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Marxist Notes on Music Nurturing new composers

BENN LUNN introduces a remarkable festival in Glasgow of informal concerts of contemporary classical music


THE NIGHT WITH… is a concert series in Scotland, which has been going from strength to strength in recent years. They’ve commissioned composers from Scotland, Ireland and further afield and featured diverse musicians from far-flung places. 

This year, they are staging a festival, two days of music-making with a huge variety of individuals and ensembles. The ethos is to present contemporary classical music as though it were a gig; to have a pint and hear the band. 

“This festival,” says artistic director Matthew Whiteside, “allows The Night With… to look back on five years of work and to celebrate that.” 

Running from December 14-15, the festival sees familiar faces returning, like Garth Knox and Ensemble 1604, as well as bringing in new groups. 

“I’m really excited about the United Strings of Europe,” says Whiteside, “for many reasons. The main one is that I’ve had this idea of programming Claude Vivier’s Zipangu and Gorecki’s Three Pieces in an Old Style together in the same concert for about eight years now.” Not everyone wants to take on such a pairing, but, “after lots of discussions with the artistic director Julian Azkoul, I’ve managed to bring the two together.”

While normally the gigs are chamber concerts in a pub, “having the festival in a larger venue means a larger ensemble like United Strings of Europe can take the centre stage, something that normally wouldn’t be possible.”

The inclusion of Claude Vivier, a composer for whom we share a passion, reflects his passion for the repertoire featured in the festival. 

The wonderful Rookh Horn Quartet is composed of four French horn players, a curious combination and I was curious what they would play. “The concert is mostly works written for the quartet mainly by Glasgow-based composers,” says Whiteside, “but I’ve also commissioned the Estonian composer Alison Krusmaa to write a new work for the concert. The rest will be a mix of acoustic quartet and quartet and electronics such as Louise Harris’s Dying Haunts for horn quartet and electronics.” 

The festival also features a large number of Irish composers, who are often overlooked entirely in Britain. “Basically I try to tie Scotland and Ireland together,” explains Whiteside. “I had to include Dave Fennessy’s music. He is an Irish composer living and working in Scotland, who was also my teacher, and the concert by the Sherman / Pectu Duo, on viola and percussion, is solely by Irish composers. It includes a work for amplified fish tank and electronics which has led to some wonderful emails about the flight case for the musical fish tank!”

Ireland, he explains, has an interesting new generation of composers, and that promises a wealth of future contributions to the festival. 

Often established classics like In C by Terry Riley are presented together with works by unknown individuals. How is this decided? “I have a hand in all the concerts,” he says, “though it is a negotiation. The ensembles tell me what they want to play, and I propose what I want them to play and then we manage to work out a solution between us. The Sherman Pectu Duo was the only one where the ensemble decided the whole concert, but that was  because it’s all music I would have wanted anyway.”

He is passionate about nurturing composers: providing workshops for students, making sure of commissions and maintaining the relationship thereafter. He points to the example of Rylan Gleave who worked with Emma Lloyd in a previous The Night With… event, and this festival has been commissioned to write a brand new work for Hebrides Ensemble. 

Whiteside is frank and honest about his choices, programming music he wants to hear and share, and he does it with a sense of fairness that sees younger composers, or composers who are underappreciated for whatever reason, get their chance in the limelight. The festival promises a wonderful mix and everyone is sure to discover new favourites. 

Plays from December 14-15 at various venues, Glasgow. For more information see:

Photo by Matthew Whiteside

The Night With… the Robinson Panoramic Quartet in the Black Box Belfast. October 2022


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