4 June 2016
Rehearsals have begun for Anno, the exciting new Scottish Ensemble and Spitalfields Music commission by classical-electronic crossover composer Anna Meredith and visual artist Eleanor Meredith. As musicians prepare to perform the piece live for the first time in London on Mon 6 and Tue 7 June, SE blogger-in-residence Rosie Davies joins the artists and crew at Scottish Opera’s production studios for a behind-the-scenes glimpse at what goes into a project like this.
It’s one of the sunniest days we have probably ever experienced ever in Glasgow. As musicians arrive from all parts of Scotland and the UK, there’s much admittedly gleeful talk of how rainy and cold it is in London, usually so weather-smug, until someone points out that we’ll be spending the next five days indoors in a blacked out room entirely devoid of daylight, rehearsing for Anno.
Now the sunshine seems less kind, more mocking. Jonathan and Clio Morton’s (lovely) children, Iris and Will, sit at a table in the corner sagging with Warhammer figures, tiny pots of paint, tablets, colouring books, juice cartons; the signs of people under ten, in for the long haul.
Thankfully, for those who have glumly put their sunglasses in their music cases, there is salvation which comes at the moment everyone in the room realises what a special performance this is going to be. On site, dotted around the room manning a fleet of winking silver Apples, is a sound artist, a sound engineer, a visual artist, an animator, an architect and a filmmaker. In the middle, surrounded by a crescent of looming eight-foot screens, a host of musicians are at the service of Anna Meredith, the modest and unassuming composer of the piece they are attempting to put together in four days.
Maybe it’s the contrast between the coddling, seratonin-stoked heat outside and the intensity of our dark cocoon inside, but it feels like, one by one, over the course of the first rehearsal, everyone is experiencing their own ‘…yeah, ok, this is good’ moment. As I write this, Jon is taking the group through Anna’s opening movement, Solstice Light In, for the first time. Violins slide around on top of a beautiful sustained vibrato note on the viola (the score tells them to play ‘slithery and freely’ – their liberated slithering is wonderful).
Little trills and bites of the original Vivaldi sneak through the tangle of the rehearsal like memories you can’t quite place, and aren’t entirely sure you didn’t dream. A relentless contrapuntal section starts suddenly out of all this slidy bliss – ascending fragments over and over, overlapping, in two time signatures, sometimes in unison, always with a driving, thumping bass. It’s kind of Baroque, but also 21st-century techno – there are echoes of the aching sunrise strings of Cinematic Orchestra, but also a mathematical Baroque rigour, which bites against the bittersweet seeping strings – and then it stops.
It sounds amazing, and it’s just the first movement. Everyone listening around the sides wants more.
The musicians just seem delighted to have finished at the same time.
Photography by Scottish Ensemble filmmaker-in-residence Hugh Carswell.