Classical review: Tectonics Glasgow

Ilan Volkov, conductor and curator of Tectonics, takes a chance with composers who operate on the outer reaches of modernity. Picture: Alex Woodward
Ilan Volkov, conductor and curator of Tectonics, takes a chance with composers who operate on the outer reaches of modernity. Picture: Alex Woodward
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WITH all that was going on in Glasgow over the weekend – there was Minimal at the GRCH plus the regular RSNO/SCO orchestral series – you have to marvel there was any audience left for Tectonics. But it’s a festival with a dedicated following and, by and large, they remained faithful to the cause.

Tectonics Glasgow - City Halls/Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow

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Its curators – Ilan Volkov and Alasdair Campbell – take a chance with composers who operate on the outer reaches of modernity. So unless you’re signed-up fans of the avant-garde inner circle, names such as Joanna Bailie, Paul Newline, Christopher Trapani, John Croft or Cassandra Miller might mean very little.

All five featured in Saturday’s BBC SSO programme, and if there was a single common feature, it was, to varying degrees, a self-belief that music can play with time and trick our brain into suspending it.

Newland’s Angus Macphee, named after the artist from South Uist who chose not to speak for 50 years, is driven by a series of progressively expanding cluster chords, hypnotic in their juxtaposition with silence, and finally – as the players add their own vocalisations to the texture – turning the orchestra into a magical living organism.

Volkov’s super-efficient ear gave it, and all the other performances, the micro-detail required for works that live by the precision and balance of texture. The kaleidoscopic explosions that define Trapani’s Rust and Stardust gave structure and shape to its insistently concise material.

Contrasting that, but equally gestural and sensitively played, John Croft’s …che notturno canta insonne plays on dusky hues and microtonal conflict, like entering the musical twilight zone.

Either side of these works, Bailie’s To be beside the seaside played innocent mischief with Debussy, Beethoven and Strauss, though it was hard to see beyond its central aim of stylistic distortion; while Miller’s lengthy Cello Concerto, for the most part an hypnotic play on two notes by the cellist with punctuating wrap-around comment by the orchestra, left its surprise to the end, as soloist Charles Curtis broke the monotony to unleash a spray of harmonics. It was a long-coming, but euphoric moment.

The highlight of Friday’s late-night opening concert was the premiere of a new work by Mariam Rezaei for the Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra and members of the SSO. Guided by a film of abstract liquid images, the musicians – scattered around the Old Fruitmarket gallery – moulded a slowly-evolving arched soundscape that was remarkably well structured and powerfully realised.

Run ended 3 May