Anno, as anyone following Scottish Ensemble over the past few months will be aware, is a collaboration between Scottish Ensemble and the hotly-tipped electronic-classical crossover composer Anna Meredith.
We first fell in love with the piece down in London, in June 2016, when we premiered it as part of the Spitalfields Music Summer Festival. Without wanting to sound too ‘Summer of 69’, it was during that blazing hot week when the UK felt like a completely different country (I mean, Glasgow was significant hotter and sunnier than London! Things had really gone wild!). London was still hot, though – close, intense, with heat pressing in like walls on all sides, so that when you stepped into the darkness of Oval Space, eight-foot screens encircling a mass of scuttling, beetle-like stools with a quiet paternal austerity, the sensation of escaping into another world was complete.
Like many art events this piece, and this experience, was about offering up another world in order to see our own anew. By enclosing the body and brain, you allow the mind to escape. Our filmmaker, Hugh, had booked in some recording time to get clips of the piece for a mini documentary he was working on (edit: here it is!). As we sawed away at intense swathes of both Anna’s material – all layered time signatures and tempos – and Vivaldi’s equally, but differently, intense Baroque summer, the heavy sky erupted into the kind of thunderstorm which stopped transport in its tracks, pounding on the ceiling and at the windows like timpani. We were cocooned within the space, the weather, the music; it was the perfect condition to make this piece (Hugh and his sensitive sound recording equipment will, of course, argue differently).
In terms of the piece itself – its conception, its purpose, its place in Scottish Ensemble’s remit – here are three comments from three of the people involved in different ways: Anna Meredith; SE Artistic Director and Leader Jonathan Morton; and SE Writer-in-Residence Gareth K. Vile.
Composer / producer / performer
The original idea for this piece came from (SE Artistic Director) Jonathan Morton.
We met a few years ago and chatted about this idea of hearing The Four Seasons
in a new context. Jon heard quite a few connections between the way I write and
Vivaldi’s music which I hadn’t previously thought about – but the more I got to
know the material, the more I could see what he meant. The Four Seasons is
a collection of short focused movements, each with a differing and distinctive
sense of character, which is how I try and approach writing.
The aim was never to rework the Vivaldi. I knew from the beginning that I didn’t
want to do that – but instead almost imagine we were all collaborating on making
a piece together.
I think we’re so used to The Four Seasons as a sort of identity in itself that I, for
one, slightly forget about the picture of the calendar year that Vivaldi was trying
to paint. We’ve taken that idea of a year as our guide, and also tried to remove
the Vivaldi-ness (and the Anna/Ellie-ness) from the picture so that everything –
all the music and all the visuals – are working together to create a flow through
The result is a map of this annual journey, created from most, but not all, of
Vivaldi’s movements interspersed with my new material. Sometimes I’ve linked
things together, or added a small electronic element, but mostly the material
stands as it is. The original Four Seasons runs as 12 short, varied movements –
we’ve simply extended and tweaked this format to create something new.
The final combined piece, Anno, runs as 15 short movements, sometimes linked,
sometimes stand-alone. I’ve tried to make sure that each of my own movements
has their own feel and character – just like the Vivaldi – but actually, there are
so many connections running through all the writing that the movements are all
bound together whilst also creating something new.
SE Artistic Director
The impulse for this project came from an ongoing fascination with the relationship
between the old and the new. We are lucky to have access to so much lifeaffirming
music from the past, but I think there is an imbalance, with too much
focus on the old at the expense of the new. Ideally, old music wouldn’t be heard
as ‘old’ and new music wouldn’t be heard as ‘new’ – it would be a conversation,
and in the end it would all just be ‘music’.
I hope Anno will question the audience by stripping away some of the
preconceptions that don’t actually have anything to do with the music. Gentle
confusion can give everyone a chance to hear something in a new way. Vivaldi’s
The Four Seasons in particular has been played about with so much – turned in
to pop songs, used as ubiquitous hold music – that actually the seal has already
But in the end, we’re not rewriting Vivaldi, but trying to draw out the future from it,
and also to tease out the past from Anna’s music and Ellie’s artwork by initiating
a dialogue across the centuries.
This is how art is created/re-created and always has been. People borrow and
adapt ideas from others; they nick bits, they re-arrange and re-contextualise.
Music is never finite or frozen in time.
Gareth K. Vile
SE Writer-in-Residence / critic
Scottish Ensemble’s vision sits between two apparently competing
ideals: a respect for the rich repertoire of classical chamber compositions that
reach back in history, and a desire to present that heritage in a thoroughly
contemporary context. Sometimes drawing together diverse pieces into a mixed
programme that casts new light on the twentieth century’s varied movements,
or gathering a collection of works from a specific time and place, SE’s restless
curation of the past and the present pays respect to these twin ambitions.
Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons – or, at least, the first of the four concertos
– is in danger of becoming too familiar. Nigel Kennedy’s spiky-haired recordings
in 1989 – one of the best-selling classical recordings of all time – hammered the
sprightly Spring into the public consciousness and provides the soundtrack to
ringtones and held calls. There is a symphonic metal version, a jazz version, a
hip hop version and contemporary composer Max Richter reworked it in 2012.
Familiarity hides complexity: reduced to a series of magic moments, the diversity
and intention of Vivaldi’s score disappears. Its strangeness and ambition melts:
cities like Glasgow boast that their climate can give ‘four seasons in one day’
while Vivaldi offers the year in under two hours. Time passes for the audience
and the musicians, but at different speeds. The circle of the year completes itself
through the music: mood, modes and atmosphere rotate.
Vivaldi spreads out time on the staves and bars. At the beginning
of the eighteenth century, he looks back on a past that measured itself through a
natural scale, before embracing the metronome of the modern age, the division
of time into seconds and minutes. Bright allegros and sombre largos predict
the reordering of time; even the seasons are trained to the discipline of the
Enlightenment’s new metrics.
To update again, through Anna Meredith, and the potential hidden in the curlicues
of electronic sound. Another set of measures set to Vivaldi’s rhythms, from social
media and immediate access. Speaking of tensions between the heritage of the
past and the need for now…