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John Zorn: A Portrait, City Halls, Glasgow

AS listeners to Radio 3's Hear And Now strand on Saturday night will know, those among an initially very full house who found the music of New York's John Zorn too challenging to return after the interval missed the better part of the evening.

Even if you are familiar with the writer and saxophonist's work from the album The Big Gundown or the small group Naked City, his orchestral work was probably still unknown. This concert by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and conductor Ilan Volkov was not just the first celebration of the composer's 60th-birthday year, it was also the first concert entirely of his works by an orchestra anywhere ever.

The first half culminated in the world premiere of a new commission, Suppots et Supplications, scored for a very large orchestra and a vast percussion section, much of it a dialogue between strings and percussion and full of his signature flurries of notes. Like the monodrama La Machine de l'etre, which featured soprano Allison Bell and preceded it, it was inspired by the work of French playwright and poet Antonin Artaud, and both pieces shared a style with the opening Orchestra Variations of 1996, which featured guest leader Duncan Riddell and percussive colours made by newspapers and garden shears.

After the break, Kol Nidre, from the same year, was very different, a simple but brilliant piece of spiritual string writing that was kin to Zorn's Masada projects and more in the mould of Arvo Part. It was followed by piano concerto Aporias with the piece's dedicatee, Stephen Drury, at the keyboard and some astonishing singing from half-a-dozen young choristers from St Mary's Cathedral in Edinburgh. Section principals gave superb solo performances in what was a virtuosic tour de force.


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