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What to expect at Aberdeen's sound festival 2017

What to expect at sound festival 2017

sound celebrates the 'endangered' bassoon with Lesley Wilson on Sat 28 Oct / credit: Tommaso Tuzj and Odradek Records

First time at a new music festival? Just open your ears, and give into the power of the bassoon

The phrase 'music festival' may summon up thoughts of mud, warm beer and long lines for the Portaloos, but classical music festivals are more decorous affairs, featuring actual seats, truly expert musicians and a civilised attitude to performance times. New music festivals blend the best of both worlds, bringing great contemporary music but without the drawbacks of a too-familiar repertoire, four-figure membership prices or a dress code.

Aberdeen's sound festival is now in its 13th year of bringing exciting new music to the east coast. And this year, from Thu 26 Oct–Sat 11 Nov, it's trying a three-pronged strategy to get more people hearing what living composers can do when given the chance.

The 2017 festival features the first of sound's five-year projects centred on 'endangered' musical instruments. This year, it drags into the spotlight a wind instrument which never gets the attention it deserves: the bassoon. Beloved by composers as diverse as Mozart and Zappa, it's an instrument so unfamiliar to the general public that its players have been known to pretend to curious strangers that they play something else, just because it saves having to explain.

One of the highlights is a performance by the great French virtuoso Pascal Gallois, who in the 90s changed attitudes towards the instrument with his revolutionary performances of works by Berio and Boulez; he appears with Red Note Ensemble playing a new work by Benedict Mason (Anatomy Rooms, Thu 9 Nov) and also gives a solo recital, featuring among other works his jaw-dropping rendition of Berio's Sequenza XII (Anatomy Rooms, Sat 11 Nov).

There's also a recital by veteran bassoonist Lesley Wilson of work she's commissioned (The Bothy, Sat 28 Oct); a performance of a new work by Rory Comerford for multiple bassoons, voice and electronics (The Salmon Bothy, Portsoy, Fri 3 Nov); Jeremy Thurlow's Blithe Wine, a bassoon quintet inspired by John Keats (The Barn, Banchory, Sat 4 Nov); and other opportunities to revel in the sound of this subtly endearing instrument.

What to expect at Aberdeen's sound festival 2017

Opera Belongings takes place on the Euston-Aberdeen sleeper on Fri 9 Nov / credit: Laurel Turton
How about some opera? The festival last explored the opera stage in 2012, and this year its final weekend focuses on opera in unusual spaces. Book yourself a ticket on the Fri 9 Nov Euston-Aberdeen sleeper and you can see Belongings, an opera performed on the train, inspired by items of luggage. If you're already in Aberdeen for the festival, you can catch the opera again the following evening at the Royal Deeside Railway. Or there's Of Leonardo da Vinci: Quills, a Black Giant, Deluge, a movement-opera for improvising vocalist, film and sound, created by Elaine Mitchener, Dam Van Huynh, David Toop and Barry Lewis (North East Scotland College, Fri 10 Nov). And Mozart vs Machine plunges the 20th century composer Raymond Scott into a time-travel showdown with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Lemon Tree, Sat 11 Nov).

The third line of approach is Sounding the North, a series of events organised in association with the University of Aberdeen, examining whether there's such a thing as a 'northern' sound. Bozzini Quartet plays Icebergs et Soleil de minuit by Simon Martin, inspired by the paintings of Quebecois artist Jean-Paul Riopelle (St Machar's Cathedral, Fri 27 Oct). Gunnar Karel Másson (electronics) and Zoe Martlew (cello) play music from Denmark and Iceland, including Bent Sørensen's Wings of Spring and Másson's own Makhana, accompanied by a video by María Dalberg. Plus, Norwegian vocal ensemble Song Circus return after last year's success, this time with Ruben Sverre Gjertsen's Landscape with Figures and Karin Rehnquist's David Nimm (Butchart Recreation Centre, University of Aberdeen, Sat 28 Nov).

What to expect at sound festival 2017

Acoustic Ladyland's Ruth Goller performs Colin Riley's festival commission, In Place on Thu 2 Nov

Continuing the theme of 'place' is In Place, a work commissioned by the festival from composer Colin Riley. Riley collaborated with poets from all over the UK to create texts which he then set to music, looking at how place informs our sense of ourselves. It's performed by a veritable new music all-star ensemble, including celebrated singer/performer Melanie Pappenheim, violist Nic Pendlebury, pianist Kate Halsall, jazz-punk bass guitarist Ruth Goller (Acoustic Ladyland) and composer/percussionist Stephen Hiscock. (Lemon Tree, Thu 2 Nov; Logie Coldstone Village Hall, Sat 4 Nov.)

Besides the other enticing performances on offer (including buttery rowies, tea/coffee/juice and new music at a promenade concert in the Maritime Museum on the morning of Sat 28 Nov), there's a family concert at MacDuff Marine Aquarium, giving younger members of the audience something to look at while hearing the water-inspired music of Jamie Lawson (Sat 4 Nov).

New music has a reputation, among those who have never listened to it, for being spiky or impenetrable. But audiences continue to support a festival like sound, because contemporary composers are still writing moving and exciting music, and sound presents it in a way that makes for an event to remember.

sound festival 2017 is at various locations in and around Aberdeen from Thu 26 Oct–Sat 11 Nov 2017.

sound festival

An innovative festival of new music in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire. From contemporary classical music to electro-acoustic music, traditional, vocal and jazz, the festival brings together a wide range of different musical styles in a variety of concerts, workshops, installations and talks.

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