Festival review: Tectonics, various venues, Glasgow

It may be entering its second decade, but the Tectonics festival of new music still brings an invigorating adrenaline rush, writes Ken Walton

Tectonics, Various venues, Glasgow ****

At the time of writing, this year’s Tectonics Glasgow – “the 11th”, co-founder/director Ilan Volkov proudly announced – was halfway through its two-day adrenaline rush of all that constitutes the cutting edge of the cutting edge of contemporary classical music.

And once again, the City Halls complex proved its aesthetic worth, enabling a clearly fanatical audience to snake its way back and forth between the cobbled informality of the Old Fruitmarket, the seated formality of the Grand Hall, and the compact intimacy of the Recital Room.

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Ilan Volkov PIC: Alan PeeblesIlan Volkov PIC: Alan Peebles
Ilan Volkov PIC: Alan Peebles

In the Recital Room on Saturday, repeating throughout the day, a serious of improvisations under the title “Common Sense Will Not Prevail” featured three artists at cluttered desks, one like the white-coated nutty professor from Richie Rich, surrounded by Heath Robinson gadgets, the others variously tickling pine cones, vocalising, or rasping into saxophones. Visually, it looked a bit like an episode of the Repair Shop. But even without the key presenter (vocalist Kate Armitage unfortunately having to call off), and despite ending with a rather perfunctory “time-up” nod, it had a certain offbeat aesthetic charm.

The Fruitmarket revealed more substantial fare. In relative terms, the opening collaboration between Norwegian-based folk duo Sarah-Jane Summers (fiddle) and Juhani Silvola (guitar) and the BBC SSO strings under Volkov may have seemed conservative, yet Summers’ featured work, The Spirit Multitude, proved a novel, invigorating experience. Based on fragments from a Highland folktale, traditional motifs were the immediate catalyst for wild ephemeral transformations, any overriding frenzy tamed at times by sudden hymn-like, Edvard Greig-inspired repose, or trumped by a final ebullient Bartok-style Hoolie.

For vocalist and performance artist Elaine Mitchener, the stimuli for her one-woman presentation were the spirituals and hymns of her upbringing, channelled through Olly Wilson’s Sometimes (based on Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child) and her own “through the mincer” vocal reworking of Amazing Grace. Her dramatically-lit performance, with accompanying electronics, was ecstatic and visceral, further witnessed in a gripping walkabout solo improvisation. Compared to that, Eiko Yamada’s hypersensitive recorder performance in the Grand Hall – Traces of Air – seemed like diametrically-opposed introversion.

Saturday ended with the full BBC SSO, firstly in the world premiere of Marc Yeats’ conductor-less “a point in the landscape”, though not as you usually see them. Configured in what more resembled break-out groups from a training symposium, some spilling along the upper balconies, this example of Yeats’ so-called polytemporal approach asked the musicians to shape their own journey through the music aided by the timers on their smart phones.

The result was partly chaotic, a brutal cacophony of pitch elements riding atop a sea of constantly shifting sands, yet strangely overwhelming in its capturing of the swarming instinct that ultimately brings order to most civilised societies. It was hard not to treat the flippant two-note double bass sign-off as anything but gleeful irony.

Solitary violinist Ilya Gringolts offered a mystical follow-up with Salvatore Sciarrino’s will-o’-the-wisp solo Caprices, before the hi-octane buzz of Mariam Rezaei’s/Matthew Shlomowitz’s 6 Scenes for Turntables and Orchestra. Co-composer Rezaei was also the soloist, manipulating her turntables with the frenetic dexterity of a convulsive croupier. It was an amazing sight, but an even more amazing sound, Rezaei’s alert vocabulary of woozy pitch-bending, ethereal swoops and edgy electronic snarls dynamically married to the transitory eclecticism of a madcap orchestral score that, under Volkov, literally rocked.

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