beamThe profile of Sally Beamish, a British composer living in Scotland, was raised considerably due to the performance of her accordion concerto “The Singing” at The Proms on August 1st. This 1996 work was a late replacement for the Violin Concerto (1994), due to the sickness of soloist Anthony Marwood. It was written for the virtuoso accordion player James Crabb and takes for its theme the Highland Clearances of the 1760s. Surrounding the concert were multiple radio interviews, including Woman’s Hour, CD Review, and a Proms Plus talk recorded just before the performance. Beamish’s music is often serious minded, but she can be playful as well, and has built up an intriguing back catalogue. (Examples: the Bach-inspired Chamber Concerto for saxophone quartet and strings (2008), and the somewhat harrowing, but still life-affirming Spinal Chords, written for the paralympics in 2012 – both works have been recorded).

One of the best entry points is the re-invention of a Beethoven string quartet (specifically Opus 18 No 4) in her String Quartet No 2 “Opus California”, which uses four themes from the first movement of the Beethoven as the basis for the four short movements, combining the classical influences with a West Coast sensibility. The source material for the second movement includes Beethoven’s first bridge passage, used (appropriately enough) for the portrait of the Golden Gate Bridge shrouded in mist. But it’s the first movement (“Boardwalk”) that is most immediately striking. The sound world of the Beethoven is recognizably still there, but the music unveils in tiny fragments, very lightly put together and occasionally coming together into a sequence of sprung rhythms that approaches jazz. It’s accessible but at the same time slightly edgy, and I can hear it being used as the opening music to a modern play – something understated, like Art by Yasmina Reza, for instance.

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