Making Anno: Day Two

Part two of our coverage of the making of Anno - our new commission by classical-electronic crossover composer Anna Meredith and visual artist Eleanor Meredith.

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.

Glasgow’s insanely mainland-European weather continues. This kind of unexpected weather makes people feel uneasy, on the brink of something. We’re all on the verge of making stupid, grandiose life decisions based entirely on clement weather (let’s sell the house for a boat on the canal!). Violist Andy and filmmaker Hugh are even braving shorts.

But soon after the musicians arrive, they’re plunged into darkness by an eager production team (who’ve been calmly working round the clock assembling screens to appear like magic and will soon be headhunted by Father Christmas and his team).

The only light comes from an imposing crescent of screens and twelve comparatively tiny iPads, which they’re playing off, turning pages with pedals. The sudden descent into darkness is disconcerting – but also strangely fitting with the music they’ve been tasked with learning over the next four days, flitting as it does between seasons and moods with the same dramatic temperament to form a fifty-minute long journey through a year.

Anna Meredith’s new composition is really a series of short compositions which act as linking sections to the movements of Vivaldi’s dramatic and horribly, ruinously famous work, The Four Seasons. Many of these short compositions are challenging to play. Rhythmically thick, with temperamental time signatures elbowing each other for space, played in near darkness for much of it, and competing with gelatinous, wobbling drone electronics. Every one of these short compositions is provocative, to use its more literal sense, in that each provokes an intense emotion – a bittersweet midsummer melancholy, a building, dark claustrophobia, a sudden feeling of quiet peace.

Her sister Eleanor’s corresponding visuals, and the timing of the piece in the year’s journey, means that you can figure out where you are in the year and what emotion is supposed to correspond to what season. But actually, it’s rather nice to hear it without the calendar reminders and attach your own season to the sounds. The transparency of summer makes some people sad, anxious. Winter makes some people content and happy, fat with warm pagan conviviality. We’re all different, and without any visual cues, it’s fascinating to close your eyes listening to each season and see what happens for you.

We may have stolen their sunshine, but the intensity of the day – with its flashes of light and dark this thick, tangled, complex music, the nagging creeping of the first performance date in just three days’ time – at least taps into the creeping midsummer madness that has overtaken the city.

One last thought, sitting in the dark as the semi-circle of musicians shiver into the first movement of Vivaldi’s Winter (which is just, WOW) – it feels like we should really take a moment to acknowledge just how great and enjoyable Vivaldi’s concerti are, and question why greatness and enjoyableness are so often seen as being mutually exclusive. It always struck me by surprise that he experienced a posthumous backlash of sorts at the start of the 20th Century – someone around the 1920s let slip the epithet of “sewing machine music” one time, probably drunk at a party knowing the 1920s lot, and it stuck, passed down through books and essays and programme notes. They were referring to the way he battered out piece after piece (over 500 concertos – and that’s only the ones we know about) as well as the similarity in structure and style amongst them focusing heavily on repetition. But, who cares, if you enjoy it? This music is about pure, unadulterated enjoyment that continually presses the pleasure button in your brain like an over-sugared child. The button that likes repetition and simplicity and resolution, knowing where you’re going, everything neatly tied up, thank you very much. But then, written out like that, I suppose it’s much easier to see why there was a backlash – it’s pop music, and pop has always had, and should always have, its denigrators (or ‘haterz’, as they’ve now become).


Photography by Scottish Ensemble filmmaker-in-residence Hugh Carswell.

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