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Music Review Students out to make their mark

BEN LUNN reviews an afternoon with the champion of Scotland’s composers

Red Note Ensemble
Fridays at One
Royal Conservatoire of Scotland


A CHOCK-A-BLOCK concert hall, new premieres, and work by a 20th-century master is instantly a recipe for an interesting afternoon – however, like many recipes with the right chef and ingredients, make for a fantastic concert.

Red Note Ensemble, have been a solid champion of Scotland’s composers, managing to make space for growing talents and bigger giants in equal measure, and this concert was a good demonstration of this. The three premieres were by student composers within the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland – Kate Sagovsky, Kassia Bailey, and Kaiwen Liu.

Kate Sagovsky’s On G, for me stood out as the clearest showcase of a composer with a clear sense of self, musical voice, and intent. Sagovsky’s desire to reflect on her mother’s relationship with the piano and her own disability was handled in a truly heartfelt and honest way, which made the work truly touching.

Kaiwen Liu’s Wind is Tonight’s Answer showed a composer who is eager to explore colour more deeply, and demonstrates a composer who has a blossoming voice, but just needs a bit more space to craft that into something more striking.

I was less sold on Kassia Bailey’s Twice Upon as I felt the work was a smidgen too restrained, and despite some interesting gestures, I feel the composer as a whole has promise but needs to grow and expand their palette more.

Despite having very different approaches and ideas, what I was struck by was the consistently tonal nature of the works, which I’m curious to see, especially as the finale is ultimately a demonstration that composers can push forward without abandoning the past.

As concert finales go, Ligeti’s piano concerto has few equals. The five-movement work is endlessly fascinating and a real demon for any pianist to tackle. Thankfully, Marianna Abrahamyan was more than capable of waging battle with this foe.

The Armenian pianist has dedicated the past few years researching Ligeti’s piano works broadly, and this deep knowledge she has acquired has only strengthened her artistry and ability to engage with this work in particular.

Overall, the combination of Marianna Abrahamyan and Red Note Ensemble (under the calm and clear baton of Ryan McAdams) were a beautifully co-ordinated team which made the concert flow with ease allowing the various curiosities of the work come to the fore.

It would be particularly mean to draw direct comparison between the student composers and the grand Hungarian master, but Ligeti’s concerto is a real demonstration that contemporary music can afford to be more bold, more intense, wackier, and more purposeful.

That being said, without the truly magnificent performing of Marianna Abrahamyan the concert would have ended in chaos.



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