Nov 082013

Our Chamber Music Reviewer, so he wishes to be titled, has submitted this review of Libertadores String Quartet performance at the Cowdray Hall on 4 November. It is based on an article that was first published on the blog Golf Tango Foxtrot, edited to the Voice house style.

Gustavo Dudamel - pic by Chris Christodoulou

Gustavo Dudamel, Patron of Sistema Scotland. Photograph by Chris Christodoulou.

The Quartet are all members of the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela and are products of El Sistema, the musical education system developed in Venezuela by Maestro Jose Antonio Abreu.
In Venezuela currently half a million children are being educated in this manner. The intention is to produce not just musicians, but happy adults with skills to help them prosper.

The charity Sistema Scotland seeks to replicate this work through its Big Noise project in the Raploch area of Stirling and Govanhill in Glasgow. Both Dundee and Aberdeen have expressed an interest in becoming  the next Sistema Scotland location, hence the Cowdray Hall concert.

Apart from a simple enjoyment of chamber music, or a general interest in musical education, there were other reasons a broad cross-section of people chose to attend. Some had an interest in the Bolivarian revolution which supported and nurtured El Sistema, others are committed to regenerating the City of Aberdeen and defeating poverty.

No doubt this mass appeal accounted for the appreciative capacity audience that the Quartet found in the stuffy setting of the Cowdray Hall. As well as the usual chamber music crowd, there were a large number of diaspora Venezuelans. Aberdeen and Venezuela share a current interest in oil reserves.

Civic dignitaries enjoyed the hospitality of the Lord Provost before the gig, and it would be good to see the city put its weight behind the establishment of a Big Noise project in Aberdeen.

Bringing up the rear were a large number of people, like me, who are not regular attenders at chamber music events, but were glad of this opportunity.

Like the Venezuelans we had to buy our tickets and we were not disappointed. Many of us share an interest in regenerating what is the most unequal of all of Scotland’s cities. We were keen to show our support for Sistema Scotland and the attempt to expand its current projects.

The programme started with Mozart’s String Quartet No17 K458 The Hunt. I must confess that I’ve never been a fan of this piece, clearly my loss as the audience showed their appreciation on all sides.

The first movement is scored violento ed agitato and they weren’t kidding

Continuing with an early Beethoven Quartet No 11 Op 95 Serioso, the lads showed great rhythmic assurance and grasp of the dynamics of the piece. Again, not one of my favourites.

After these two examples of the European quartet repertoire came a fine noisy interval.

Fruit punch was served. Alas, the alcohol had been reserved for the civic dignitaries. This just made the traditional Venezuelan punch all the more acceptable for the large number of children in the audience.

First violinist Eddie Cordero made a brief speech recalling that the first international recognition received by El Sistema was in 1976 when the fledgling orchestra was invited to play at the Aberdeen International Youth Festival.

The music continued with a piece from Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera. String Quartet No 1 Op 20.  The first movement is scored violento ed agitato and they weren’t kidding. It was edgy, it was full of movement and was cerebral as well as visceral.

The second movement built on the first and really brought out the life in the piece and players. Lots of left hand pizzicatto and con legno passages added to the interest, whilst the third movement, Calmo e poetica, was played with mutes on every instrument.

The final movement, Allegramente rustic, was full of effects evoking almost guitar-like sounds, with rural dance rhythms and knocking on the wooden bodies of the instruments.

In case you can’t tell, this reviewer loved it. The audience did too.

This was not a traditional chamber music audience. How could one tell?

The usual convention of not applauding at the end of individual movements, saving applause for the end of the piece, was totally and happily ignored as the audience showed its appreciation freely and honestly and the performances on stage were the better for that.

Not one, but two encores followed. The favourite for me was the Quartet’s setting of a Chick Corea piano piece Senor Mouse.

I loved it.  You can find out more about El Sistema in Scotland on its website

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