Music review: Tectonics, various venues, Glasgow

The music at this year’s Tectonics festival was inspired by forests, bird calls, neutron stars and more, writes Ken Walton
Ilan Volkov PIC: Astrid AckermannIlan Volkov PIC: Astrid Ackermann
Ilan Volkov PIC: Astrid Ackermann

Tectonics, various venues, Glasgow ****

A strong female presence dominated the first day of this year’s Tectonics festival, from the first of two tributes to the pioneering octogenarian Janet Beat – her ritualistic Puspawarna of 1989-90 for gong, electronics and voice (the wistful incanting of soprano Juliet Fraser) being the centrepiece of a wider, improvised programme – to the evening’s main BBC SSO orchestral presentation featuring world/UK premieres by Pascale Criton, Amber Priestley and Kristine Tjøgersen.

If any single work stood out it was Tjøgersen’s Between Trees, a potent and imaginative free-flowing evocation of nature viewed through the infinite possibilities of the orchestral prism. A menagerie of sharp-scented imagery, ranging in intensity from whispered forest rustling and bird calls to burgeoning sunrise, yet bound by cohesive structural logic, it elicited sparkling definition from the SSO under conductor and Tectonics co-curator Ilan Volkov. You could sense echoes of Sibelius in the closing horn motifs, but only fleetingly.

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Priestley’s new BBC commission, For Jocelyn Bell Purnell, took us to the astrophysical world of neutron stars and their detection, a spatial juxtaposition of down-to-earth quotes from Beethoven (the main onstage band) against an encircling menagerie of offstage ensembles engaged in a nebulous otherworldly counterpoint that just went on too long.

Criton’s Alter, a largely ethereal meditation in response to the pandemic, with Juliet Fraser singing and intoning words she herself wrote, shifted emotively from spectral fragility and bullish awakening to its final dissipating repose.

A short precursor to this concert, in the Old Fruitmarket, saw Volkov and the SSO premiere Joanna Ward’s composition from the trees from my friends, the performers wandering freely as if circulating at a party. The music, an amorphous cocktail of motivic gestures, seemed incidental. Much more inviting was the ballsy Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra in Douglas R Ewart’s riotous Red Hills.

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