Sean Shibe brings together acoustic and electric guitars; ancient and modern traditions in his new project softLOUD, set to premiere at East Neuk Festival, Fife in June and then return to Scotland for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August. Having discovered a body of 16th- to 18th-century Scottish music for lute and guitar, Shibe saw an opportunity to pair these short and delicate pieces with more forceful contemporary electric guitar music inspired by his native Scotland and the USA, telling a human story in the process.
Shibe explains: “In the early, soft works we have gentle and sweet pieces, growing LOUD through what is essentially an anti-nuclear protest song, Farewell to Stromness. The show ends in a cathartic outpouring of grief and anger - slowly wailing, ancient, grieving LAD was written after the death of a friend of its composer Julia Wolfe, and David Lang’s Killer is abrupt and ironclad in its fury. Given recent political and social turmoil and - perhaps particularly for Scotland - national soul-searching, I felt driven to reflect on this state of affairs in music, from the standpoint of a millennial.”
Aged just 24, Shibe was the first guitarist to be admitted to the prestigious BBC New Generation Artists Scheme. It was while studying at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland that he encountered early lute books such as the Rowallan, Straloch and Skene. The idea of programming these works with contemporary electric guitar music came about when Shibe performed Steven Reich’s Electric Counterpoint for the composer himself in 2015. Shibe then set about arranging for guitarLAD, the work for nine bagpipes by Pulitzer prize-winning composer Julia Wolfe, as well as her fellow New Yorker David Lang’s Killer.
At just over an hour long, the softLOUD programme intends to break down traditional genre barriers, exposing fans of the electric guitar and contemporary music to early Scottish music, and demonstrating the versatility of the electric guitar to more mainstream classical audiences. For guitar enthusiasts it will provide a fascinating insight into the development of the electric guitar from its ancestor, the lute. Shibe will transition from the ‘soft’ to ‘LOUD’ repertoire by way of the late Sir Peter Maxwell-Davies’ Farewell to Stromness, a work that Shibe recorded for a bestselling Maxwell-Davies album with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra last year.
A keen exponent of contemporary music, Shibe has premiered eight new works to date. He is also committed to presenting guitar music in new formats, and softLOUD performances at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe will take the form of classical club nights to attract wider audiences who are primarily in the city for other entertainment.
2017 will be Shibe’s third appearance at East Neuk Festival, one of the UK’s most respected chamber music festivals, with a host of internationally renowned musicians, innovative programming and unusual venues in a beautiful region of Scotland. He has also performed sell-out shows at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the largest arts festival in the world, which last year featured over 50,000 performances in three weeks.