CLASSICAL Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Glasgow: Henry Wood Hall, Tue 17—Thu 19 Mar.
Classical music? Too hoity-toity. Contemporary classical music? Run for the hills. Even regular concert- goers might think of a series of modern premieres as the listener‘s equivalent of a dose of castor oil.
The Royal Scottish National Orchestra have their own cure for this misinterpretation of what today's composers are up to. Their forthcoming 'Contemporary Music Week' not only bristles with excitement - world premieres from two major Scottish-based writers, James MacMillan and Sally Beamish - but also aims to break down some barriers and make music that's inherently accessible even more open to all-comers.
Part of this task falls to Sally Beamish, who precedes the unveiling of her Symphony No 2 on Thu 19 with an informal illustrated talk and preview performance of the work the night before. ‘I always feel it's hard for an audience to get to grips with a piece at one sitting,’ she reckons, 'particularly if it's something they haven’t heard before. Even with, say, Brahms, if you don't know it, it's much more difficult to take in in one go. You experience a piece of music brick by brick, and don't really appreciate the shape of it until the very end.’
The preview allows the audience to become familiar with the symphony, although fans of Beamish may notice that it draws on thematic material from her 1996 chamber piece Between Earth And Sea, itself based on a Celtic lament. The Scottish landscape and personal loss have combined to create a work that suggests ’human anguish' leading to 'optimism' and ‘concluding with a coda bordering on the ecstatic’, according to its composer.
The RSNO's week-long event also sees the first Scottish
Sally Beamish: symphonic sounds from Celtic roots
performance of Gordon McPherson's Kamperduin and the world premiere of James MacMillan's Cantos Sagradas, re-scored for full orchestra and presented in the appropriate surroundings of Glasgow Cathedral on Sat 21. On Tue 17, MacMillan switches roles to conductor, teaming up with Norway's BIT 20 Ensemble for a concert featuring four of his works as well as Beamish’s Piabiareachd. Such crossing over between colleagues doesn’t come as a surprise to Beamish.
’In Scotland, we’re all very supportive of each other,’ she says, 'and orchestras like the RSNO are eager to play our pieces. The only problem is when it comes to people's perceptions of new work.’ Not a problem that's insurmountable, if Beamish and friends have any say in the matter. (Alan Morrison)
B See Classical Listings for programme details or call 0747 225 3557 for information.
The Beta Band: handy
EP ’Champion Versions’ was released before the current line-up was settled. A couple of members can actually play specific instruments, but choose to play something else.
'Yeah, the lead singer Steve’s really good on drums and the bass player Richie is really good on guitar, but it loses something when he's on guitar and Steve’s on drums. If it's more about the instruments that people want to learn, it’s more creative,’ says MacLean.
Although sometimes — new EP ’The Patty Patty Sound’ for starters - it’s not even about the instruments at all. The stoned, groovy repetition of tracks like ’She‘s The One’ have their origins in more than mere guitar/bass/drums.
’When we were living in Shepherd’s Bush, we didn’t have many instruments,’ says MacLean. ’We were
with a pot or pan
The Beta Band
Edinburgh: La Belle Angele, Sat 14 Mar.
DeSpite featuring in most of the ’Top Tips for 98’ lists at the turn of the year, The Beta Band are no pop swots, and their name refers to their less than top of the class status in their formative years.
'This guy I worked with went to a school split into the alpha band and
48 TIEIBT 6-19 Mar 1998
the beta band,’ says John MacLean (decks, samples). 'The alpha band were the people who were good and the beta band were the people who weren’t. None of us were that good at school.’
This untutored approach endures and has been applied to the London-based (via St Andrews, Portsmouth and Edinburgh College Of Art) quartet’s modus operandi. A demo tape was recorded and snapped up before the idea of a band had occurred. A debut
using pots and pans for the drums. We were more bothered by the sound of things than the playing. We’ve always been like that and we haven’t found an instrument as good as a pot or pan, so we’re still using them. Anything that makes a s0und we’ll use. On the new EP there’s a washing machine getting smashed and various biscuit tins and glasses.’
Obviously a band who believe in usingeverything including the kitchen sink. (Fiona Shepherd
FOLK Fiddler's Bid Edinburgh: Cafe Royal, Sun 8 Mar.
’We started off as a good-time fun band,’ admits Chris Stout, one of the four-fiddle front line of Shetland group Fiddler's Bid, ’but the music was always tight — we didn’t have to try too hard.’
Fellow Shetlander Aly Bain concurs, having first heard them at Brittany's Lorient Festival, where they walked off with the top prize in the band competition. Stout, currently used to the ambience of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music where he's studying violin and composition, hasn't forgotten the final set. ’It was an outdoor thing - there were groups from Ireland, Brittany, Spain, Wales and so on — and we eventually had to go on while there was a nearby electrical storm, thunder and lightning and then a pipe band marching past. Pretty hellish really.’
For a band where the average age is still early 205, the group has been together for a remarkable seven years, and apart from the Breton experience and a couple of excursions to Len~ick’s Norwegian twin-town of Moloy, they are hardly known outside Shetland, and are only now playing a first tour on the Scottish mainland.
What audiences will hear is an all- standing, all-instrumental septet — more rock band than fiddle orchestra — full of astonishingly confident, mature musicianship and, in the arrangements, as lively and imaginative as any of the current crop of young bands from Finland or Cape Breton.
The punchy bass, guitar and keyboard (pianist Catriona MacKay also plays occasionally clarsach) supplies muscle when needed, but creates plenty of subtler moments in a set that's as eclectic as a Celtic Connections session, a tectonic collision of Celtic Europe, Scandinavia and North America.
'Our music’s changing,’ Stout reveals. ’We’ll play music from everywhere, but I’m now exploiting the harmony thing more. Maurice — one of the other fiddlers - is into the ‘trowie’ tunes, the troll tunes; we’re writing more and more of our own material and recently we’ve been delving into the rare, really old Shetland music. Tonally these tunes are quite vague, but they really rock!’ (Norman Chalmers)
l Edinburgh Folk Festival launches its new, condensed (9-12 Apr) Easter programme in a short presentation before the concert.
Chris Stout plays his hand in the Fiddler's Bid