Celtic Connections: Max Richter: Three Worlds, Woolf Works at Royal Concert Hall, 23/1/18

In the same week as the 136th anniversary of the birth of Virginia Woolf, her works are remembered through three movements by Anglo-German composer Max Richter; an award winning composer of electronic music, piano concerto and film scores, Richter is an artist who seems to exist outwith the trends of time while still being seemingly ethereal and relevant to boot.

His chosen instruments of keyboards and pianos are flanked by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra lead by the inimitable Robert Ziegler where the discourse between electronics, spoken word pieces by Virginia Woolf herself, and the suite of cellos, violas and beyond, made for a wonderfully raw tapestry of music that both exude emotion and sterility that could haunt and detach the listener with deft precision.


Opening with an except from Mrs Dalloway, Woolf’s 1945 novel of post-war high society, read by the writer in one of the rare few recordings of her actual voice, the performance fields electronic sounds in a very organic fashion, interspersing samples of bells tolling and ambient drones to great effect, while moving through the three movements in a journey that feels more emotional than narrative initially.

Three Worlds covers Mrs Dalloway, Orlando and The Waves as plot points in an arrangement that sees Richter swap between the various keyboards and pianos in compliment to the sounds being woven by the coterie of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in a way that appears so fluid, yet must be very carefully choreographed.

The stage set itself is very much sparse but becomes bright in the uplift through simple but engaging light stacks and sombre in the melancholy as the pieces progressed through the three elements of this musical stormfront.

As is often the case in storytelling, I was hopeful that the downward spin of the music toward the end of the third act would lift to a positive resolution, only to have the heart-breaking note to Leonard, Woolf’s own suicide note, read by Gillian Anderson completing the journey.

The poignant and potent reading is both a tragic end to an incredible roller coaster of a performance, but also a fitting end to both a fantastic composition and an incredible life remembered through music.

Words/Photos: Krist McKenna


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