Published on Saturday 12 November 2016
Written by Ken Walton
VIVALDI’S The Four Seasons has been subject to modernisation treatment in many weird and wonderful guises, from the bovver boy interpretations of Nigel Kennedy to it being well and truly tangoed by Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla. It’s also a past and present favourite of the Scottish Ensemble, whose slick strings have dallied with the latter, or simply played it straight.
But what they did this week was thoroughly original, offbeat and exciting. It wasn’t actually the premiere of Anna Meredith’s Anno – a fascinating multi-media re-imagination of the familiar Baroque potboiler, with agile multi-screen visuals by Meredith’s sister Eleanor – but the Scottish premiere, following a successful first performance earlier this year in London.
Tangible anticipation filled the darkened Tramway auditorium, the audience seated on scattered stools within a ritualistic semicircle of screens – a kind of cinema-age Stonehenge.
As the performance came to life, abstract images appeared sporadically on screen and throbbing electronic sounds emerged under the laptop control of Meredith. The Ensemble itself emerged from the sidelines, playing enigmatic trills that hinted of Vivaldi reborn for the electronic age.
What followed was as much about Meredith as it was about Vivaldi. Nothing apologetic or reverential in the boldness of her writing. There was subtlety and nuance as her free-flowing diversions took flight, but equally that hard-edged attitude that is the distinctive, ballsy hallmark of her music.
Vivaldi provided the heart and the thread – selected movements from each of the Seasons, some of them given an extra shot of adrenalin, such as the super-sensitising effect of the col legno strings in Winter – around which Meredith’s unfettered inventions, ranging from parodic twiddles and ethereal fireworks to brutal electronica and gut-wrenching techno, acted like a simultaneous translation from the real to the surreal.
And what of those visual animations by visual artist Eleanor? They ranged from flighty, frenetic doodles to soft, dancing pastel-shades, and strolling blob-like figures straight out of a kid’s story book. Their relevance wasn’t always crystal clear, but their abstract energy and presence was added a stimulating dimension.
Scottish Ensemble artistic director Jonathan Morton invested his Vivaldi solos with fieriest of virtuoso sprit, and drew the same from the strings as a whole – amplified by their progressive movement around the performance space. We all came out invigorated and smiling, Vivaldi included.