The Hermes Experiment

The Hug & Pint, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

five stars

BETTING on the tastes of judging panels for cultural awards is even more of a mug's game than the horses, but if you have money to burn, slap it down on The Hermes Experiment to win the Young Artists category in the prestigious Royal Philharmonic Society Awards this week. The singular combination of harp, clarinet, soprano and double bass has created the most interesting chamber group to appear in recent times, and the undoubted stars of Matthew Whiteside’s The Night With . . . season in this West End pub basement.

As perhaps was inevitable given the group’s line-up, it has fashioned a bespoke repertoire for itself, and this first date of a three-night Scottish tour began with a set of virtuoso pieces that are now clearly core repertoire for them. Three of them showcased the singing of Heloise Werner, beginning with Emily Hall’s verbal cleverness and culminating in harpist Anne Denholm’s arrangement of Meredith Monk’s challenging Double Fiesta. Both clarinetist Oliver Pashley and bassist Marianne Schofield also contributed arrangements to the evening, the latter of an Anna Meredith setting of Philip Ridley, originally written for counter-tenor and piano.

All this highly accomplished and hugely entertaining music was only one side of the quartet’s personality however. The stuff they knew led the enthralled, packed room towards the truly experimental. Ruari Paterson-Achenbach’s To Sleep On it was the winning selection from The Night With’s 2019 Call for Scores, and the submission was a graphic score that gave each individual player pictures as well as a few notes to interpret, carefully constructed in four movements, culminating in a love duet for harp and voice.

Its startling inventiveness was surpassed, however, by the concert’s other new commission, by Matthew Grouse. Daily Rituals was a work of electro-acoustic music theatre in three acts: Autopilot, Verisimilitude, and ‘and what do you do after that?’. Using mime as well as the mundane utterances of flat-sharing, there was four-part choral singing alongside instrumental skill, and many recognisable tropes of common humanity that had the audience in stitches. This winning combination of composer and group produced contemporary music that recognised no boundaries whatsoever.