Calling all parents! If you have a child who is interested in a musical career and wants to learn an instrument, might I suggest that you buy them a violin. This is the third concert I have been to this week where a string quartet has been featured, so the employment prospects can’t be all bad. The other great thing is that the range of music they get to play is vast. Leaving aside the two previous evenings, this concert on its own covers all the bases. The difference tonight was that the string quartet was at the heart of the programme but was augmented by guest artist, rather than being the other way round.
Manchester Collective is a group of musicians who share a common passion for music and a common goal to enjoy it and expand knowledge, both for themselves and their audiences. The line-up changes with each collaboration and tonight we had; Rakhi Singh, Musical Director and violin; Lily Whitehurst, violin; Ruth Gibson, viola and Reinoud Ford, cello. The guest collaborator was guitarist extraordinaire, Sean Shibe who is a virtuoso on both the acoustic and electric forms of his instrument.
Last April I was fortunate enough to see Manchester Collective appear at Howard Assembly Room with then collaborator, Abel Selaocoe, the brilliant South African cellist along with his fellow musicians Alan Keary and Mohamed Gueye in a set called The Oracle. On that occasion the Collective was a sextet and the programme could not have been more different to Rosewood.
Left to right, Rakhi Singh, Violin; Lily Whitehurst, Violin; Sean Shibe, Guitars; Ruth Gibson, Viola and Reinoud Ford, Cello
The great thing about The Manchester Collective is the way in which they take very seriously the second of their aims, with the piece not only being introduced, but the back story related and hints as to how it should be listened to. I found this incredibly helpful as, the first half especially, was well outside my comfort zone. Having said that, the evening began with three of the Six Melodies by John Cage, a composer I was pleased to see included as, and not many people know this, the only classical piece of music I can perform is one of his compositions. Not only that, I can do it as well as the best concert pianists on the planet. Anyway, it wasn’t me on stage but the five aforementioned musicians. Cage includes long pauses in his work and we were asked to listen to and enjoy these gaps as much as the notes. I sort of got it but, as was the case with the pianist in my last review, we needed to be prompted as to when the piece was completed, rather than the lack of noise being the gap between movements.
The second opus was the eponymous Rosewood by David Fennessy during which the strings of the violins, viola and cello are struck with the bow rather than played in the conventional manner.
Next up was the World Premier of Living Again by Kelly Moran who is based in Brooklyn. It was written in memory of her first love and partner who died at a very young age.
The second half began with the other three of Cage’s Six Melodies which were a lot more upbeat and accessible, as was the whole of the second half.
I must admit to being a little confused here as my notes seem to be in conflict with the running order of the pieces on the website. I have expressed my disappointment before at there being no printed programmes any more at Howard Assembly Room and this is an occasion when one would have been useful as I could have doctored it. There is an on-line version but I am not going to have my mobile phone exuding an electronic glow while people are trying to concentrate on either playing or listening to the music.
So, I believe that we then had the second World Premier of the night with Potential Space by Emily Hall. The title refers to the space between reality and fantasy coined by Psychoanalyst D W Winnicott. In this piece the violins and viola were plucked with the electric guitar being bowed in a kind of role reversal.
Killer by David Lang was the next cab off the rank (I think) which really broke through the sound barrier and for which Sean Shibe moved from his perch at the rear of the stage with his electric guitar to stand behind a bass drum at the front. The piece saw the amps turned up to 11 whilst the string players relentlessly bowed their instruments. It reminded me of the musical crescendo at the climax of a gangster film when the showdown is imminent, an image which was realised even more when the sound of the bass drum seemed to imitate gunshots.
La Folía, a traditional tune from the fifteenth century and one which has been amended and rearranged many times, was next and brought me right into my comfort zone. The tone of the electric guitar and the string arrangement reminded me of a Seventies prog rock tune. There was one riff which bugged me as I couldn’t recall where I had heard it before, but on the bus home it suddenly came to me – Tubular Bells..
The last item on the agenda was Buddha by Julius Eastman. We were told that it was included to echo one of Cage’s Six Melodies which began the concert but it couldn’t have been more different. There are only 20 lines of music and no instructions as to tempo or volume, it was also written in an oval shape.
So ended what was a challenging evening, in more ways than one, but one which proved to be another step in my appreciation of the less conventional formats of classical music. I have a feeling that it will be a very long staircase, especially with my knees.
By the way, if you are wondering what my virtuoso John Cage piece is, it is called 4’33” and is four minutes and thirty-three seconds of silence. I haven’t got a note wrong yet.
To find out more about Manchester Collective and the remaining dates on their Rosewood Tour please go to https://manchestercollective.co.uk/ They are reliant on public support so, should you be able to help please go to https://manchestercollective.co.uk/support
For forthcoming events at Howard Assembly Room it is https://www.operanorth.co.uk/event-tag/har/
Feature image, Sean Shibe, provided by Howard Assembly Room. Photographs by Stan Graham