Classical Weekend 2017 Review

Marmen Quartet and Tom McKinney play Philip Glass and Steve Reich; at Yellow Arch Studio

For me this was the highlight of the recent Classical Weekend Festival, and I don’t think I was alone in thinking that. The paring of the Marman String Quartet and guitarist Tom McKinney received what was undoubtedly the best reception of any of the shows I saw over the weekend, and that was quite an achievement. To make the evening even more special, they played in the atmospheric complex of buildings which form Yellow Arch Studios; somewhere I would guess that the majority of tonight’s audience had never been before. That it should also come at the end of the weekend festival was appropriate, as it provided the perfect ending to a brilliant event. The first half of the show was the music of Philip Glass, with its subtle repeating, almost hypnotic patterns, all played by a traditional string quartet. The Marman Quartet formed at the Royal College of Music five years ago and since then have toured the world, playing a variety of music and gaining an growing reputation. Tonight they performed the sublime String Quartet No 3, by Philip Glass, which was originally composed as a small part of the soundtrack a film called Mishima: A Life In Four Chapters, although it has since reached a much wider audience when it was used in The Truman Show. As the music gradually evolves and shifts, in six distinct movements the subtlety of the playing became apparent, and hearing it played live gave it an added dimension.

In the second half of the recital, Tom McKinney played the guitar piece, Electric Counterpoint composed by Steve Reich, for jazz guitarist Pat Metheny. It fell out of fashion and wasn’t performed for many years until Tom revived it, but only after he’d manually transcribed the score himself. He then had to then record the majority of the parts, as the piece was composed for several guitars all played at once. He played the lead guitar part live, over a recording of the remaining parts, and the audience was transfixed. Similar to the Glass piece, it was based on repetition, but with subtle variations and progressions, and with a shifting dynamic of loud and quiet sections. The only downside was the shortness of the performance, as I’m sure the audience, like me, wanted to hear much more of this sort of music. Even though it was all composed in the early days of the minimalist movement in music, it still has the power to mesmerise and fascinate. I’m sure similar events will find a growing audience as this festival moves from strength to strength. More like this please.

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