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Features / Baltic composers and Finnish tango at Mareel

Mr McFall's Chamber are: Robert McFall (standing front right) and (from left to right): Su-a Lee (cello), Brian Schiele (viola) and Rick Standley (double bass).

Shetland Arts’ Classical Season continues this month with Mr McFall’s Chamber presenting Solitudes, a repertoire of Baltic pieces and tango on the 15 April, writes Alex Garrick-Wright.

Founded in 1996 by a number of Scottish Chamber Orchestra musicians to play to less-traditional venues and audiences, Mr McFall’s Chamber has acquired a reputation of interesting and extremely enjoyable performances.

Mr McFall’s Chamber’s last visited Mareel a couple of years ago, presenting a programme of Polish compositions. Now, the music has moved Northeast, with pieces from Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as part of a tour to promote their highly-acclaimed new album Solitudes.

Shetland News spoke to ensemble founder and 2nd violin, Robert McFall, about what the Shetland audience can expect.

Robert said that, in addition to Mareel the tour will also stop in Jura, Kirkwall, Findhorn and Wick before ending in Glasgow.

The programme, which consists of the music from the new album and “a few extras” is rooted heavily in the Baltic countries.

Robert explained that the ensemble had been playing music by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt for some time, and the members had felt drawn to the musical styles from the general region.

“Music from that part of the world has a particular atmosphere about it. [We had] several compositions we liked, and looked for others to fit,” he said.

Strikingly, Robert noted that ‘Finnish Tango’ comprises a large part of the programme. He said that in the 1960s, while the craze for Argentine tango was dying out elsewhere, the genre was booming in Finland, remaining popular to this day and becoming a lasting influence on Finnish music.

This evolved into Finland’s very own, distinct tango style. A number of the pieces in Solitudes are in this very style or inspired by it. If ‘Finnish Tango’ doesn’t pique the interests of the classical music fan, then nothing will.

The list of composers is interesting for its relative obscurity- while Sebelius might stand out to the casual classical fan, names like Kärki, Mustonen and Tüür may be recognisable only to ardent fans.

While the music is relatively recent for a classical concert, from the last 40 years or so, Robert was reluctant to use the word ‘modern’ to describe it.

Mr McFalls Chamber performing in The Queen's Hall, Edinburgh, in May 2013 - Photo: Andy Catlin

“None of it is modern in the sense of being atonal or anything like that… [It’s] all really good music anyone can relate to.”

Finland is well-represented in the programme, with “the founder of Finnish nationalism in music” Jean Sibelius front and centre with Einsames Lied (‘Song of Solitude’), an excerpt from incidental music for a theatrical production of Belshazzar’s Feast.

Sibelius’ influence over later Finnish composers can’t be understated, with a two of the other composers on the programme having studied at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Aulis Sallinen and Kalevi Aho.

From the prolific Sallinen we get Introduction and Tango Overture, inspired rather obviously by the afore-mentioned Finnish Tango style. Aho’s Lamento (for two violas) is also on the set list.

Between them, Sallinen and Aho have produced an astonishing 21 symphonies, 10 operas and dozens of solo works, as well as having both been employed by the Finnish Government to compose full-time (a 15-year grant in Aho’s case, while the post of Professor of Arts for Life was created specially for Sallinen).

Further tango will be present with ‘the greatest Finnish tango composer to date’ Toivo Kärki’ Täysikuu, Astor Piazzolla’s far easier to pronounce Le Grand Tango, and Unto Mononen’s Satumaa.

From farther afield there are the ‘fluctuating’ Bangos by Lithuanian Zita Bružaitė, Dedication by Estonian prog-rocker Erkki-Sven Tüür, and the sentimental A Little Summer Music by Latvian Pēteris Vasks.

Robert said that a highlight for the six-piece ensemble is the ‘tremendously exciting’ Toccata by Olli Mustonen:

“We’ve played it for many years. It’s quite virtuosic and difficult… [I] don’t really know any other groups that play it,” he said.

While the ensemble is very much looking forward to seeing Shetland once again in April, Robert was quick to note that the Shetland connections do not stop there.

A number of the ensemble will be back this July as part of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, and Mr McFalls’ Chamber are collaborating with Shetland musicians Chris Stout and Catriona MacKay on the premiere of a new piece by Norwegian composer Henning Sommerro.

For now, music fans can look forward to what looks to be a very, very interesting concert on 15 April. Tickets are available from Shetland Arts.



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