Food for the soul: Scottish Ensemble hypnotizes audiences with ‘incredibly beautiful’ music

At this time of year I feel like I’m living in Mareel, with student exams, student submissions and shows, Thursday night’s visit, however, was for a very different reason, writes Shetland News critic Carol Jamieson.

It was an evening of quiet contemplation and sonic beauty provided by the Scottish Ensemble, the UK’s largest string orchestra. This body of musicians has a growing reputation which has led them to perform in Taiwan, China, Brazil, America and throughout Europe.

The night’s entertainment began with an almost cinematic treatment beginning in near complete darkness, just the illumination of the players’ ipads for the score and a soft glow from the stage. At first the double bass player was alone, a strange sustained harmonic note sounded, setting the stage for the stunning track that followed as the rest of the players entered one by one.

It began 45 minutes of the most creative and empowering music to come from a collaboration between Ailie Robertson and five other Scottish composers, Sally Beamish, James MacMillan, Anna Meradith and John McEwan (all alive today except McEwan). Robertson is a highly accomplished, multi-award winning musician and composer, creating music for concerts as well as theater and film scores. She has had works commissioned for the BBC Proms and the London Philharmonic Orchestra and received the Achievement in New Music award at the Scottish Awards.

Everything about the first half was gripping, from the enigmatic construction of the first movement to the smashing homophonic chords of the fourth and the clever notational and dynamic changes of the fifth. I must admit that during the third track there was a teardrop in the eye of this listener, it was breathtakingly beautiful.

Although few in number, they managed to create an almost complete Sakamoto (The Revenant) sound in the rich tensions with discord and determination. The five moves center around five different characters, The Sage, The Villain, The Caregiver, The Shapeshifter, and The Everyman. These archetypal characters appear in folk tales throughout the centuries and around the world.

There was a thread of softness throughout the music which I attributed to the strong female presence in the project, women outnumbered men two – one in performers and composers.

Using clever orchestration and arrangement, each instrument was effectively engaged to create threads of melodic lines and lavish harmonies weaving a rich sonic tapestry which, judging by the looks on the audience’s faces, found everyone mesmerizing. .

There is a tone with a very expensive instrument coupled with the astonishing level of ability to play it that adds yet another level to the music experience and enjoyment. I would have been delighted to have attended these 45 minutes again.

The Ensemble members had plenty of funds during rehearsals earlier Thursday. Photo: Malcolm Younger/Millgaet Media

As part of the collaboration with creative lives, some works of art were exhibited by artists from across Scotland. It was a nice way to pass the interval.

The second half was an informal session led by violinist Alistair Savage. The players came down from the stage and the house lights came on, creating a more intimate setting. It was the traditional part of the program. I would have preferred if the musicians had remained on stage as the previous intimate and intimate atmosphere was compromised by the brighter lights.

The idea in this half was to musically represent each of the areas the band visited on the tour. Consequently, beautiful references to traditional Shetland tunes were involved, much to the delight of the locals in the audience.

I looked forward to the folkloric aspect of the evening and although there was emotion and sincerity in the stories, poetry and music, I felt that more could have been done to explore the rich Scottish storytelling heritage.

If music is food for the soul, my soul was fed on Thursday. The lyrical sound of the strings rang in my ears long after they finished.

About Roy B. Westling

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