Gordon McPherson, a Purely Private Person

RCS, Glasgow

Michael Tumelty

Five stars

WHAT an absolutely stonking concert the Royal Conservatoire’s MusicLab, all student players, turned out on Thursday night for the 50th birthday of their head of composition, Gordon McPherson.

Without qualification, it was one of the concerts of the year. I was smitten by the variety of furrows McPherson has ploughed, and comprehensively mind-blown by the energy, vitality, stylistic and technical virtuosity of the students. This was like the good-old days when, week-in and week-out, I’d be blown away by the standards of student performance. I thought it had slipped. Wrong again. Hey-ho; it’s never too late to learn.

The programme was amazing, with the first Scottish performance of McPherson’s Western Darlings, commissioned by Louis Andriessen’s hard-case band, Orkest de Volharding, to which McPherson responded with a Dundonian hob-nailed minimalist boot; and a more digitally up-to-date blinder of a piece, Stunt Double 1X, a kind of sleight-of-hand duet between guitarist Allan Neave, playing the near-impossible, in duet with a digital axe playing the totally-impossible. Mind-blowing, with the ever-engaging guitarist signing off with something appropriately-rude.

By special request of McPherson, Bill Sweeney played his own glorious basset-clarinet, atmosphere-drenched masterpiece, The Young Morning, which stilled the heart, while the second half was given over to an enthralling and entertaining performance of McPherson’s riotous, Technicolor, Hand Guns Suite, where he could have given the great Elmer Bernstein a run for his money. Needle-sharp MusicLab playing throughout, and a special word for student conductor Andrey Rubtsov, in total command of the music in all its guises. A memorable night.