It felt like Tectonics had come six months early – what with the seemingly indefatigable Ilan Volkov on the podium, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra playing uncategorisable music that straddled avant-garde and free jazz, and a sizeable audience of young and old attracted by the prospect.
BBC SSO/Ilan Volkov ****
City Halls, Glasgow
But unlike Volkov’s no-holds-barred May weekend, this was a one-off concert devoted to US polymath Anthony Braxton and two of his pupils – and presenting no less than four premieres. Braxton’s rugged, uncompromising and unapologetically cerebral music straddles jazz and avant-garde classical – he cites John Coltrane and Karlheinz Stockhausen as two formative influences. But it was the earlier American maverick Charles Ives that hovered behind much of the music being performed – whether in the thick, cacophonous climaxes of Braxton’s tapestry-like Composition No. 27 for huge orchestra, or in the witty, Prince-inspired Uncle, Another Tale from Braxton’s pupil Taylor Ho Bynum, with its collisions of popular tunes, which used three separate conductors to slide different sections of the orchestra slowly apart in their tempos.
Braxton’s thoughtful double concerto Composition No. 63 – with Bynum on cornet and fellow Braxton pupil James Fei on saxes playing for all they were worth – made for a more overtly free-jazz conclusion. But it was Fei’s own rather magical The Loudness of Single and Combined Sounds that stole the show, with its subtle, at times almost inaudible rippling, tolling sonorities. The BBC SSO players were on fine, committed form throughout, whether playing from a score or improvising, and Volkov gave precise, demanding direction, full of conviction.