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Features / Neil to supply classical season’s fitting finale

AFTER two thoughtful and uncompromising classical concerts, Shetland pianist Neil Georgeson returns to Mareel for his final concert of the classical season. This final performance, Pictures at an Exhibition, looks to be even less conventional.

In Island Home, Neil had the audience straining their ears for brief snippets of crackly speeches, barely audible alongside an uncomfortably dissonant piano accompaniment.

In Life Story, Neil and soprano Anna Dennis told the story of a life backwards, from afterlife to birth, with Anna singing about madness, or illicit affairs, or in Shetland dialect, while Neil leant inside the piano and played the string directly with little xylophone-mallets.

He has demonstrated a flair for the unorthodox, and when Shetland News spoke to him about the upcoming show, he promised something different yet again. In Pictures at an Exhibition, Neil is hoping to create a concert of sound and vision, with music inspired by paintings and accompanied by visuals.

Most recognisable of the line-up is Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition suite, based on an exhibition held in memorial for one of Mussorgsky’s close friends. Pictures is a musical journey through an art gallery, with “ten incredibly vivid” pieces evoking each ‘painting’, and a refrain- Promenade– as the viewer moves between paintings. While Ravel’s orchestral arrangement is perhaps the best-known version, Neil will be playing Mussorgsky’s original solo-piano arrangement.

Following this are pieces by American composer George Crumb, inspired by 14th century frescos, and pastoral melodies by Debussy and Couperin. Neil noted that he had tried to pick the most ‘Shetland-flavoured ones’.

These may seem a little pedestrian compared to the compositions that Neil will be pairing up with visual stimuli. Most interesting of all will be the UK premiere of Abstraction in Folk Art by contemporary Norwegian composer Øyvind Tormund, which Neil is “really excited” to be performing.

Abstraction is a piece ”for piano, cassette player, two slide show projectors and electronic sound” (Tormund’s description), for which Neil will have two projectors on stage, one displaying folk art to accompany the music, while the other will project colours, triggered by the notes on the piano. This bizarre set up also features samples of fiddle music on (literal) tape players and electric fans, controlled by the music. Seeing this in action must surely be worth the ticket price alone.

In order to move the concert (further) away from the traditional, Neil has collaborated with two artists to create unique musical experiences. First is visual artist Alicja Rogalska, who has created videos to accompany a number of ‘country pastoral’ Lizst pieces. He has also teamed up with local sound artist Martin Clarke for a piano work that incorporates field recordings made in Shetland.

Taking the ‘visual’ theme down another route, Neil will also be playing music from a graphical score. Graphical scores – also known as ‘graphic notation’ – are a type of musical score where the music is written without use of traditional notation; the sheet music itself can be a work of art, without any recognisable notes, but still be translatable into music.

Neil described this as “like looking at abstract shapes, but you have to play them like they’re music”. For music buffs, this will surely be a rare treat; for the full effect, the sheet music will hopefully be either displayed or provided, in order for the audience to fully appreciate what Neil has to work with.

Before this classical season, Neil had not played on Shetland soil for over four years. So far, he seems to have been making up for lost time, with interesting musical projects that go beyond mere concerts. The first two shows have been memorable, contemplative performances that really made a mark. Paintings at an Exhibition’s unique and exciting line-up would suggest that it might be a fitting and remarkable finale. 

Alex Garrick-Wright

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