Pianist and composer Euan Stevenson’s Sound Tracks take more than just musical paths. He describes the nine-piece suite for piano, flute and cello as a celebration of the rich history and culture of his native Falkirk, but also as “a nostalgic love letter to my home town”.
Composed during confinement, the premiere of the sequel, originally scheduled for last year, was canceled by the pandemic. Now, however, it will receive its first performance by the Earthtones Trio – Stevenson’s longtime collaboration with flautist Katherine Bryan and cellist Betsy Taylor – at Falkirk Trinity Church on April 24.
A co-commission of Chamber Music Scotland and Classic Music Live! Scotland, Sound Tracks is a musical exploration of Falkirk’s award-winning network of footpaths, some of which are remnants of ancient carriage roads, and evoking both historical events such as Celtic tribes attacking the Roman Antonine Wall or the Victory Jacobite at Falkirk Muir, and modern monuments like the Falkirk Wheel. On a personal level, however, it is what he describes as “a visceral response to memories of my childhood, delightful memories of growing up in family, community, church, club tennis… all the people who have a formative influence on your life.”
It was also in Falkirk that Stevenson’s musical creation began: “my first live gig was playing for the local Sunday school to accompany the junior choir.”
Countless gigs later, the 41-year-old pianist’s output straddles jazz, classical and beyond, most notably in his acclaimed New Focus collaboration with saxophonist Konrad Wiszniewski, while the Earthtones Trio sees him joined by lead flautist of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra Bryan and his partner. solo cellist Taylor. His compositions have been performed by an equally diverse range of performers, from the RSNO and Bach Choir to the BBC Big Band, while the debut album Only the Lover Sings, which he co-wrote and arranged with the Glasgow singer Georgia Cécile, was the best album category at the Scottish Jazz Awards last year.
Currently living in Surrey but clearly still a Falkirk bairn at heart, he is relieved to finally get Sound Tracks playing. Much of the sequel was recorded during lockdown, and a single from it, Wheel Slowly Turning, is set to be released on Glasgow-based iOcco Classical label. Inspired by the Falkirk Wheel, the hydraulic marvel linking the Forth, Clyde and Union Canals, the swirling music reflects the ingenious workings of the boat lift: “The symmetry and elegantly balanced mechanism inspired the construction of my piece”, he explains. “Each time a melodic phrase is presented, there is either direct imitation or a counter-phrase to offset the weight of the preceding phrase. It’s like Archimedes’ principle in sound form.
There are also playful aspects: another piece, Running for Miles, reflects the time spent with her children during confinement and the energy of her then six-year-old son. The soundtracks are often cinematic – he described them as “imaginary pieces of film music” – and one of them, La Scozia, celebrating the Italian community of Falkirk, was indeed inspired by the score of Nino Rota for The Godfather.
At the premiere, Stevenson will interweave these new compositions with some of his arrangements of pieces by Satie, Ellington, Gershwin and others. He is currently in discussions with festivals and music companies across the central belt about possible future Sound Tracks performances.
In the meantime, a few days before this premiere, the Perth Concert Hall will host a major charity event. A concert for Ukraine on April 20 will feature a selection of Scottish folk stars including singers Julie Fowlis, Karen Matheson and Sheena Wellington, while instrumentalists include Duncan Chisholm, Patsy Reid, Bruce MacGregor, Phil Cunningham , Tim Edey and Ross Ainslie. They will be joined by poets, including the current Makar, Kathleen Jamie and Gerda Stevenson.
Horsecross Arts has waived fees for using the concert hall and all net proceeds will go to the Disaster Emergency Committee for Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal.
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