Tonight at the Tolbooth the audience is privy to the incredible talent emerging from Distil. The Distil project “opens up possibilities for a new kind of composer” allowing musicians to explore the boundaries of music composition through various residential workshops.
Expecting a showcase to be amateur art, the audience is instead treated to fantastic new pieces of traditional music performed by Mr McFall’s Chamber. While the Chamber are performing the pieces (and brilliantly at that) they are not the centre of attention tonight. The showcase focuses on nine new composers.
The first piece is Eas Dubh a’Ghinne Ghairbh by Alasdair Paul. It is an enthralling way to start the evening. Like many of the following pieces, the best thing about this piece is how cleverly composed it is. The music of the different instruments layered together creates melodies that are reminiscent of traditional Scottish music while also being completely original.
It is followed by pieces by Lorne MacDougall (Sounds from the Sky), Seàn Gray (The Sailing Experience) and Alana MacInnes (A Fisherman’s Air). The latter joins to perform the flute with the Chamber, adding a celtic vibe to the composition. Composer Mike Vass then takes the lead and sings along to his story song composition Fly. It’s a great effort since Vass seems to be unwell and sings with a raspy voice.
The second part of the evening is just as impressive. It includes pieces by Rhona Smith (Shetland Journey), Sally Simpson (Transitions), Jack Smedley (Coruscate) and Rick Standley (Anchor Point). The second part distinguishes itself by its storytelling. The titles indicate it, but the pieces build up and rise as the audience goes on a journey. To show their musical talents even more, each of them (except for Simpson) joins in with the Chamber to play along their composition.
The highlight of the night is definitely Rhona Smith receiving an award for being an inspiration to fellow artists. The disabled musician is not only the composer of the beautiful Shetland Journey piece but also its main soloist, all through the help of assistive music technology.
The beauty of the different pieces performed tonight is how evocative they are of Scotland – perhaps the strength of this traditional folk music programme. The nautical theme that runs through it (seemingly by coincidence) can only be explained by looking where the inspiration came from – from the sky, the wind and the sea.