You’ve got to hand it to Aberdeen’s sound festival. It’s a fine balancing act: celebrating new sounds whatever the genre (with classical, jazz, electronica and more all getting a look-in this year); finding a compelling theme for intensive exploration (this year, string quartets); and, crucially, casting its net wide to Europe and beyond to invite in some of the world’s top contemporary music names. sound pulls it off brilliantly, though — and this year’s festival was nothing if not outward-looking.
All the way to Canada, for instance, for the opening concert in the festival’s big string quartet weekend, on Friday afternoon. New music specialists the Bozzini Quartet had jetted in for nothing less than a history of the 20th- and 21st-century string quartet in lecture/recital Traces (★★★) — although the lecture side could have done with more polish and substance to make it truly enlightening, and for it to match the flair and fantasy of their remarkably vivid performances. Their Stravinsky Three Pieces from way back in 1914, for instance, sounded as fresh and raw as if its ink were still wet.
The Bozzinis returned that evening, however, for an astonishing concert (★★★★★) that challenged the whole way we preceive music. Three “deep listening” works — by Scelsi, Alvin Lucier and Swiss composer Jürg Frey — might have tried the patience in conventional terms, but immerse yourself in their minute inflections of pitch and bizarre acoustic effects, and a whole universe of subtleties emerged. It was quite simply a revelation, a cleansing of the ears, and played with matchless conviction and immaculate technique.