“The Night With” Ensemble Offspring and Duo van Vliet in Glasgow

While indie and jazz music makes a rite of passage and a home in dark and dank of basement venues, art music tends not to hang about that aesthetic, especially to host world premieres of new commissions. Throughout Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, and Belfast, “The Night With” series 2019, led by artistic director and composer Matthew Whiteside, invites leading ensembles and audiences to get comfortable in venues stripped of context and conflation, to celebrate living composers and living music.

The Glasgow iteration of the series on 10 September hosted two leading ensembles, Ensemble Offspring and Duo van Vliet, who ventured down to the underground space of Hug and Pint, a vegan pub and leading music venue within the indie scene. Downstairs, the basement walls crowd inward, black with patches of exposed brick dressed with gig posters, and a centred disco ball. Tiny stools spread about the open floor, and the stage amess with the logistical complexity of electroacoustic sound.

With a gender-balanced ensemble and programme, Sydney-based Ensemble Offspring shared, with an intimate audience, truly genuine immersion and advocacy for Australia’s vibrant and living new music culture. In 2017 Ensemble Offspring, with the leadership of artistic director Claire Edwardes, performed an entire year of programming by all women composers, expanding the ensemble’s repertoire of works which are now interwoven through a number of programmes toured internationally.

Ensemble Offspring--Photo courtesy www.ensembleoffspring.com

Ensemble Offspring–Photo courtesy www.ensembleoffspring.com

With Ensemble Offspring’s distinct sound as a sextet streamlined to quartet–vibraphone/percussion, flute, clarinet, and keyboard–“The Night With” commissioned two new premieres for Ensemble Offspring: Jane Stanley’s Glow, a free and conversational textural palette between flute, clarinet, vibraphone, and vocalisation; and Matthew Whiteside’s, Rama, a playful exploration of fragments that cross-pollinate and organically develop into layers of intricate ideas.

Other works, all written within the last three years, featured an all-Australian program: Kate Moore’s Blackbird Song, a delicately interwoven dance of closely paired textures and timbres; Andrea Keller’s Love in Solitude, a flow-state of electroacoustic textures, eastern percussion, and pre-recorded voice; and Thomas Meadowcroft’s Medieval Rocco, gentle and jagged writing of shifting mood and expectation.

With welcomed personality, Ensemble Offspring engage with the listeners and share context of the presented works, with stories of collaboration and rehearsal, and ongoing relationships with the particular composers they perform. That gesture, wrapped up with energy, commitment, and equity in the music they play, is why this ensemble has gained wide respect in new music.

With instrumentation of equal character, the UK-based Duo van Vliet (accordion and viola) performed a Scottish and Polish programme that lived up to its namesake, a dedication to the avant-garde rocker Captain Beefheart. As advocates of contemporary music, accordionist Rafał Łuc and violist Ian Anderson met at the Royal Academy of Music London, and are now active performers of new commissions.

Duo van Vliet--Photo courtesy www.duovanvliet.com

Duo van Vliet–Photo courtesy www.duovanvliet.com

For “The Night With,” the duo presented two world premieres by Scotland-based composers: Linda Buckley’s Oscillate, a textural painting with disparate thematic material coloured by electronica; and Richard Greer’s Black Box, with bebop lines that take flight, shift in dialogue, and develop into energetic chordal turbulence. A few Captain Beefheart tunes came together in an avant-garde medley, featuring a rubber chicken and high-powered drill affixed with fan blades that spin against the viola’s strings with changing velocity.

The most courageous writing was with that of Polish composers–Adam Porębski, ReVerse 2; Marta Śnaidy, <<<st)i(ll<<<; Paweł Malinowski, Canvas; and Cezary Duchnowski, cROSSFAdE 2–who revealed the accordion’s rich sonic possibilities through extended techniques exploring the instrument’s variety of surfaces, drawing textures from the touch of the bellows, buttons, keys, and body.

Showcasing eight world premieres and touring seven leading ensembles, “The Night With” series holds a distinctive attitude and character that resonates with the new music listeners in Scotland. With or without a pint, it’s a welcomed change of scenery when we pack up and move outside the concert hall.