Town Hall, Cheltenham
Premieres are dotted through the Cheltenham festival programme as usual this year, but the first performance of Joseph Phibbs's Bar Veloce promised something more spectacular – a concerto for percussionist and ensemble, written personally for Evelyn Glennie. Glennie introduced it with the festival's own Academy, a mix of young instrumentalists and seasoned professionals.
The 12 episodes of Phibbs's piece are named after cocktails, with each section signalled by the sound of a cocktail shaker. The soloist plays a variety of exotic instruments, and the extrovert writing suits Glennie's approach well. But the impact is superficial, as the music veers from one attention-seeking idea to the next. Glennie returned at the end to revive Joe Duddell's 2002 percussion and strings piece Snowblind, which seemed as bland and featureless as the Phibbs was over-long and over-busy.
The real meat of the concert came in the two works Neil Thomson conducted for strings alone. Hannah Kendall's City Gates was brand new, a musical impression of her commute from north London to the City. It was impressive for its compactness and for making its points in an entirely musical way. The title of Steve Martland's Eternity's Sunrise, written four years ago, suggests associations with Blake, though they weren't explained. Instead, its austere string writing, sometimes sounding as if Elgar's Introduction and Allegro had been rewritten by Louis Andriessen, has an almost classical restraint that seemed both compelling and deeply serious.
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