It’ll be tough keeping time: Musicians take on four-hour piece for exhibition launch

Epic piece poses a physical challenge to the musician. Picture: Dan Phillips
Epic piece poses a physical challenge to the musician. Picture: Dan Phillips
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IT is one concert that probably won’t have the audience shouting “encore”.

A group of musicians are set to play a mammoth four-hour piece to celebrate the opening of a new art exhibition in the Capital.

Philip Guston: Late Paintings is the first exhibition by the American artist to be staged in Scotland and opened at Inverleith House at the Royal Botanic Garden earlier this week.

To welcome its arrival, musicians from Edinburgh Napier University’s Ian Tomlin School of Music will perform the marathon piece, For Philip Guston, as part of a free concert tomorrow afternoon.

The piece is so long performers have not been able to rehearse it right through, instead tackling it in two-hour sessions ahead of the big show.

They have said they will be keeping a close eye on one another during the show to watch out for signs of fatigue.

The concert, which runs from noon to 4pm, has been organised by music lecturer Dr John Hails. Alongside music graduate Chris Cowie and music student Sandeep Khutan, who will play flute and percussion respectively, Dr Hails will be tackling the piano section in the epic 

The score was written for the artist in 1984 by composer Morton Feldman who was, along with Guston, part of the New York School of poets, artists and musicians active in the 1950s and 60s in New York.

Dr Hailes said: “Feldman was inspired by visual artists, so it seems fitting to have a performance of his work alongside the exhibition.”

The non-stop piece requires a great deal of stamina and Dr Hails has had to work out a strict rehearsal schedule ahead of the concert.

He said: “The danger with rehearsing a piece this long is that you just want to play it right through perfectly and you just feel like it is never going to end. You are on page 56, which is similar to page three, but you are still trudging on and on.”

The 34-year-old, who lives in Leith, added: “A lot of it comes down to preparation and things like posture, because if the chair is too high at the piano then I’m going to have back ache after about an hour. It’s about making sure you are as comfortable as you can 
possibly be.

“When Sandeep originally started rehearsing, he was standing, but after two rehearsals he said, ‘I have got to do this sitting down’.

“Chris’s big challenge is particularly his lip, with the instrument pressing against it for nearly four hours. He found his lip started twitching towards the end of one of the rehearsals so he’s had to come up with some ways of minimising the length of time that the flute is against his mouth.

“He will take a plaster to protect his lip and keep it in position.”

It will be the third time that the university has collaborated with Inverleith House. Last year, students performed the intricate György Ligeti’s Poème Symphonique – a rarely heard piece involving 100 
metronomes, and in June the university staged an outdoor performance as part of a 
sculpture exhibition by 
Thomas Houseago.

Assistant curator at Inverleith House, Linsey Young, added: “We are delighted to be able to work with Edinburgh Napier staff and students again. We hope these rare performances will allow new audiences to experience Morton Feldman’s compositions and in turn deepen understanding of the paintings of Philip Guston.”

The concert will take place in the exhibition space of the John Hope Gateway where people are invited to come and go as the musicians play.