Review: ALCHEMY Ancient Voices, New Voices
From The Scotsman, Monday 2 November 2015
The Royal Scottish National Orchestra has hardly gone for the easy option with new contemporary music offshoot Alchemy, going for not a traditional avant-garde classical ensemble, but something far more risky – a flexible group exploring improvisation, collaboration, world musics, even jazz, under guiding guru Peter Wiegold. And Friday night’s concert was typical of the group’s ambitious, free-wheeling spirit, lining up a clutch of RSNO players alongside three world musicians from contrasting traditions – Gambian Sura Susso on kora, Korean Hyelim Kim on the remarkable buzzing taegum flute, and Oban-born Aidan O’Rourke on fiddle.
The results weren’t always polished, but that was hardly the point – certainly when much of the music was being made up on the spot. These were collaborations, but there would also be clashes and collisions, Wiegold warned us, and the whole event felt like it had an element of risk. Nevertheless, an RSNO string quartet devised a beautifully evocative backdrop to a kora piece by Susso, and Wiegold directed a solemn setting of a traditional Korean taegum melody, with trombone, bassoon and tuba intoning a dark accompaniment. O’Rourke’s Cape Reinga provided the evening’s most traditional music, his original band piece recast by Wiegold as a teeming, ever-changing orchestral rhapsody. Most impressive, though, was Wiegold’s own, and entirely improvised, Living Water, which he conjured and sculpted using just hand gestures, and which the RSNO musicians and guest soloists responded to with a fine balance of individualistic flair and selfless musical generosity. It was a challenging evening, one that questioned musical styles, authorship and more, but all the better for that.