Music review: BBC SSO: Hear & Now, City Halls, Glasgow

Conductor Ilan Volkov
Conductor Ilan Volkov
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The prerequisite for the typical BBC SSO Hear and Now concert is an open mind. It’s easy to dismiss the experimentalism that features in these unorthodox programmes as pretentious, especially when the programme notes, as on Saturday, stretch the bounds of useful comprehension. Better in these moments to close the eyes and simply soak in the experience.

BBC SSO: Hear & Now, City Halls, Glasgow ****

We were listening, under Ilan Volkov’s no-nonsense direction, to the challenging sound worlds of Filipino composer Jose Montserrat Maceda and the American John Tenney, both of whom lived till just over a decade ago, and whose music seeks, and to my mind generally finds, an expressive language that is fresh and self-fulfilling.

Volkov opened with Maceda’s 1992 orchestral work Distemperament, which, with its harsh, mechanised dissonance, pseudo-minimalist vocabulary, and democratised reconfiguration of the orchestral groups, bore all the hallmarks of an updated factory-style Gebrauchsmusik. Hindemith for the new age.

The remainder of the concert focused entirely on Tenney’s quasi-sculptural creations, where his obsession with altered pitch colouring combines with his interest in electronic techniques to create something akin to live sound installations.

Diapason, powered by an elemental and intense organic growth, threw up unexpected echoes of Sibelius. The floor cleared for double bassist Dominic Lash and the solo work Beast, an hypnotic trip revolving around a single persistent note. Then Clang for orchestra, framed by a signature Stravinsky-like chord, between which the score evolves like a heaving, slow-motion soundtrack. All in all, music that spoke powerfully for itself.