After so many years working in music isn't it great when music yet again displays it's power to shock and stun you and reduce you to tears.
I was at an already wonderful concert of scots tunes set to classical music by great classical composers - Haydn Beethoven Ravel etc and played by some wonderful musicians who I toured with in Off-Kilter. Mhairi Lawson Adrian Chandler Jan Waterfield and the irresistibly fucking cool Su-a Lee . This stuff isn't normally my cup of tea but they do it so incredibly well and their grace and precision avoids the sentimental or clichéd - it is just very beautiful with restrained subtle undercurrents of emotion. Seeing them play Beethoven every night with Mark Morris' beautiful choreography and dancers was a revelation to me in Off Kilter. Mhairi Lawson's voice is like quicksilver in it's brilliance and precision. Adrian Chandlers violin sings out so precise so in control. Jan and Su-a are lovely players. Mairi Campbell was also playing viola and singing and adding a more folky slightly darker earthier voice to the occasion both on the larger fiddle and voice.
In the first set she did a lot of duos with the other Mhairi (with an h) and it was cool but you didn't really get a sense of the full musician.
Then at the start of the second set Su-a sat next to me as she wasn't on for a few tunes. First was a piece by Ravel- the piano chords sounded ridiculously jazzy. Amazing - Ravel was definitely a jazzer! Then a James Macmillan arrangement of a butns tune which was also very beautiful and stripped down. Then Mairi stepped forward to do a solo set and just plucking her viola let out this other worldly ethereal sound . You had this instant physical reaction. Hairs on the back of the neck and a pressure in the chest. It was mouth music I think, a very scottish thing, lyricless vocal improvising. But it had echoes of Meredith monks experimentalism, Jay Clayton, as well as traditional voices from Bulgaria and Africa. It was incredibly powerful moving sound.
She sang another incredibly beautiful song and played viola - wow. The she talked a while about her family, there was this growing sense of electricity in the room of emotion. This story about her great grandfather who was a missionary to china and died there aged 30. Then she sang this song about her grandmother, his widow, returning to ascotland with theit children including her mother. That song had Jan on the piano. Me and Su-a were in tears. Su-a was grabbing the sleeve of my hoody and wiping away tears. She totally blew us away.
Of course many people already know Mairi is a mega, master musician and don't need me to tell them. I already knew Mairi is a mega master musician. It is just great to see it and feel it and be reminded and to be blown away like that -quite remarkable. Gonna have to get my hoodie cleaned as well.....
The other thing I reflected on later was the impact of Mhairi', Adrian, Su-a, and Jan's more controlled, less emotionally up front music had for creating the setting out of which Mairi's very personal music could so devastatingly burst. And also the way you heard the ensemble's music differently after Mairi's solo set was finished, with this powerful emotion hanging in the air and linking up with the undercurrents and nuances in the more classical material.
You know the thing that happens when you get a set list for a gig just right so the last few tunes really kill the audience rather than a sense of slight anti-climax, and sense of there was another gear there we didn't quite hit. Or if you play a dark fractured crazy tune it can make a simple beautiful song after it sound much more powerful. There's something in that for sure. I believe because of the way music can trigger and resonate with this different states we all pass through.
The combination of these different styles really brought out the best in both. It was wonderful. Should be more of it.......cross- genre synergistic audience killing....