hugely enjoyable night. 

Tectonics Glasgow 2015

Part of Goodeipal's
performance
Having seen Philip Glass on Friday and having seen Partick Thistle see off St Mirren on Saturday afternoon, I was belatedly able to join the Tectonics Festival down in the City Halls on Saturday night. This is the third edition of this music festival in Glasgow, with Tectonics events also on the go from Iceland to Australia, curated by conductor Ilan Volkov. With the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra (BBC SSO) at the heart of it, this is a festival of contemporary classical music, new commissions, experimental performers and improvisers. Or to put it another way "that weird shit" as a friend said to me yesterday. Unfortunately I wasn't able to catch any of the performances by French composer √Čliane Radigue, 83-year old pioneer of electronic music. I did get to dip in and out of Danish/ Faroese artist Goodiepal's weekend long performance which involved lectures, electronic music and some pipe playing whilst his colleague wandered about blowing into a conch. 

The main concert featured the excellent and adaptable BBC SSO in the main hall performing five pieces. In the first half the most interesting piece was one written by Paul Newland, Angus Macphee. This is about a South Uist crofter who served in the Faroe Islands in WW2 and then was transferred to a psychiatric hospital in Inverness, where he remained largely silent and created woven pieces from found objects. It was an interesting and nuanced piece with many a pregnant pause. In the second half there was a nocturne by John Croft (...che notturno canta insonne) which felt like a very restless night sitting up waiting for someone to arrive home. The concert was finished off with a lovely cello concerto by Cassandra Miller, with soloist Charles Curtis. The lead cello sawed steadily at two notes whilst the orchestra swirled around him, the brass almost verging on a Mariachi sound at times. It was interesting hearing the cello as the solid backbone of the piece until we got to the last page when it let loose a brief lament. 

The late evening concert was a mixed bag of electronic manipulation, bangs and crashes in the Fruitmarket.

Minimal Glasgow 2015 - Steve Reich

Now 78 years old, Steve Reich was back in Glasgow with a new piece he had written for the Colin Currie Group (two years ago he was in town to watch them perform Drumming). First up he and Colin Currie were interviewed on stage and Reich was urbane and relaxed as ever. He is clearly a demanding critic of performances of his music, but it is nice to see that when audience questioners over-analyse his music, he responds with a flat "no, I don't think so" attitude.

Steve Reich and Colin Currie interviewed on stage 

The first piece performed was Music for Pieces of Wood (1973), a rhythmical piece played on five wooden claves and then Quartet, performed by two pianos and two vibraphones. In his talk beforehand Reich had talked about the process of creating this complex piece and how it has been refined by the performers to complete what we heard today.


The highlight came in the second half with the Colin Currie Group performing Music for 18 Musicians. With a steady, energetic pulse of the four pianos, the xylophones, marimbas and metallophone, seeing it performed live was fascinating as the musicians swapped positions and themselves ebbed and flowed across the stage with the music. A visual and aural spectacle that left me with a warm smile as we headed out into a cold, wet Glasgow evening. 

Tectonics Glasgow 2015

Having sacrificed an afternoon of Tectonic entertainments to see Steve Reich, we headed back down to City Halls to catch the evening concerts there. The BBC SSO were on impeccable form again as they struggled with the jerks and twiches of Peter Ablinger's "QUARTZ for high orchestra". The premise of this piece irritated me at a pedantic level as the orchestra were recreating the "sonically different" individual beats which a pre-recorded quartz watch made. However as the whole point of a quartz timepiece is that the crystal oscillator of a quartz watch creates an extremely precise frequency of signal. We were really listening to the different sounds of the watch mechanism next up the line. So not "quartz" at all, but more a chop, chop, plink, plonk Psycho shower scene pastiche.

Enno Poppe's Altbau was a more satisfying cacophony, which fell into a more melodic second movement. The second half of the concert was made up with a brooding, slow piece by Christopher Fox, Topophony, with harpist Rhodri Davies completing the composition with improvised accompaniment.

Finally we were through to the Fruitmarket, always a lovely venue for the closing concert of strangulated brass and mellifluous glass. Robin Hayward and Hild Sofie Tafjord played tuba and French horn to each other in the style many free-jazz musicians play saxophone, with a halting, choked action. Personally as someone with a love of Jamaican ska, when I see a brass instrument I prefer to hear it blow the roof off. The final performance was a treat, Daniel Padden's Glass Hundreds. Members of the orchestra were accompanied by performers getting a note from running their fingers around the rim of glasses of water. Their impressive finale of making music from blowing across the the tops of bottles whilst gulping down the contents to change the note was a suitably entertaining way to finish the weekend.

Instruments ready in the Fruitmarket
for the closing concert of Tectonics 2015
Both the Minimal series of concerts and Tectonics plan to return to Glasgow next year. As they both use Glasgow Life venues I am sure it is not impossible to try to avoid them arriving in town on the same weekend.

NB - Ticket prices

Partick Thistle vs St Mirren £22
Tectonics weekend pass £24, day ticket £16
Steve Reich or Philip Glass ticket £20-25
Live at Glasgow pass £23
Rugby Sevens weekend pass £50, day ticket £30
Take That £60-£90!

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