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Press Comments on Ian McQueen's Operas

Insight Into Night (1979)

New music..."There are no fixed aesthetics for experimental mixed media performances. The exponents have simply to take responsibility for working out the basis of each effort in turn....But the most considered work on the programme was one by Ian McQueen: Insight into Night, which had a structure, a theme, and a planned theatrical format."
Meiron Bowen, The Guardian, 13.3.79

New work has nice touches... " some very successful display touches for oboe and harp"
Ian Robertson, The Herald, 5.3.79

Eye-openers... "Now that the Third Eye Centre has a composer in residence - Ian McQueen - Glasgow was able to hear two of his works last night...Insight into Night was sufficiently atmospheric to catch the sense of mystery in Rolland Munro's nocturnal text. It is an elegiac work in which the...smoky sound of a jazz singer was interestingly blended with a soprano in the central duet. Norma Winstone and Deborah Goody were the convincing singers who were sensitively supported by Sanchia Pielou, harpist, and David Evans, oboist."
Janet Beat, The Scotsman, 5.3.79

Devastating musicality...without following the text one was now captivated by the voices which gradually combined; now by the question of whether one should understand the singers to be different sides of a single personality or not. Ultimately the instruments came onto the stage of these vocal events like another kind of actor. Margaretta Nilsson and particularly Helene Jahren showed a devastating musicality in their playing..."
Haakan Dahl, Goteborgs-Posten, 28.3.88

Beggarman-Thief! (1984)

Thief takes limelight..."Take a man with enthusiasm, 70 artistically inclined youngsters and an orchestra of 30. Mix...and the results a refreshing new opera suited to their varied talents and apt for the age...Ian...created this delightful and expansive piece from a simple Danish poem. The story is simple: baby is abandoned, grows up and makes commercial good, but forgets his humble roots. (The work) was written with a dash of popular appeal but their was nothing light about the message cutting edge which illustrated the heartache created by modern hard-sell advertising. The opera worked on both visual and musical levels. And what is marvellous is that McQueen chose to launch the work in Wigan..."
John Hindley, Wigan Post and Chronicle, 4.7.84

Line of Terror (1987)

Taken by terror... "I don't want to labour the point ...but here we have been, Venturing and Studioing away... while there was a born opera composer beavering away abroad just waiting to be "discovered". Wake up, everyone...
Line of Terror says something in a refreshingly non-didactic way about terrorism, mainly through a chorus as volatile and unreliable as the one in Turandot...The piece is expertly structured and paced, bustling along yet punctuated with big-boned lyrical outbursts: Judith's moment of decision comes exactly halfway through. These outbursts sound extremely rewarding to sing (McQueen always writes gratefully for the voice) and are shamelessly "operatic" - nothing wrong with that...And while there is always something interesting going on in the nine-piece orchestra, it seldom covers the voices: the words come through consistently. Such basic operatic skills are rare, and much to be treasured...."
Rodney Milnes, The Times, 16.7.93

"The opera explodes onto the stage with a beauty that had everyone completely captivated. It has all the classic components of opera: dramatic energy, beautiful melodic lines and a musical diversity which has not been heard since the days of Puccini - even if, of course, it is a new and different language..."
Hakan Dahl, Goteborgsposten, 7.7.87

Motives for love..."McQueen achieves a brilliant character analysis - not just of Judith but also of Holofernes and Achior, the ill-treated warrior...Judith's actions are determined by internal pressures which, once she has made her decision, erupt in a wonderful lyrical-elegiac burst of sound...The interplay between the vocal and instrumental lines is sensitive and finely-worked..."
Leif Aare, Dagens Nyheter, 7.7.87

Fortunato (1993)

Welcomes are warmer on the arctic circle..."An important new opera...I say "important" because McQueen's is an individual and compelling voice, eclectic in the very best sense...There is a healthy eroticism in much of Fortunato that has been absent from British opera since Walton. Above all the musical thought processes are always apparent: this is "useful" music in the way Britten wanted his to be...of Ian McQueen's skill in writing for both voice and orchestra, and his overall command of operatic form, there can be no doubt."
Rodney Milnes, The Times, 16.3.93

Ian McQueen's "Fortunato..." At the performance of Fortunato I attended the house was full, the average age was seventeen - half that of the town [of Umea] - and the final acclamation was overwhelming. McQueen with his music and Monaco-Westerstahl with her story and text {speak] to their ...audience with vibrant directness...It is an archetypal brew, susceptible of any number of interpretations, religious, sexual, political...Fortunato is, in short, a true work of art, at once ambiguous and inevitable-seeming.
McQueen's musical language here blossoms as never before. He is a composer who has survived early exposure to ravaging post-war complexity and achieved a most personal and mettled directness op utterance. His manner is eclectic but not essentially allusive: he uses a great variety of means, from the tonal to the electronic, but only to say what he has to say, never in a spirit of irony or of cultural tourism. Even when he writes for a Handelian coloratura soprano, it is with the purpose of thus expressing the icy detachment of a mysterious "Woman on the Mountain"...not to provide a parodistic knees-up.
This and most of the other solo lines are sensitively devised for the voice. His ensembles, of which there are a generous supply, are richly textured; the tutti finales of the first two acts have an astonishing sureness of touch - a genuinely cumulative power. His choral writing is zestful and catchy. But it is the orchestral writing that marks out the opera's high points: the extraordinary declamation for unison high violins which accompanies the conscience-stricken Fortunato...at the outset of act 2; [and] the wordless love duet for the semi-supernatural couple "Voland and Mariella, which has the frankness of a pop song and the lyrical afflatus of later Tippett.
Fortunato simply has to be staged in Britain."
Paul Driver, The Financial Times, 22.3.93

Brilliant adventure!... "...You are here invited to participate in an operatic adventure like nothing you have ever experienced before...Libretto, music, production, light and choreography combine into a total conception.... The result is a piece of operatic art of the highest potency...Voland is executed...[and] a ray of light streams out from a great crack in the mountain. Up on its summit, his mother appears transfigured. She sings a loving vocalise. [Fortunato] escapes up to her and there follows a true offspring of one of music history's most sensuous love duets: that between Nero and Poppea in Monteverdi's L'Incoronazione di Poppea...Monteverdi and Britten are only two cards in McQueen's musical hand. In this work, he covers the stylistic gamut of music history...All these elements have been forged into a remarkably personal and genuinely dramatic musical language. Leitmotives and symmetries, Latin Hymns and absolute musical forms function as landmarks and signposts."
Leif Aare, Dagens Nyheter, 8.3.93

An opera that resonates in the imagination... "Fortunato is not for friends of convention and etiquette. A work first and foremost for the stage, the title page characterises is as "A Comedy beset with Tragedy in three acts". It is also a morality, a "bildungsroman", a picaresque comedy', a folk-tale sprinkled with archetypes; a post-modern testament. I propose that, while partly concerned with these things (which somehow relate to the roots of theatre) it is above all concerned with the theatre's ability to express passions and morality: good and evil. This work has inspired the cast to create parts that are stunningly beautiful in vocal terms, dramatically moving and terrifyingly alive. The realism of the love scenes is so disarming thatit would seem immoral to stage them in another way...similarly, the unforgettable and musically powerful scene at the gallows. Opera should be like this: not nailing up old theses again, but rather encouraging us to reflect..."
Carl-Gunnar Ahlen, Svenska Dagbladet, 8.3.93

An opera about self-respect... "Modern opera - isn't it supposed to be hard work for the ears? Possibly according to prejudice, but not at Norrlands Opera. Both critics and public have taken to Fortunato with music by Scot Ian McQueen and libretto by Italian Vanda Monaco-Westerstahl. Fortunato is no standard hero out of 18th century Italian opera. He doesn't want to perform great deeds or get rich. On the contrary; he's unconfident, can't fight; encounters violence and cruelty and can't cope with the desire and tenderness with which people want to smother him. He undergoes experiences many young people in the West suffer today. This is the story of an ordinary guy. His parents are not rich -not poor. Just like many other youngsters he knows he's different and he soon takes off. But he knows that society's prizes mean nothing to him. This, and his innocence, causes people to despise and hurt him instead of showing him respect. And the opera shows that he must learn to have self-respect."
Dodo Parikas, Reporter, April, 1993

East and West (1995)

An everyday story of intolerance..."East And West...distances itself from the horrors of the Balkans and attempts to strike some universal moral. ..McQueen seizes what opportunities the text provides to make sharp dramatic points."
Andrew Clements, The Guardian, 13.7.95

Modern horrors of the race war... "A proselytizing treatise on the horrors of modern racism shrouded in the deleterious mystique of contemporary operatic entertainment (?) In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. East and West is, above all, a human drama: more like an explosive episode of "Neighbours" than a pulpit lecture on the downside of capitalism. Central to the plot is a love affair between a German Youth and his Moslem girlfriend. Their parents have long been friends, but when they discover that the boy is a knee-jerk fascist who cavorts with all the dimmest flick-knife hoodlums in the town, relations, at all levels, begin to buckle with the strain. With all the classic ingredients of an old-fashioned opera (love, hate, fear, betrayal, longing, lusting and killing) East and West is a healthy step in the right direction for contemporary music theatre. Jonathan Moore's libretto leans away from the cerebral dialogue of the last two decades towards more traditional methods of emotive characterisation and vivid story-telling. Another success for the bandwagonof popular opinion hich has been vociferously insisting that contemporary opera assert itself as a pertinent. Intelligible and entertaining art form, or die in ignominy from the inevitable effects of its own stifling complexity."
Alexander Waugh, Evening Standard, 14.7.95

Touching moments..."McQueen knows a thing or two about writing an opera. He is a clear-headed composer - who knows how to build a climax, how to write a duet, how to get text across and engage an audience's emotions. There are some touching moments in the second act..."
Rupert Christiansen, The Spectator, 19.7.95

Orchestral Music: Phaedrus (1993)

... McQueen writes well and individually for the piano
Mary Miller, The Scotsman, 20.3.93

Driven by galloping rhythms ... it's a complex work with a fascinating transatlantic flavour - I kept feeling that jazz was just around the corner.
Michael Tummelty, The Herald, 20.3.93

Chamber Music: Eighteenth Century Scottish Dances (1976)

Arranged, distorted, and interspersed with commentaries; elegantly and with a certain quiet wit by Ian McQueen
Andrew Clements, The Financial Times, 4.11.77

"Yeuch!" yelled the Fires of London players... Ian McQueen had us in fits of laughter. The tunes are selected... from the golden age of Scottish music... The modernity was provided by McQueen's eerie introductions and fanciful elaborations - a useful division of labour yielding stimulating results
Peter Stadlen, The Daily Telegraph, 4.9.76

This was an ambitious, continuous work lasting 20 minutes, not dance-like or obviously Scottish in overall effect... the blue-note Pibroch sounded positively Hungarian... this was an encouraging morning for new Scottish music.
David Johnson, The Herald, 4.9.76

Vocal Music: Dreams for Marcie (1986)

The premiere of Dreams for Marcie...brought a welcome visit from one of Scotland's brightest... émigré composers. The music is necessarily uncompromising but with a powerful dramatic potential. ... A telling and secure performance...its many subtleties...deft touches suggesting the Caribbean in a fragment of time, or the ironic unison recitative of voice and violin for the retreating...members of the sect.
The logic of the story was reflected in a well controlled but unforced musical structure - the theme of the road an obvious point of reference. But McQueen's idiom yields easily to the emotional needs of the moment and the concluding passages with bitter-sweet ostinato for the violins were disturbingly effective."
John Purser, The Herald, 14.5.86

Ian McQueen's substantial Dreams for Marcie as premiered in St Cecilia's Hall by Catherine Denley and the Roth Quartet. McQueen has sketched her personality with strong unhurried brushstrokes...and some of the instrumental effects (particularly where the players simultaneously played and spoke) were striking.
Conrad Wilson, The Scotsman, 14.5.86

Insight Into Night
Line of Terror
East and West
Orchestral Music
Chamber Music
Vocal Music