Sunday, 13 April 2008

IRCAM and the BBC SSO

I was at the BBC SSO in Glasgow this week, Thursday and Saturday. Two long, but pretty interesting concerts, revolving around a collaboration with IRCAM.

On the Thursday there was a Boulez piece for clarinet and live electronics 'Dialoge de l'Ombre Double', with the clarinettist Alain Billard gradually processing around an upper balcony, with his sound also being moved around the space electronically. Good clarinet writing and playing, not sure about the 'spatial' aspect.

Unsuk Chin's 'Xi' for orchestra with live electronics didn't grab me massively; neither frankly did Jonathan Harvey's talk about and performance of his 'String Quartet No.4'. Two highlights of this concert were Richard Ayres' 'No.37b', an entirely acoustic work, admittedly perhaps a bit of a one trick pony, and Stockhuasen's 'Telemusik', admirably diffused by Alistair MacDonald.

The second concert on the Saturday had more Stockhausen ('Gesang der J√ľnglinge'), and some Xenakis played by the Scottish Ensemble ('Aroura' and 'Ittidra'). Both good; particularly impressed by the performance approach of the strings, all standing, no conductor. Yan Maresz's 'Metallics' for trumpet and live electronics was lively and colourful, although I gather from the way the player was gesturing at his headset that there were some technical problems. (In fact, I heard later that the IRCAM engineer said that the Max/MSP patch for the piece 'doesn't really work'.)

Big, big treat was the incomparable, immortal Trevor Wishart diffusing his own forty-minute 'Globalalia', with 8000-odd individual phonemes from 26 languages cut up and reassembled into a sometimes funky, sometimes humourous whole. After listening to such a thorough deconstruction of the human voice, the excerpt from Jonathan Harvey's opera 'Wagner Dream' fell completely flat for me, with it's unreconstructed use of the voice; er, a soprano. Singing operatically. Huh.

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