Two of the country's most exciting composers launch their latest works on an expectant Scottish public. While CRAIG ARMSTRONG has been chilling out with Madonna, SALLY BEAMISH has been getting sound out of a stone.
Words: Carol Main
14THE lIST 7—21 Oct 1999
'I DIDN'T WANT TO GET INTO THE territory of putting the burden of writing a violin concerto on me.‘ So says composer Craig Armstrong with characteristic unpretentiousness. as it emerges that what the BT Scottish Ensemble have announced in their season brochure isn‘t quite what they — or we — will be getting.
At least. not for the moment. For now, Long Islands: Violin C oneerto has to be read as If Time Must Pass. a twenty minute long. four movement ensemble piece. albeit one which BT Scottish Ensemble Director. violinist Clio Gould. has had a major part to play in bringing about.
‘This new piece is not in any way a concerto.‘ says Armstrong by way of explaining the background. ‘The BT Scottish Ensemble had played part of Romeo And Julie! which is like a classical piece — it‘s Juliet's love theme. Then they toured it and asked me to write a new piece. so I jumped at the chance.‘ That. combined with the experience of working with Clio Gould on the film score for ()rphans. brought about the concerto idea.
Internationally renowned for his film soundtracks — examples are Mission Impossible. Golden Eye and Romeo And Juliet. for which he won a BAFTA — Armstrong feels that writing for movies is easier than straight concert music. ‘In movies or theatre. everything is there for you. so you're very much given something to write to.‘
A graduate of the Royal Academy Of Music in London. Armstrong's year usually takes in one film score. at least one commission and his solo work, for which he is now signed to Virgin. In addition. there are orchestrations_for artists such as Bjiirk, Madonna and Massive Attack.
It is fairly unusual for a British composer to have such an eclectic career but Armstrong believes that it shouldn‘t be that way. ‘In the US this is quite normal. Things like film music aren‘t looked down on over there and people like Steve Reich or Philip Glass cross overall the time.‘
BT Scottish Ensemble play at Royal Concert Hall. Glasgow, Fri 22 Oct; Queen's Hall, Edinburgh, Thu 28 Oct.
FOR ANYONE WHO HAS VISITED MAES HOWE, the megalithic burial chamber in ()rkney. the mystery of its significance is apparent at any time. But it is only at the winter solstice that light fully penetrates the heart of this prehistoric wonder. [I is that moment which provides the basis for Sally Beamish‘s new saxophone concerto. 'I‘he Imagined Sound Of Sun ()2: Stone.
‘1 had come across the theory that it is possible to release sound from walls. even sounds which have been stored in stone for millennia. a bit like a record stylus.‘ Beamiin says. 'I applied the idea to the shaft of light. so that as it hits the stone of the tomb all sorts of sounds are released.‘
The idea then expanded to be a celebration of light. incorporating Christian inﬂuences. such as Whitsun and the coming of light. as well as the solstice. As it grew. she collected all sorts of other styles of music. including Gaelic psalms. jazz and‘Byzantium chant. to create a twenty minute celebration of light and the turning of seasons.
Written for John Harle and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. the new piece is a joint commission from the Orkney-based St Magnus Festival and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra. which is currently hosting an exhibition of Beamish‘s paintings. With Swedish composer Karin Rehnqvist working as composer-in-residence with the SCO. it is particularly appropriate that Beamish‘s concerto opens with a Swedish herding call. ‘lt‘s a sort of falsetto soprano sound from women herding cows. which sounds very much like the top of the soprano saxophone.‘ explains Beamish. ‘The soloist develops it and the whole piece builds up to a climax which represents the coming of light in a massive C major tonal moment.‘
For Beamish. The Imagined Sound 0/ Sun 011 Slone is a turning point. ‘lt‘s very eclectic and a new departure for me. I feel as though things are going in all sorts of directions: I suppose I‘ve always worked in a very visual way but. in this piece. I’ve just let it all out and I‘m not at all embarrassed about it.‘
Scottish Chamber Orchestra play at Younger Hall, St Andrews, Thu 7 Oct; City Hall, Glasgow, Fri 8 Oct; Queen's Hall, Edinburgh, Sat 9 Oct.