SUNDAY 16th February – Scottish Ensemble and Gabriela Montero
Pre-concert talk 6:30, concert at 7.30pm

Scottish Ensemble is a leading Scottish string orchestra, based in Glasgow, 3b Gabriela Monteroled by Artistic Director Jonathan Morton.  They are noted for the very high quality of their performances and their bold approach to programming.  This is their first visit to Kendal, and it is part of a nationwide tour, together with multi-talented Venezuelan virtuoso Gabriela Montero.

The programme lives up to their reputation.  The first half is full of classical poise and elegance; the second half very much more politically engaged.  The concert starts with Mozart’s charming early Divertimento, K 136, followed by the Ricercar, a 6 from Bach’s Musical Offering.  The Musical Offering came about when Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, presented Bach with a long theme and challenged him to write a fugue based on it.  Bach went away and composed a whole series of contrapuntal pieces, which collectively make up the ‘Musical Offering’, and this Ricercar – a 6-part fugue on the theme – is one of the most striking of them. The piece was written for fortepiano, but we hear a transcription for string orchestra.

Then Gabriela Montero joins the Ensemble to play a beautiful middle-period piano concerto by Mozart – no. 14, K 449 – with an exuberant final movement.

Gabriele Montero certainly is multi-talented.  A renowned concert pianist, she has performed all over the world with many of the great orchestras.  She is also very well known as an improvisor – she will invite members of the audience to suggest tunes, and then improvise at length on them showing amazing skill and ingenuity in developing and embellishing the theme.  Whether Gabriela will improvise on this occasion we don’t know, because she is not only playing the Mozart, but also in the second half introducing a new work she has composed for piano and string orchestra.

So we already have Gabriela the virtuoso pianist, and possibly Gabriela the improvisor.  Now we meet two other facets of her talent.  She is a composer, but also an ardent champion of human rights. In May 2015, she was appointed as the first “Honorary Consul” of Amnesty International, in recognition of her sustained efforts to advocate for human rights in Venezuela, both through music and public discourse. And her compositions very much involve her political commitment.  The work we hear – Babel for piano and string orchestra – is receiving its European premiere in this series of concerts.  The name echoes the biblical story of the tower of Babel.

“Babel is a colourful, inventive, personal and relatable portrait of Montero’s experience as a human rights activist for her politically-troubled home country of Venezuela. Using musical metaphor to communicate her difficult experience as a narrator of injustice in a frantic 21st-century society, Babel creates a vivid picture of an artist trying to convey urgent political messages in a world which wants only to talk, and never to listen. At times lush and lyrical, at others gripping and intense, running throughout the piece is an open, immediate sense of dialogue between the composer and the listener.”

The final work in the concert also seems to reflect a deeply felt political position, though in this case much less explicit.  It is Dmitri Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony op. 118a – an arrangement of his 10th string quartet, written in 1964. Living in a deeply repressive society, Shostakovich could not afford to be openly critical of the regime, and indeed often seems to have given deliberately misleading accounts of his works to please the authorities, while hiding his real intentions.  However, this Chamber Symphony seems to be an honest and heartfelt illustration of the composer’s disillusionment with a crushing Soviet regime.

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The Society is grateful to Arts Council England, through its Grants for the Arts scheme, and to South Lakeland District Council for grants for 2018-19. We are also grateful for the support of our President John Summers, CEO of the Hallé.