Sacred songs

Carol Main reports on the new collaboration

between composer James MacMillan and the SCO.

Set to dominate the Mayfest music programme is the Scottish Chamber Orchestra's somewhat cryptically titled V.S. at The Tramway. lfyou don‘t yet know what VS. stands for. bear the suspense no longer it‘s an abbreviation of Visitatia .S‘epulr‘hri (‘The Visit To The Sepulchre‘). the latest work by Scottish composer James MacMillan. ()ne of his biggest pieces for some time estimated at around 45 minutes in length Visitaa'n has been commissioned as a result of the orchestra‘s success in the 19‘)! Prudential Award for the Arts. and the Mayfest performances mark its world premiere. Scored for the full SCO complement plus a few extras and seven voices. Visilatin forms the mainstay of the evening. which. with typical SCO flair. breaks new ground by bringing together the forms of music. drama. dance and visual an. The orchestra. with conductor lvor Bolton. also performs Bach‘s Brandenburg N0 3 and Stravinsky‘s Dmnlmrimi ()aks. which boasts newly-choreographed dance. Already well known for taking religious themes and using them as the inspirational force behind much of his music. MacMillan has made no exception for Visitan'o Sepulr‘hri.

“in essence.‘ he explains. ‘it is an opera. or a one-act masque. But as an opera libretto. the text is anti-dramatic.‘ At its heart are the Roman Catholic Easter rituals of Holy Week Maundy Thursday. Good Friday and Easter used in such a way as to express the

pursuit of spirituality that is the theme for the whole evening. The work falls into three sections.

‘The first.‘ says MacMillan. ‘is an orchestra] prelude. So the opening

scene is without text. but through the involvement ofdancers it is startling and striking visually and is meant to capture the violence of the Crucifixion.

The second section is the dialogue between the angels and the three

women. There is a lot of repetition here and a lot of ritualisation.‘ it is in this part that the seventh character. a cantor. makes his appearance. ‘()riginally.‘

says MacMillan. ‘he would have

provided the central function in the ecclesiastical liturgy dating from the 14th century as used in Notre Dame Cathedral. He‘s a son of onlooker and doesn‘t actually sing. but chants and shouts in a kind of ser'lzrstimme. like in Schoenberg's Muses Am! Aaron. His role is to interject with exclamations. as

if from the crowd.’

For the final section. MacMillan uses the '1? Damn. the great hymn of praise to God. ‘This section really represents the culmination of the Easter story and is a celebration ofthe Resurrection. In it. a number of ideas are kept in motion at all times. giving the impression of some huge. layered cyclical pattern


moving at different speeds.’ But ever central to lisiralir; is the use of ritual. ‘The lack of drama gives a blank sheet to the producer. but the visual complement should be as ritualistic as possible so that it is absorbing. reconstructing and reconstituting the liturgical acts of Holy Week. These rituals are the starting point for the production.‘

But it is not only those of the Catholic faith who will be able to identify with Vitamin. For the producer. Francesco Negrin. the aim is to universalise it. ‘it looks like a sacred drama.‘ says MacMillan. ‘but not a church drama. it's for everyone. Francesco certainly uses the piece as a kind of search for the explanation of being. a search for the essence of religion. of faith. I‘ve done it using Catholic archetypes. but i wanted to work with Francesco Negrin because I knew he would find ways of making it more open. My only stipulation is that he takes the ritual as the starting point and I‘ll be intrigued to see what he does with it.‘ With i’isilarm Sepa/r‘lzri‘s strong appeal to opera. theatre and new music audiences. MacMillan almost certainly won't be alone in his intrigue.

VS. is at The 'I'ramuay on Thurs 20. Sal 22 and Sun 23. 'Iimt’s vary.

mm: Tabu subject

lfo silent movie is ever truly silent; music forms an integral part of the total experience. So perhaps in today’s PG world, it would be better to call this kind of movie ‘dialogue- challenged’. The silent movie has, however, a heightened language of its own - a distinct means of visual nan-ative that emphasises image, expression and movement, with accompanying music that underlines or questions the on-screen emotions. It is this idea of a unique language of film that struck Romanian composer Vloleta ninescu when she was watching F.W. Murnau’s ‘Tabu’: ‘As I watched the film in silence, i discovered leitmotifs and melodies that could be followed. i was fascinated by the oral suggestiveness of the film. In writing music for the film, i was concerned to find suitable ways of expressing the inherent poetry


and sometimes painful “sounds” of

the film.’

Dinescu’s original score for a seventeen-piece orchestra met with great acclaim when it was performed in Europe in 1988, and it now receives its British premiere at a Glasgow Film Theatre screening of ‘Tabu’ at Mayfest. The piece will be performed by Paragon Ensemble Scotland, who are no strangers to Dinescu’s music, having presented a programme of four of her works including the world premiere of her ‘Trombone Goncerto’ - in Glasgow two months ago.

‘Tabu’ was Murnau’s last film, completed in the US in 1931 and winner of that year’s Academy Award for its cinematography. The story tells of a young Tahitian girl, being prepared for ritual sacrifice, who breaks the taboo of the title by falling in love with a pearl fisherman. A haunting exploration of fate and the human soul, it touches on themes often expressed in Murnau’s work and contains images as powerful as any in Nosferatu or Sunrise. (Alan Morrison) Tabu, Glasgow Film Theatre, Wed 19 May. Also see Screen Test.

Getting together

Steve Lacy

Soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy and pianist Mal Waldron say nice things about each other. Things like ‘We're moving along the same stream-of- eonsciousness. We're moving in the same direction. we're friends. and we get along beautifully‘ (that‘s Waldron on Lacy). Things like ‘ile is the greatest accompanist in the world no matter what you do. he makes you sound great. Even Billie Holiday used to think that. and l agree‘ (that. you’ll have guessed by now. is Lacy on Waldron).

So what‘s the reason for all this bonhomie‘.’ Well. they are both Leos. which might mean something. but the real connections are essentially musical. born out transplantation to a new culture which proved more amenable then their native America. where they first met and played together. away back in the late 50s. They have been doing so ever since. helped by the fact that both settled in Europe in the 60s.

Their common love for the music of Thelonious Monk provided another bond. Both were heavily influenced by Monk's example. and both championed his music at a time when unlike now few people were playing it. The improvised duo playing which they bring to Mayfest grew out ofband projects in the 70s. and flowered with a series of albums for hat ART. Soul Note and HMO in the 80s.

‘We still get together when we can. and when you have a duo like that. it can only get better the more you play.‘ says Lacy. while Waldron testifies to the musical empathy between them when they begin to improvise on stage. ‘What Steve and i do on the bandstand is just converse. We just relate to one l another. W” go ahead. and if he wants to discuss this. i discuss that with him. But we're doing it with music.‘ (Kenny f Mathieson)

l Steve Lucy and Ma! Walt/ran are a! The l Renfrew Ferry on Wed I 2.

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