2017 Alba New Music Festival

4 Star Review in the Scotsman
Music review: Alba New Music Festival

While Nicola Benedetti was packing out the Usher Hall, across town a brand new Edinburgh festival was quietly being born. Alba New Music is a recently founded charity committed to championing contemporary sounds, and their two-day inaugural festival filled St Giles’ Cathedral with some of the most complex works of recent years, in a canny programme focused around three remarkable solo performers. Uncompromising, sometimes maddening, frequently impenetrable, it also provided some breathtakingly virtuosic performances of bristlingly individual music that rarely gets an airing north of the border.

The eloquent intricacies of Wieland Hoban’s magical Knockler, the opener in guitarist Diego Castro Magas’s striking opening recital, got rather lost in the Cathedral’s resonant acoustic, but that was more than made up for by his masterful playing and effects-pedalling in Richard Barrett’s Transmission, whose surround-sound electronics engulfed the audience with joyfully cacophonous layers of noise. The following afternoon, James Dillon’s febrile Sgothan sent flurries of notes ricocheting around St Giles’ walls in flautist Richard Craig’s theatrical concert, which ended with one of the “new complexity” movement’s cornerstones, Brian Ferneyhough’s Unity Capsule, in an account more like a dramatic soliloquy than a musical performance. That evening, in her exquisite recital soprano Peyee Chen included two witty, self-interrupting Récitations by Georges Aperghis, as well as the fractured folk of Jennifer Walshe’s ukelele-accompanied “Three Songs” by Ukeoirn O’Connor.

There are ways Alba New Music can refine their offering for a broader audience – less abstruse programme notes would make this forbidding music more friendly, for example. But it was a rich, rewarding weekend, unapologetically challenging, but pulled off with panache.

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Virtuoso Flutist Richard Craig, setting up for Brian Ferneyhough, Unity Capsule.

 

A mass of miniature miracles review in 5:4

A couple of miles out of the centre of Edinburgh, emblazoned in brightly-lit capital letters, is a stark, startling sentence: THERE WILL BE NO MIRACLES HERE. Created by Nathan Coley in 2009, and situated outside the Modern Two gallery, the unequivocal message of this bold piece of art rang entirely false in the wake of last weekend’s inaugural Alba New Music Festival. Located in St Giles’ Cathedral, close to the centre of the city’s bustling Royal Mile, the focus of the festival’s main trio of concerts—a stimulating contrast to the hordes of people streaming around outside—was on works for solo instruments, an intense and intimate prospect.

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