Pekka Kuusisto and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra premiere works by Anna Clyne

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Beethoven, Anna Clyne, Mozart and Haydn: Scottish Chamber Orchestra / Pekka Kuusisto (Violin/Director). City Halls Glasgow, 8.1.2019. (GT)

Anna Clyne

Beethoven – Overture to The Creatures of Prometheus, Op.43

Anna ClynePrince of Clouds (UK premiere); Sound and Fury (World premiere)

Mozart – Divertimento in D, K136

Haydn – Symphony No.60 in C ‘Il Distratto’

That the Scottish Chamber Orchestra can give two premieres in a single subscription concert by a woman composer says a lot for the ensemble’s commitment to contemporary music. The healthy audience is another indication of the popularity for the progressive policy of the orchestra. Anna Clyne is the new SCO Composer in Residence and she has already achieved remarkable success in the US and Europe. Clyne has been a Grammy Award nominee and had residencies in Baltimore and Chicago. Domiciled in New York, educated in Edinburgh, and London-born, Clyne could claim to inherit different trends in music. Certainly, her music has ranged from cutting-edge dance, cinema, the visual arts, and collaborations with distinguished musicians like Riccardo Muti, Esa-Pekka Salonen, and Leonard Slatkin.

With the dynamic violinist Pekka Kuusisto in charge for the evening, we knew that the music making would be eventful and exciting; the appearance of the young musician never fails to be entertaining and always at a high level of virtuosity. Leading the opening overture, he produced a sparkling performance, albeit at the start there was a wee bit of slack ensemble (there were quite a few new faces in the orchestra), however with his magnificent playing Kuusisto united everything superbly with notably fine contributions from the flute of André Cebrián, and the bassoon of Rie Koyama offering some bright and breezy articulation.

The opening of Clyne’s piece for two violins and strings was atmospheric with some dramatic chords from which a challenging idea emerged before the music returned to elegiac, shimmering melodic lines. Leader Benjamin Marquise Gilmore’s violin noticeably revealing his world-class virtuosity here. Clyne’s piece is rather a dialogue between mentor and mentee invoking her studies at Edinburgh University with Kuusisto in the mentor role while Gilmore assuming the role of the student. There were skipping lines from the violins, and an eloquent idea from the low strings. There was a reprise of the opening theme before the piece closed in a still quietness.

Mozart’s Divertimento – written when he was just sixteen years old – proved the highlight of this concert. The opening graceful idea took the audience back to a world of serenity and repose, with some magnificent playing from Kuusisto and Gilmore. In the slow movement, the manner was reflective, unhurried, as if we were enjoying a bright summer’s day, with sunlight flickering through trees. In the final movement, the bright, upbeat idiom continued with scintillating playing. Kuusisto has an inimitable manner giving superb service to the music, one never tires of listening, nor indeed, watching him playing.

The programme advertised that the world premiere of Clyne’s Sound and Fury would start the second half, however, it was the Haydn Symphony No.60 which came first. Considering Clyne had used Haydn’s symphony for reference, Kuusisto stopped to apologise for not saying that the second half would open with Haydn. Nevertheless, Haydn’s ‘Il Distratto’ symphony was beautifully performed, with all of the jocularity and comedy being fully brought out. Robin Williams’s oboe was superb and there were diverse and swift mood changes from Kuusisto’s foot stamping dance playing. Haydn’s symphony can rarely have been given a more splendid performance than this.

Yet Clyne’s new work was a disappointment with Kuusisto abandoning his violin and taking up a baton to direct Sound and Fury. There was an opening brisk tempo from strings, colourful and dark, with a xylophone and tubular bells expanding the chamber orchestra. Clyne’s ideas were interesting but lacking weight and gravitas, a curious theme initiated on the horns, leading to an unexpected increase of pace from strings and joined by quirky woodwind playing. Clyne’s material seemed weak here with a quote from Haydn’s symphony and a pastoral theme, then the taped words of Sir Ian McKellen over loudspeakers from Shakespeare’s Macbeth could not be heard because of the volume of the orchestra’s playing. The conclusion was rather melancholy, with bells and high strings playing a pastoral theme, before a slow build to the climax amid a cacophony of noise. Clyne has a fine orchestral technique but there is a question of how she uses it and what she does with her material. Hopefully in future concerts we will hear some more enterprising music from her.

Gregor Tassie

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