Cesari, BBCSSO, Pintscher, City Halls, Glasgow

Matthias Pintscher
The Arts Desk

Forget your celebratory Messiahs and your crowd-pleasing Strauss galas. Instead of easing listeners gently into 2016 with conventional New Year fare, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra went for the shock approach in its 2016 opening concert: non-stop, back-to-back, uncompromising contemporary music. And it felt like a marvellously bracing, ear-cleansing, provocative way to kick off the year’s concerts.

German composer and conductor Matthias Pintscher is the BBCSSO’s artist-in-association, and he’d been given free rein to curate and conduct the evening. What he came up with felt like quite a startling clutch of recent US and European works, and there was a definite focus on orchestral sonority (sometimes refined, sometimes rugged) as well as bristling gesture – both elements found abundantly in Pintscher’s own music, in fact.

The work that provoked most reaction – from mid-performance walk-outs to post-performance cheers – was also the concert’s most traditional. Delta – Music for Orchestra IV by San Diego-born Jay Schwartz had a lot in common with the inexorable process music of Reich or Pärt, but using a radically different language, one of beating microtones, almost imperceptible accelerations or decelerations, all across a hugely expansive, almost tectonic time scale that either tried the patience (clearly) or proved hugely engrossing, even hypnotic. It was as if the inner workings of the music were laid bare, but underpinned by a gripping sense of drama – somehow horrific in its relentlessness, yet fascinating at the same time. Pintscher drove the orchestra onwards with a sure sense of pacing in a work with few clear signposts in its restless textures, and had a keen ear for its microtonal subtleties, building to a shattering, ecstatic climax. Unforgettable.

Which made the concert closer, Helmut Lachenmann’s energetic 1989 Tableau, seem like something of a throwaway, despite Pintscher’s hugely athletic account. The evening wasn’t without its question marks, certainly, but it was just the kind of bold, ambitious programming that makes the BBCSSO such a vital element of live music north of the border. 

Read the rest of the review here