Approaching the very dead of winter, it was refreshing to be reminded of the coming spring, and green shoots. This was a performance of minimilist music, with a new piece, called Green, from Scottish composer (now living in the USA) Thea Musgrave. And in a change of venue, this was in St Ninian’s Cathedral in Perth, which has a lovely acoustic.
First off was Shaker Loops by John Adams – we had seen Scottish Ballet dance to this (live) a few years ago, so it was a good chance to catch up with the music itself: five movements running together, and technically very difficult. The Ensemble pulled it off splendidly, passing rhythms and accents round the group.
Green was a piece looking at ‘good’ and ‘evil’: the upper strings had nice tunes, but were interupted by growls from the double bass, which spread to the cellos and violas. I remember seeing Musgrave’s Horn Concerto performed in the 1970s, and feeling that it was extremely odd – the horn player had to walk round and ‘appear’ at different places on the platform. But this was accessible and interesting.
After the break came the work I had been most looking forward to hearing since this concert was announced at the start of the summer: Steve Reich’s Clapping Music. This has fascinated me since I saw the composer and his son on TV performing it years ago. It is simple in concept, but must be a nightmare to perform: everyone claps the rhythm:
*** ~ ** ~ * ~ ** ~
where * is a clap and ~ is a rest. Half the group keep going, but the other half shift the whole pattern back one beat, and then again , and then again, until after 12 shifts the whole thing comes back into unison again. Simple. OK, this animation explains it well. So 16 musicians stood in a row facing us, and performed the piece – and not only that, but leader Jonathan Morton took the volume down to barely audible halfway through, thus magnifying the listening experience and racking up the tension until we hit the final unison – just brilliant.
Lastly the Ensemble performed Copland’s Appalachian Spring, which they really got their teeth into, leaving us humming “Tis the Gift to be Simple” as we made our way out of the church into the frosty night.