Out of this world

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Few musicians can play an entire piece of music completely from memory - even fewer could play several pieces from memory. And even fewer could play an entire concert without having to refer to sheet music once, but that’s exactly what Kosmos String Trio did at the finale of Bute Arts Society’s 2011/12 programme.

Harriet Mackenzie (violin), Meg Hamilton (viola) and Shirley Smart (cello) completely blew the audience away at Rothesay Joint Campus on Friday evening playing an eclectic and varied programme of music, which saw the merging of Sephardic, Gypsy and Greek cultures, bringing an entirely new way of interpreting music to the fore.

The ladies began with a Greek island tune, followed swiftly by a Polish tango called ‘The Suicide Tango’, which was fast-paced, passionate (as a good tango ought to be), and sultry, emphasised by the ladies’ foot-stomping.

Changing pace and tone, the ladies swept into a stunningly beautiful rendition of the Theme from Schindler’s List. With the viola’s counter-melody adding a new dimension to the piece, the performance sent shivers up the spines of those sitting in the audience, with the haunting tones driving the music to a climax.

The fourth piece of the evening was a Sephardic one - Sephardim being the music of the Jewish community which originated in Iberia (Spain) during the MIddle Ages. The cello took on another form, with guitar-sounds emanating from its depths, and was an unusual choice, as the ladies informed the audience it was originally about a frog baking a wedding cake!

If those in attendance had been lulled into a peaceful state with the evening’s performance, they were to be swiftly roused from it, as audience participation was required for the Trio’s own composition called ‘Burning Stones’. Samba-esque in style, the piece wouldn’t have been out of place in an underground, dimly-lit nightclub, and audience’s participation in snapping fingers in time added to the sultry tone.

Two Middle-Eastern pieces soon followed, which contrasted well with one another. The first - a love song - was romantic and soothing, while the second - called ‘Perfume of the Gypsie - opened with a taqsim (a form of improvisation), which added to the melancholic feel. The latter piece was originally played on the ‘oud’, which was probably the most central instrument in Arab music, very similar to and widely believed to be the forerunner of the lute.

It appeared that the audience - several times throughout the evening - were keen to show the Trio their appreciated, as applause rippled across the room as the ladies held their poses before launching into the next movement.

After the interval, the Trio played a piece full of ‘Eastern promise’, which was certainly delivered, with a ‘question-and-answer’ style creating a jovial tone.

A ‘Jealousy Tango’ brought everyone down to earth with its aggressive and sultry melody grabbing the audience by the throat (metaphorically!), demanding their attention, which contrasted beautifully with the more melodic and simplistic interludes.

It was clear from everyone in the hall at the Joint Campus that evening that influences from all genres and cultures were evident in each piece - perhaps more surprisingly, ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ fits rather well in Arabic music!

The final performance in the programme really ended the evening on a beautiful note. the way in which classical instruments can be used to make some really quite peculiar sounds was astounding, as the piece featured ‘birds’ twittering overhead, and ‘cows’ mooing their responses. It was clear the audience were equally as enthralled as this reporter was, and the raptuous applause which followed illustrated this.

What a wonderful end to a wonderful season by Bute Arts Society, and if this year’s programme was anything to go by, there are great things in store for 2012/13!