AFTER weeks of glorious sunshine, it probably seemed like a droll wheeze to open Citizens of Everywhere! with a recording of a thunderstorm to clear the air. But with predictable irony, it was raining hard anyway and so the most intriguing and relevant event of the Festival 2018 George Square programme, curated by artist Douglas Gordon, played out to a small but receptive audience in plastic ponchos.
George Square, Glasgow ****
Citizens of Everywhere! celebrated George Square’s history as a place of celebration and protest, particularly highlighting a visit from the great American bass baritone and civil rights activist Paul Robeson, who led the 1960 May Day Parade around the square and through the city.
Silent Pathe newsreel footage of the march spooled out on the big screen as Scots Makar Jackie Kay provided poetic recollections of the parade alongside contemporary global events and injustices.
Jazz singer Suzanne Bonnar sang softly on the sidelines as Kay noted the marchers pledge of “no return to the hungry 30s”. In a week of headlines about “adequate food supplies” post-Brexit, this was a timely reminder that those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
Afterwards, Gordon touchingly danced Kay offstage and Bonnar took centre stage for an a cappella improvisation on Robeson’s signature Ol’ Man River, introducing the event’s other main theme of Glasgow as a city caught between a river and mountains.
The musical centrepiece was the premiere of an orchestrated version of Mogwai’s Music For a Forgotten Future (The Singing Mountain), originally commissioned for one of Gordon’s installations and given fresh impetus by the RSNO under Associate Conductor Jean-Claude Picard.
Like many Mogwai works, it sustained a slow and stately pace, leavened by twinkling glockenspiel, until the strings took a more romantic turn and then a sudden surge in volume. Its mesmeric, melancholic and at times magical qualities were complemented by a greatest hits programme themed around sea and landscapes, including Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture, capturing the drama of the eddying ocean, Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, Smetana’s Vltava and Grieg’s impish and exuberant In the Hall of the Mountain King, as well as an outing for Hamish MacCunn’s 1887 concert overture The Land of the Mountain and the Flood.
Suitably stirred and anchored by the performance, the soggy audience joined Bonnar and the RSNO in a closing communal reprise of Ol’ Man River which was far from a wash-out.