Aberdeen Art Gallery has just re-opened after a closure of almost five years, during which a major rebuild took place. I felt honoured when I was asked, in 2014, to write music ( a 5-movement cantata called The Big Picture) to be performed as part of the long-awaited opening festivities for this beautifully refashioned building.
It’s nevertheless a challenge to design a soundscape for a structure which you know won’t look like it did when you last saw it. We had been told that a major new feature would be the addition of a new floor and gallery at the top (pictured) so I gratefully accepted this spatial cue, and wrote a clarinet part to be played up there, somewhat removed from the other performers. What we couldn’t have known is just how high that space would be, and how distant therefore the two choirs down below. It seemed amazingly fearless of clarinettist Joanna Nicholson to play her virtuoso part while peering down at conductor Roger Williams so dizzy-makingly far away on ground level – an extra superpower being asked for amidst the already tricky circumstances of a world premiere.
A particular pleasure of this musical creation was the excellence of the volunteer vocal groups, interested adults from the area plus younger folks from Aberdeen City Music School, Big Noise Torry (the local outpost of Sistema Scotland) and local primary schools. When I write for “the community”, that unpredictable behemoth, I don’t expect the earth, but in this case the Voices choir, as the group was known, was well able to match the professional standard Con Anima chamber choir in confidence and accuracy. Many thanks to Fiona Robertson and sound festival for putting this complicated event together.