Music: It's the Year of the World beyond Our Shores Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow Cherevichki Guildhall School, London Monteverdi Vespers Queens' College Chapel, Cambridge Invitation Au Voyage St Johns, Smith Square, London
White, Michael, The Independent (London, England)
Whenever the American composer John Cage was asked to explain his raucously disintegrated operatic parodies, Europeras, he described them - with a smile - as acts of vengeance. For centuries, he'd say, you Europeans have been sending this stuff across the Atlantic. Now I'm sending it back. We all knew that behind the smile he had a point. The dividing line between cultural exchange and cultural imperialism was always fragile. And if that was a sensitive issue for America, what did it mean for Africa or Asia, where we'd been sending our stuff - and bringing home the odd bauble in return - with even greater condescension?
It follows that a festival devoted to the traffic of ideas between European and non-European music is a minefield. A remarkable thing about the BBC's "Beyond Our Shores" series at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall is that it has covered the ground without casualties or recrimination. The only mild snipe was that of a Puerto Rican composer, Roberto Sierra, who asked in an interval chat for his music not to be considered "exotic". Where I come from, said Sierra, Wagner is exotic.
Had Sierra's new Percussion Concerto been as interesting as the way he talked about it, we'd have all been happy. But alas, this BBC commission turned out to be another of those athletic bash-abouts for Evelyn Glennie that mistake activity for substance. It was too attached to transient spectacle and was outclassed by its companion piece on the programme - James MacMillan's early masterpiece of "socially engaged" music, The Exorcism of Rio Sumpul. Among the other highlights of "Beyond our Shores" there was a newly arranged suite from Britten's ballet Prince of the Pagodas and several shots of American minimalism, whose narcotic repetitions owe a certain debt to Eastern models and explain why subversive elements within the BBC have dubbed this festival "Beyond Our Snores". Their names and payroll numbers have been noted. But the main event was a piece of modern archaeology: the disinterment of Judith Weir's A Night at the Chinese Opera, which attracted international attention when Kent Opera premiered it in 1987. But then, after a staging in America, it went to ground and was never seen again. In fact I'd never seen it at all; and as a newcomer to the piece I didn't think this Glasgow concert version worked hard enough to deliver the narrative. But fortunately, Weir's approach to story-telling is sharp: near-Calvinist in its severity, but with a wryly covert charm in its miniaturisation of what would otherwise be epic statements. The kind of Bonsai theatre that results - with great events matter-of-factly dispatched in a couple of lines - is, I suppose, a natural (if extreme) development of the foreshortening that opera always visits on its subject matter. But in Weir's hands it also becomes an ironic shadow of the real thing - which is to say, real Verdi, real Britten, or whichever other compositional models she takes and shrinks like a Jivaro head. The ultimate irony of A Night at the Chinese Opera is that the Chinese influence is so limited. The sound world of the fabulous Orient barely infiltrates this score, except in a few details of melody and percussion. …