Showing @ Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Stevenson Hall, Glasgow, Fri 02 May @ 19:30
A quick glance at the programme note for this concert put together by Red Note Ensemble and MusicLab, and any sensible music enthusiast would gasp in delight and then gather strength. The proffered treats are a healthily unruly assortment of new music, with emerging Scottish talent placed alongside more established international composers, all performed by a changing roster of conductors and instrumentalists.
Reading from a variety of texts laid before her on a table, Shona Mackay uses the magpie instincts of artistic reinvention to verbally communicate her themes in Subtext. These are probed by plundering fragments of her own writing and other contemporary sources, and woven through the music. The balance of spoken voice and music is aptly judged, creating a mesmerising flow with a seductive rhythmic weft. A sensitive communicative tandem between Mackay’s spoken (quoted) words and the ensemble players emerges, then wavers as her own texts begin to percolate.
Later, once the music begins to dance and take flight, it is often hemmed in by silences punctuated with verbal outbursts. These are slightly frustrating and have a whiff of melodrama, over-eagerly defining the thematic progression. Oddly for a piece exploring connections and their often-shaky foundations, Mackay doesn’t quite trust her audience enough to allow more mystery. Nonetheless, there’s huge potential in her style, and she evidently has her finger firmly on more than one artistic pulse.
Daniel Fígols Cuevas is a composer concerned with the ‘drastic’ qualities in music performance, or ‘how operates the relationship between them and our souls’, and that was definitively apparent in his Quale. At the front of the ensemble stands – or agitatedly dances – a baritone saxophone player, whose supra-human extended techniques provoke a restless physical competitiveness amongst the ensemble. The mercurial explosiveness is tempered by shimmering or gritty washes, like chilling winds in a perfectly desolate Cormac McCarthy landscape.
At times the saxophone player uses his mouth to create a stream of spitting lisping sounds, as if forgetting that his instrument is a necessary part of the performance, degenerating instead into a menacing sax-speak rap. Following one vehemently directed spatter of “mouth-bullets” a barrage of string thwacks thunders forth: the effect is bracing.
Intelligent programming ensures the most abstract pieces of the evening are centrally located in each concert half, buttressed by something more concrete. If it’s difficult to fully absorb some of Thomas Norman’s impressively languorous melodies, or the delicate tonal frisson of Martin Bresnick’s gossamer winds and fragile ‘natural’ horn tunings, then flanking them by pieces that offer more in the way of concrete stylistic, physical or textual yardsticks helps the audience to navigate sometimes demanding contemporary territory.