Reviews

Ten Tors Orchestra with Richard Waters at

St Andrew's Minster Church 29th October 2011

Malcolm Arnold was a superb orchestrator who would have been thrilled by the outstanding performance from the Ten Tors Orchestra, of which he was Honorary Patron from 1999 until his death.

Furthermore, the event at the Minster Church of St Andrew allowed conductor, Simon Ible, the rare opportunity to employ a larger symphonic rig-out, and what a stunningly full sound this produced.

The Little Suite for Orchestra proved an ideal opener with its careful attention to detail and finely-pointed dynamics, under Malcolm Latchem’s expert leadership.

Local student, Daniel Thompson, had originally written Not Scott Free for a small chamber group, winning the 2011 Plymouth Young Composer Award.

Couched in the minimalist style of Michael Nyman, this was eminently tuneful and effective, for which fellow-composer, Judy Whitlock, must take some of the credit for her assistance in creating the full-orchestra version.

Local violist, Richard Waters, despatched Arnold’s none-too-easy Viola Concerto with great panache and assurance, producing a gloriously rich tone in the slow movement. His generous unaccompanied encore was a deft touch, given the somewhat abrupt end of the concerto itself.

Arnold’s Sinfonietta No 1, with its smaller instrumental resources, and two string pieces from Walton’s Henry V, the second receiving a particularly sensitive treatment, were the ideal aperitif for the Four Cornish Dances, which drew the very best from the players and a performance of which any national orchestra would surely have been proud.

PHILIP R BUTTALL

University of Plymouth Choral Society at

St Andrew's Minster Church 3rd December 2011

It must be really rewarding to get a standing ovation – even if the audience was already on its feet, from the final congregational carol

However, there was still a great deal to commend this Christmas offering by the 120-voice University of Plymouth Choral Society, under their charismatic conductor, Simon Ible, who always excels in choosing an interesting, varied, and not-overlong programme.

Familiar offerings by Darke, Warlock and Rutter got the evening off to a fine start, where the singers were well in their comfort zone, and gave of their best.

A particular bonus this year was the excellent orchestral accompaniment from the UPCS Sinfonia, under the assured leadership of Mary Eade, especially in Franceschini’s rarely-heard Sonata for two trumpets, here despatched with some panache by Paul Thomas and John Hammonds.

If Vivaldi’s Magnificat proved a tad more challenging, especially with the relatively small number of men on the night singing from the back of the church, Haydn’s charming St Nicholas Mass more than made up for this.

Here the choir exuded far greater confidence all round, nicely complementing the contemplative moments of the Agnus Dei with the exuberance of the Gloria.

Soloists, Catherine Hamilton (soprano), Alison Kettlewell (mezzo-soprano), Daniel Auchincloss (tenor) and Paul Reeves (bass) were all on top form, their voices blending perfectly and, with organist, Mary Mazur-Park’s solid contribution, made this a most enjoyable preamble to the festive season.

PHILIP R BUTTALL

Eduardo Miranda with the Ten Tors Orchestra

Peninsula Arts Contemporary Music Festival

I'm a technophobe, and helpless with it. When my internet goes down, I cry. Instruction manuals, like old-fashioned vices, send me blind. So it was with foreboding that I went to Plymouth the other weekend for a festival of electronic music designed to probe some common ground between the arts and sciences.

Called Re-Sounding Science (a pun: not good but meaningful), it was organised by the University of Plymouth which is one of those new institutions working hard and with aggressive ambition to establish a niche for itself in the now crowded world of arriviste academia. As happens in such places, the advantage of its newness is that it operates without longstanding internal boundaries and a good deal of what you'd call "thinking outside the box", except there's scarcely a box to begin with. Departments merge into one another. Studies tend to be interdisciplinary. And there's a particularly fertile crossover between technology and the performing arts, with a whole teaching division given over to computer music led by South American composer Eduardo Miranda.

It was Miranda, together with the university's music director Simon Ible, who devised this festival. And on paper it looked – to use a euphemism – challenging. Duets for sound-tracked sub-atomic particles and violin, intuitive communications "with and via musical algorithms", sound-transduced pianos, and a two-day conference on neuroscience and the arts. Not much to tap your feet to there, you'd think.

But the central event was a concert of new works by composers associated with the university that proved surprisingly (I might almost say disappointingly) listener-friendly. The only one that involved electronics upfront in performance was a piece for computer-modelled flute (i.e. a flute-sound simulated digitally from matching sound waves) that was "played" via a computer-gaming console. The result was an extended monody that took the instrument where no real flute could go but nonetheless became a sort of virtual L'Apres-midi d'un faune, as soothingly relaxing as any Classic FM favourite.

Then came two pieces for chamber orchestra by Sam Richards that sounded like something from the 1950s, even though one of them involved extended techniques and had every member of the locally-based Ten Tors Orchestra (conductor Simon Ible) holding bottles to their lips and looking like a bunch of seasoned tipplers. Not an image the Musicians Union would be happy to promote.

But the main piece, by Miranda himself, was a symphonic suite called Mind Pieces that was, again, entirely acoustic in performance although developed from computer-generated ideas. The basis for each movement was an "ear-worm": a familiar fragment of rhythm, melody or texture briefly recalled (we heard bits of Villa-Lobos, Holst, Ravel) and then reprocessed into something else.

Behind the music lay some no doubt complex thinking about the tension between the persistence and fallibility of memory. But as heard, it was a perfectly straightforward, tuneful, tonal, unexceptionably pleasing take on Desert Island Discs. Nothing to frighten horses there.

And maybe that was the idea. This festival grew out of academic musings but it also sheltered under the umbrella of Peninsula Arts, which is a year-round programme hosted by Plymouth University with a broad-reaching brief addressed to general audiences in the south-west. It's a cultural lifeline for a lot of people, but as such it needs to be approachable. Technology with tunes is a solution, and not necessarily a bad one.

You can only wish the project well – and keep an eye on what it's doing. Arts activity in the extreme south-west of England is far enough from London to fall under the reporting radar for most of the year, but it's a place in cultural ferment right now with much change afoot.

Dartington's college of arts has just relocated to Falmouth, with much internal resentment counterbalanced by promises of things to come. Exeter University has just attempted to make amends for it closing down its music department by upgrading of its main performance venue – at serious cost, with a comparably enhanced programme of future events. And what's happening in Plymouth feeds into the broad sense of a new artistic purpose in the south-west. Music never really stopped in Bournemouth, but it often felt as though it did. Maybe that feeling is about to be resigned to history.


Michael White