Classical review: Tectonics Festival, Glasgow

Tectonics Festival is now in its second year in Glasgow. Picture: Donal MacLeod
Tectonics Festival is now in its second year in Glasgow. Picture: Donal MacLeod
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Tectonics is not about traditional concert formality or making you feel necessarily comfortable. Now in its second year in Glasgow, this year’s three-day festival opened on Friday in St Andrew’s in the Square, a neo-classical former church now remodelled as an events venue.

Tectonics Festival Opening Night, Part 1

St Andrew’s in the Square, Glasgow

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BBC SSO Orchestral Concert 1

City Halls Glasgow

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Sarah Kenchington, Installation

Recital Room, City Halls, Glasgow

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And the fact we were enjoying a club atmosphere with bar, chat and freedom of movement, vying visually with such iconoclastic ecclesiastical fixtures and fittings as a pulpit and organ pipes, seemed to sum up the underlying tectonic plates metaphor of things grinding relentlessly against each other.

Yet musically, it all began rather tamely and tunefully. That in itself seemed like a shock tactic from Tectonics director Ilan Volkov, whose presence at this event – and in the Iceland version I visited last month – is like a boy with a toy. One minute, he’s telling folk to move seats to a better position, or to get out the road of a dancer; the next he leaps on stage to conduct. Although he shares the Glasgow curation with Alasdair Campbell, Volkov is the human dynamo that makes Tectonics tick.

He let much of the opening programme take care of itself. Most of it, in any case, was small scale, opening with jazz indie pianist Bill Wells’s Summer Dreams, a simplistic, willowy collaboration with singer/violist Aby Vulliamy that took time to gather steam, and when it did – and the BBC SSO ensemble joined in – came to a premature stop.

More absorbing was Klaus Lang’s extract from Ugly House, an uncannily absorbing work for solo harmonium, so quiet, yet so evocative in its manipulation of shifting note clusters, and acting as an atmospheric scene setter to dancer/accordion duo Solėne Weinachter and Jer Reid, whose Fracking juxtaposed hi-octane choreography with introvert musical comment.

More understatement in Práinn Hjálmarsson’s ethereal solo viola piece Persona paved the way for the one big ensemble piece, David Behrman’s Pile of Fourths with Pitchbends, which, in a menagerie of intertwining gestures, produced exactly what it said on the label.

Saturday evening witnessed the first full BBC SSO orchestral programme, featuring world premieres by Behrman, John Oswald and Georg Friedrich Hass, alongside Christian Wolff’s organically powerful (though not without the odd accident in performance) Ordinary Matter for two orchestras, and Haas’s growlingly visceral Saxophone Concerto, again not without minor mishaps.

Of the three premieres, Haas’s Concerto Grosso. No 2 was a significant undertaking, bold in its creation of stubborn, throbbing sonorities that bend and break through subtleties of tuning. Oswald’s I’d love to turn, with its whimsical implant of Beatles tunes, sat perfectly as a stylistic open door to the explorative intensity of the Hass and, before that, the filmic components of Behrman’s How we got here.

In the Recital Room, Sarah Kenchington’s Sounds of the Farmyard installation – a madcap hotchpotch of DIY instruments for all to try – emphasised the fun side of Tectonics.

Seen on 09 and 10.05.14