For Manchester Collective collaboration is key. Much of this innovative arts organisation’s success over the past seven years has been built upon an unerring ability to work most effectively with a diverse range of artists in producing a consistently bold and exciting programme of experimental musical events. And tonight is no exception in that regard as they join considerable creative forces with the hugely talented Scottish guitarist Sean Shibe, a man who can add a long and impressive list of accolades to his name including that of last year’s prestigious Leonard Bernstein Award.
Together, Manchester Collective and Sean Shibe perform Rosewood. Taking its title from a 2010 set of solo guitar pieces by the British composer David Fennessy, Rosewood is a body of work comprising nine individual elements which range from a variant on fifteenth-century dance music to interpretations of the minimalist pioneer John Cage’s ‘Six Melodies’ , whilst also including a couple of specially commissioned works which have been premiered on this tour.
Manchester Collective’s Music Director and violinist Rakhi Singh and Sean Shibe take to the stage first and in Singh’s words proceed to embrace “the power of silence” as they enact the first two parts of ‘Six Melodies’ on their respective violin and electric guitar. Through the economy of their notes, there is certainly a conceptual association with Cage’s most famous work ‘4’33’ and its complete absence of any intended sound. And not for the last time this evening, an essence of Buddhist philosophy filters through the music.
Rakhi Singh and Sean Shibe conclude the last two parts of ‘Six Melodies’ in the second half of this performance, an experience that Singh likens to the recitation of “a miniature sonic poem,” yet long before then they have been joined by Lily Whitehurst (violin), Ruth Gibson (viola), and Reinoud Ford (cello). The five musicians first perform ‘Rosewood,’ Fennessy’s original piece having been extended for a body of string instruments. The openness, serenity, spirituality, reverence, and natural resonance of the five movements, add a sense of imminent danger courtesy of Shibe’s jagged guitar.
The American composer Kelly Moran’s ‘Living Again’ is the first of the two new works to be heard. Written in memory of her first love who had recently died, much of the grief felt by his passing is shared in the melancholy of Ford’s cello. The other – Emily Hall’s ‘Potential Space’, which opens the second half of tonight’s concert – also reflects feelings of deep loss, yet for all of the sadness that inhabits both pieces there is also the sound of celebration for lives that have most certainly been lived. The manner in which each instrument carefully captures these emotions speaks volumes of the intricacy and intuition of the playing.
Following the spectacular audio fireworks of ‘La Folia’ – a traditional tune described here as the “baroque pop hit of its day” – this stunning partnership between Manchester Collective and Sean Shibe conclude with ‘Buddha’. Written by Julius Eastman, another American composer whose work is associated with musical minimalism, and here featuring Shibe’s own arrangement, the piece places a strong emphasis upon harmonization and further highlights the enigmatic dynamic and beautifully understated interplay that exists between these five brilliant musicians.
Photos: Simon Godley
More photos of Manchester Collective and Sean Shibe at Howard Assembly Room