Tuesday 24 May 2022

Rewarding collaboration, Daniel Pioro and Erland Cooper perform live together for the first time at the Norfolk & Norwich Festival

Daniel Pioro and Erland Cooper
Daniel Pioro and Erland Cooper 

Daniel Pioro, Erland Cooper, Clare O'Connell, Studio Collective - students from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow; St Andrew's Hall, Norfolk & Norwich Festival
Reviewed, 17 May 2022 by Tony Cooper

Virtuosic violinist/composer, Daniel Pioro, collaborated with Scottish-born composer Erland Cooper for the first time achieving great success. With Cooper’s sensitive writing and Pioro’s exceptional and gifted playing, the partnership worked extremely well and delivered a striking contemporary work to mark the N&N Festival’s 250th anniversary

A major attraction for the Norfolk & Norwich Festival, virtuosic violinist, Daniel Pioro (artist-in-residence at London’s Southbank Centre) was joined by composer/pianist Erland Cooper, cellist Clare O'Connell and Studio Collective, a group of students and former students from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow for an evening of Cooper's music. 

Daniel Pioro happens to be more than just a soloist. He’s a collaborative artist, too, and engages in finding new ways of performing and creating sound in a multitude of different ways. And to help in this respect and to achieve the right balance and ambience for his concert at the N&N Festival, he abandoned the traditional stage of St Andrew’s Hall for a circular-shaped performance area in the stalls with members of the audience seated tightly round it. This new configuration worked well bringing performers close to the audience and vice versa thereby adding an extra dimension and, indeed, pleasure to the overall performance.

Such an accomplished musician, Daniel Pioro, made his Norwich début in August 2021 at an Assembly House lunchtime concert curated by Roger Rowe accompanied by cellist, Clare O’Connell. Two years previous, he made a stunning début at the BBC Proms premièring Jonny Greenwood violin concerto Horror vacui (a fear or dislike of leaving empty spaces) with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Hugh Brunt. His performance was highly praised by the BBC as ‘the ultimate display of musical virtuosity’ and the composer commented that ‘Daniel Pioro’s playing is the sound in my head when I write for the violin’. Praise, indeed!
He also premièred Tom Coult’s violin concerto Pleasure Garden with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra in Manchester last year to critical acclaim and gave the première of Joseph Davies’ violin concerto Parallax with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales earlier this year.

Seemingly, happy either performing or teaching, Pioro joined the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow last year as Associate Artist in Contemporary String Performance. In doing so, he launched Studio Collective, a contemporary music group whose raison-d’être is to help students in challenging their approach in choosing repertoire, engaging with the score and, indeed, making their own musical decisions.

Therefore, a selected group of eight truly gifted string players from Studio Collective - Scott Bryant, Luisa Sousa, Kirsty Main* (violins); Teresa Ferreria, Bernhard Nicolas Ersfeld Mandujano - Nico (violas); Rebekah Lesan, Joanna Stark (cellos); Callum Cronin* (double-bass) *former students of RCS - came together for this performance joining Pioro and Cooper in a remarkable, fulfilling, thought-provoking concert that also featured cellist, Clare O’Connell, who’s no stranger to Norwich. A passionate, performer, arranger, writer, she’s a founding member of the top-notch chamber ensemble, Chroma.

However, this was Pioro and Cooper’s first ‘live’ performance together in a concert re-imagining a selection of Cooper’s Orkney repertoire with Studio Collective. His works are known for their nostalgic meanderings and sense of place, stripped back to their essence then re-awakened into something improvised and ancient. Therefore, from Neolithic myth to a natural northerly drift, the evening turned out to be one of musical storytelling, sonic meditation and, above all, friendship. The ‘unnamed’ work (lasting 60 minutes) was phased in four sections: ‘Haar’, ‘Holm Sound’, ‘Maalie over Marwick Head’ and ‘St Magnus of Hamnavoe’. All of them were scored for ensemble apart from ‘Marwick Head’ witnessing Pioro and Cooper immersed in some richly intense playing which painted in my wandering mind an abstract canvas of the bleakness, isolation and spirituality that, I feel, is ingrained in the windswept landscape of the barren (but beautiful) Scottish isles.

Basically, the whole concept of the evening came from Pioro who put Cooper’s extremely pleasant music into the context of a Pauline Oliveros-inspired, deep-listening experience, exploring abstract sound such as white noise and endless drones moving in and out of tonality. Pauline Oliveros, by the way, was an American composer, accordionist and a central figure in the development of post-war experimental and electronic music. She died in 2016.

All the score was, in fact, new but adapted from Cooper’s work with Pioro linking his music by sonic landscapes and improvisations. He also incorporated folk-music elements, too, while the centrepiece - an incredible storm sequence - was written by the students. But the shape, texture and trajectory of the evening was really Pioro’s thinking but in collaboration, of course, with Cooper.

Wearing a peaked hat back to front, Cooper (who hails from Stromness) was seen at an upright piano while Pioro moved in and out of the shadows of the performing circle in total concentration delivering some rich and effortless playing against a recording of birdsong, heard throughout the work, thereby capturing the naturalness and sensitivity of the work overall. Hopefully, it will do the seasonal round of festivals and travel far beyond the Scottish (and British) isles. It deserves to! At curtain-call the audience erupted with cheering, stamping and applause that spoke volumes for the success of the night.

Interestingly, Cooper has created an original piece of music entitled Music for Growing Flowers as a soundtrack to the ‘Superbloom’ installation at the Tower of London celebrating The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. The moat of the Tower will be turned into a spectacular, colourful, vibrant field of flowers and over the course of the summer the displays will erupt into an abundance of fresh new colours and patterns thereby creating a dramatic and engaging experience for visitors. Cooper’s piece will be played continuously through multiple speakers thus providing the perfect backdrop to the array of about 20 million flowers. Blooming marvellous, I say! 

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