Category Archives: News

EIF al fresco 2021

A concentration on outdoor events has been announced by the Edinburgh International Festival as it promises a full programme from August 7 to 29, to be unveiled at the start of June.

Although no artists have yet been revealed, artistic director Fergus Linehan said that most would be UK-based, “a lot of them Scottish”.

“Large ensembles coming in from overseas is not possible, so ensembles are likely to be UK-based. Individuals are still able to come in, but not a company of 250 Italians,” he said.

Likewise, the socially-distanced audience that will be accommodated in three specially-constructed pavilions is expected to be made up mostly of local people. The Festival will have an on-line element to cater to those further afield.

“There will be a programme of online running throughout, but it is primarily a live festival. What we are doing online is mostly recorded relays of the live events,” said Linehan.

Some small outdoor events are planned, but most will be staged in three locations, where a canopy will protect the stage and audience. One of those remains unconfirmed, but the other two are at Edinburgh Park, close to the Edinburgh Park Central tram stop, and at the Old Quad of Edinburgh University, on South Bridge.

Linehan said he was keen to take the Festival out of the city centre, and the Edinburgh Park pavilion, in the city’s commercial development on its western edge, has “excellent transport links and unlimited parking”.

“The Quad should be beautiful”, he added. That venue provides a link with the cancelled programme of 2020, when the Festival had planned to erect a Spiegeltent in the space, hosting a long series of musical events.

“We offered everyone a return visit and a few of those things have survived,” said Linehan. “We can’t really do anything with an ensemble bigger that 40 or 50, we can’t have very long evenings and we can’t do anything with a lot of brass and wind. And a lot of that would be our bread and butter programming in the Usher Hall.”

Nonetheless, music is expected to form the bulk of the programming announced at the start of June. Concerts will be shorter, and some will be repeated to allow another audience to attend. Public booking will open on June 11 and tickets will be strictly allocated, either to individuals, couples, small groups or families. EIF Executive Director Fran Hegyi said that everything was being planned in accordance with current government guidelines on social distancing and face coverings, and the possibility  of so-called “Covid passports” was not part of the discussions.

She added that considerations were “not just artistic ones, but also our role in having as many people working on the Festival as possible. We have been really conscious over the past 12 months of the responsibility that we have that the industry has work to do, because that is the workforce that has to come back.”

Linehan said that the 2022 Festival is acquiring increasing significance, beyond its existing status as marking the events 75th anniversary.

“It may be the first time that we are able to have unfettered mass gatherings again. So that is not just about concerts in the Usher Hall, but about every choral group and every dance group – all those ways in which we come together as communities that have had to come to a halt. There will a huge surge of activity next year that we will have to think about, and beyond what we normally  do.”

eif.co.uk

Music at Paxton 2021 Revealed

Music at Paxton is confident that this year’s summer festival (16-25 July) will play to a live audience. Outlining the 10-day 2021 programme of chamber music centred in the famous Picture Gallery at Paxton House, artistic director Angus Smith said: “We anticipate that visiting Paxton for great music in the stunningly beautiful setting of the Scottish Borders will once again be a relaxing and joyous experience.”

Included in the international line-up of artists are pianists Steven Osborne (who opens the festival with an all-Debussy solo programme) and Imogen Cooper, tenor James Gilchrist, soprano Elizabeth Watts, the Gould Piano Trio, Maxwell Quartet, Concerto Caledonia and Paxton’s ongoing partnership with Live Music Now Scotland, which presents a series of concerts by young Scottish classical and folk musicians.

Gilchrist and pianist Anna Tilbrook perform Schubert’s Winterreise (17 July). Schubert also features in a solo recital by Imogen Cooper (22 July), who teams up the following day with the Maxwell Quartet to perform Dvorak’s Piano Quintet in A. Watts is accompanied by Sholto Kynoch in a programme ranging from Richard Strauss to some of Britten’s fetching folksong arrangements. 

Baroque specialists, The Brook Street Band, follow the European trail of Patrick Home (the 18th century commissioner of Paxton House) with music by Frederick theGreat, Bach, Handel and Telemann (18 July). They also present “Mr Handel’s Pleasure Gardens”, the first of the Festival’s family concerts (17 July). 

Also for the family, Tracey Renton presents Boogie Beat, an interactive combination of songs, dancing, classical fairy tales and stories for young children, with opportunities after to explore Paxton’s riverside grounds (20 & 22 July).

Among the classical and traditional concerts presented by Live Music Now Scotland before and during the festival are a folk-inspired programme by Sally Simpson (fiddle) and Catrional Hawksworth (17 July), and Northumbrian traditional music performed by Eddie Seaman and Luc McNally (24 July).  

Other concerts with local historical resonance include lutenist Alex McCartney’s The Flodden Flag (the original flag, dating from 1513, can now be seen at Paxton House) on 25 July; and Concerto Caledonia’s tribute to the famous Union Chain Bridge that connects Scotland to England across the River Tweed, built just over 200 years ago in 1820.

New for 2021 are a series of online pre-festival talks and four ‘as live’ broadcast concerts available online. General manager Elizabeth Macdonald said: “Whilst the Music at Paxton team is working hard to ensure that we can reopen safely to live audiences in the Scottish Borders this summer, the addition of an online component to the programme is an excellent opportunity for us to connect with a wider audience, both nationally and globally.”

Full details of Music at Paxton are at www.musicatpaxton.co.uk

Scottish Opera’s Summer Programme

Scottish Opera has announced a summer programme of Covid-friendly opera that includes: a new outdoor production by Sir David McVicar of Verdi’s Falstaff; a Pop-up Opera Tour amounting to over 200 Scotland-wide performances, a new On Screen production of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore; and a one-off film of Operatic Highlights encouraging local communities to support live opera once the lifting of pandemic restrictions permit.

“We plan to be back in theatres presenting live opera as soon as restrictions allow,” says Scottish Opera general manager Alex Reedijk. “I am delighted that we are preparing to bring live music back to audiences following almost a year without live opera.”

Scots-born McVicar, whose career has included hit productions for New York’s Metropolitan Opera, and who last directed Scottish Opera in its 2017 production of Debussy’s Pelléas and Melisande, applies his creative energy to one of Verdi’s most popular comic Shakespeare operas. This co-production with Santa Fe Opera will be staged – as was last year’s outdoor La boheme – in the company’s Edington Street car park. Exact dates are yet to be confirmed, and a further announcement of additional Edinburgh dates is anticipated over the coming weeks.

Sung in English, the cast includes Roland Wood, Elizabeth Llewellyn, Louise Winter and Jamie MacDougall. Scottish Opera music director Stuart Stratford conducts.

The summer months (provisionally June to September, dependent on the Scottish Government’s timeline on lifting restrictions) also see a repeat of last year’s Pop-up Opera Tour to outside locations around Scotland, this time with a show that fuses together five Gilbert and Sullivan favourites: The Gondoliers, The Mikado, the Pirates of Penzance, HMS Pinafore and Iolanthe. 

During the final stages of the tour around September, Scottish Opera will also revive its children’s entertainment A Little Bit of Bubble McBea, aimed at lower primary school years, and containing an environmental message that coincides conveniently with the run up to Glasgow’s hosting of the UN Climate Change Conference, COP26.

One of the company’s best initiatives over the past year has been its enforced foray into filmed opera, with staff director Roxana Haines at its forefront. After her December success with Cosi fan tutte, she now turns her directorial talents to Donizetti’s playful opera buffa, L’elisir d’amore, which she sets in another “socially distanced” time, the Jane Austen era. 

Scottish Opera emerging artists Catriona Hewistson, Shengzhi Ten and Arthur Bruce star alongside guest principals Roland Wood and Elena Garrido Madrona and an 18-strong chorus in this collaboration with the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Filming takes place on 22 May with a release date of 18 June. A special edition of BBC Radio Scotland’s Classics Unwrapped, presented by Jamie MacDougall on 13 June, will feature audio excerpts.

Prior to that, on 23 April, Scottish Opera releases Live in South Lanarkshire, a programme of operatic favourites recorded in Rutherglen Town Hall, designed to fulfil the role of the annual Opera Highlights tour that normally takes place in small venues around Scotland. This filmed version will be released via the Scottish Opera website.
Full information at www.scottishopera.org.uk

Perth Festival

May’s Perth Festival of the Arts has maintained a classical music core to its programme even as it has diversified into other areas of music, theatre and a popular art fair. This year, although it will not be able to welcome live audiences to its concerts, it has doubled down on that commitment, with a fine line-up of local and visiting artists.

The 49th festival opens on May 20 with a concert by the Scottish Ensemble, filmed in the Byre at Inchrya as the string group continues its eye-catching exploration of different venues in its own response to the current crisis. The programme will be an international journey, visiting the Balkans, Central Europe, the Americas and Scandinavia and culminating in Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings, the work that had been due to close Perth’s 2020 Festival.

On the days following there is a concert from Perth Concert Hall, with Spanish saxophonist Manu Brazo, violinist Claudia Uriarte and pianist Prajna Indrawati, a performance by chamber choir The Sixteen followed by a live Q&A with its founder and conductor Harry Christophers, and a solo piano recital by Isata Kanneh-Mason featuring works by Mozart, Barber, Chopin and Gershwin.

The following week, the festival has concerts at Perth Museum and Art Gallery with the Gesualdo Six singing Monteverdi and Palestrina, and at Perth Theatre Studio with the Sitkovetsky Trio playing Schumann and Tchaikovsky and soprano Ilona Domnich, pianist Sholto Kynoch and critic Michael White exploring the songs of Rachmaninov.

The classical series closes at Perth Concert Hall with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and soloist Nicola Benedetti playing the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto.

Other ingredients of the programme include traditional music from Ross Ainslie and Ali Hutton and jazz from the Fergus McCreadie Trio and big band Fat-Suit.

Tickets and Festival passes are on sale and full details are available at perthfestival.co.uk

Benedetti premiere

The world premiere of a new concerto written by clarinettist and composer Mark Simpson for Nicola Benedetti will be free to view on Thursday April 22 on Marquee TV and for seven days thereafter. The first performance of the work will be given by the London Symphony Orchestra with its Principal Guest Conductor Gianandrea Noseda on the podium.

The LSO is one of four partner co-commissioners of the concerto, along with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Germany’s WDR Sinfonieorchester and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in the USA. The RSNO had been due to give the first Scottish performances on April 23 and 24 in Edinburgh and Glasgow as part of the season that was announced immediately  before the pandemic struck.

Benedetti is a featured soloist in the new digital season by the RSNO, playing concertos by Karol Szymanowski on April 16 and June 11, however the Scottish premiere of the Simpson concerto is now pencilled in for early in 2022. RSNO chief executive Alistair Mackie told VoxCarnyx that details were still to be confirmed, but a provisional date was being held in the soloist’s diary.

The concerto is of particular interest because Simpson and Benedetti are near-contemporaries whose early fame came through the bi-annual BBC Young Musician Competition. The violinist won at the Usher Hall in 2004, playing the Szymanowski’s Concerto No 1, and Simpson was the winner at the Sage, Gateshead, in 2006.

The decision by Mackie and the RSNO to postpone their performances raises interesting questions about concert scheduling as a result of the move to online streaming, and ones which may persist beyond the health emergency if orchestras build on the experience of making work available that way, as seems likely.

Previously, it would have been perfectly acceptable for a new work to be heard in front of a live audience in London, and then repeated for concert-goers in Edinburgh and Glasgow the same week. However, the RSNO felt that it could not broadcast its performance when the LSO’s would still be available to watch, especially, perhaps, as the London orchestra’s premiere is initially free to view, while the RSNO’s would have been part of a subscription season. Orchestral managements have yet another variable to take into account as they look to a future beyond Covid-19.

The LSO’s chief executive, Kathryn McDowell, has announced the Chief Conductor who will succeed Sir Simon Rattle. Another musical knight, Sir Antonio Pappano, will move from his current position at the Royal Opera House, where his contract ends in July 2024. Pappano will be styled Chief Conductor Designate at the LSO from September 2023 and take up the post a year later.

Keith Bruce

Blended menu in East Neuk

As Scotland looks forward to the possible return of some live performances over the summer, following this week’s announcement at Holyrood by the First Minister, the East Neuk Festival in Fife has come sprinting out of the blocks with a programme of online, on air and outdoor activity.

Running over the weekend July 1 to 4, the Festival, directed since its inception by Svend McEwan-Brown, will be providing pop-up performances by its Band-in-a-Van in the pretty coastal villages.

Its regular sand artists, Jamie Wardley and Claire Jamieson, will be creating work on Elie beach, and the grounds of the National Trust-run Kellie Castle at Pittenweem will see the installation of a labyrinth based on the contours of the Fife Coastal Path, cut into a wildflower meadow.

The programme that will be available online includes many artists who have visited the festival in the past, alongside some making their East Neuk debuts. The Tallis Scholars mark the 500th anniversary of the death of Josquin with a performance of his Missa Ave maris stella alongside music by Gibbons, Byrd and Tallis. The Castalian String Quartet will play Beethoven’s late String Quartet No. 15, Op. 132 alongsideJanáček‘s The Kreutzer Sonata and pianist Llyr Williams will perform Chopin’s 24 Préludes, Debussy’s Reflets dans l’eau, and Mozart’s Sonata No. 13 in B flat major, K333. 

BBC Radio 3 will collaborate with the festival on four concerts. Ranging from Adès to Zacharias, the performances will be recorded on Saturday 3 July and Sunday 4 July for future broadcast. Musicians from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and guitarist Sean Shibe will be joined by composer and conductor Thomas Adès, in his first visit to the festival, in a performance of two of his works – Court Studies from The Tempest and Habanera from The Exterminating Angel – along with music by Poulenc, De Falla, Janáček and the UK premiere of Francisco Coll’s Turia for ensemble and solo guitar.

Pianist Christian Zacharias returns to Fife to perform a programme of Bach, Haydn and Schubert’s Sonata in G, D894 – a work he performed by candlelight in his first ENF recital in 2005. The Castalian Quartet pair Beethoven’s early string quartet, No. 3, Op.18, with Dvořák’s final string quartet, No. 14, Op. 105, whilst violinist Benjamin Baker and guitarist Sean Shibe, both currently embarking on ENF Retreat residencies, will perform as a duo for the first time in a programme that will include Bach, Cage, Piazzolla, Pärt and Steve Reich. At present the festival is unable to offer tickets to these recordings but should it become possible to invite an audience, the festival will make event details and tickets available.

“We know not everybody will feel comfortable coming to a festival this year, so we hope that by giving the opportunity to visit digitally, and – in partnership with BBC Radio 3 – on the radio, we can offer the joy of ENF to as many people as possible,” said McEwan-Brown.

General Manager Ian Gray added: “Following yesterday’s announcement by Nicola Sturgeon we welcome the possibility of a return of performances with audiences indoors, and will respond swiftly to announce more events in Fife 1- 4 July once we have the full details of how this will work.”

Full details of what is currently on offer at ENF this summer can be seen on its website: www.eastneukfestival.com

Easter Passion in Perth

The intrepid Dunedin Consort, whose early lockdown adventures provided the only authentic example of the currently much-invoked “Dunkirk Spirit”, will not be permitting the continuing health emergency to cancel this Easter’s performance of Bach’s epic St Matthew Passion.

With Andrew Tortise as the Evangelist and Matthew Brook as Christus, the ensemble will be presenting a streamed performance of the work on the evening of Saturday March 27 to launch Perth Concert Hall’s Easter festival of classical music.

Broadcast via Vimeo, the concert will be directed by John Butt from the organ, and available to view for a month, with tickets priced at £11.50 per receiving device, including booking fee.

The Dunedin Passion precedes four recitals from Perth featuring musicians from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Royal Scottish National Orchestra and the award winning Maxwell String Quartet. Running at 1pm from Tuesday April 6 to Friday April 9, in partnership with BBC Radio 3, they will also be available to view in the same way and for the same charge.

The series begins with pianist Steven Osborne playing Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time with soloists from the SCO and continues with clarinettist Maximiliano Martin and pianist Scott Mitchell, the Maxwell Quartet playing Haydn and Beethoven, and pianist Susan Tomes and members of the RSNO with quintets by Mozart and Beethoven.

Full details of the concerts from the Perth Concert Hall website: horsecross.co.uk

Keith Bruce

Tectonics online and on-air

The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra has announced that its annual weekend of new and experimental music, curated by principal guest conductor Ilan Volkov and events promoter Alasdair Campbell, will go ahead this year on May 8 and 9.

Only weeks after last year’s programme had been announced, the 2020 event was one of the early casualties of the pandemic, with an immediate promise that it would return in 2021.

While audiences will still be unable to fill the many spaces of Glasgow’s City Halls and Old Fruitmarket complex for what has become a hugely popular event, a full programme of pre-recorded online performances and late-night broadcasts on BBC Radio 3 is promised this year.

The orchestra has three broadcast concerts before then, two of them also available to view on the BBC iPlayer. The second of those is a 50th birthday concert by Steven Osborne, who is celebrating that same anniversary with a recital at London’s Wigmore Hall on Friday March 12. The Glasgow concert is on Thursday, April 22 and is conducted by Martyn Brabbins. In a programme of music by Copland and Shostakovich, Osborne plays the Russian’s Piano Concerto No.2, which was written a birthday present for the composer’s son, Maxim. It is bracketed by Copland’s Appalachian Spring Suite and Quiet City, and the concert concludes with the suite Shostakovich made from his music for an avant-garde 1930s production of Hamlet.

Earlier in April, violin and piano duo Elena Urioste and Tom Poster, whose kaleidoscopic home music sessions were one of the online hits of lockdown, join the orchestra to co-direct a programme entitled “Dreamscapes”. The title work, for violin and chamber orchestra is by Brazilian composer Clarice Assad, and is based on the composer’s researches into Rapid Eye Movement sleep. It is preceded by Arvo Part’s atmospheric and haunting Spiegel im Spiegel and Gerard Finzi’s Eclogue for Piano and Strings, and followed by Mendelssohn’s D Minor Concerto for Violin, Piano and String Orchestra, 54 years after the orchestra broadcast the UK premiere of the work.

The SSO is also in action next week, again under Brabbins and again available to view on the BBC i-Player. Sheku Kanneh-Mason is the soloist for the Dvorak Cello Concerto, performed on Thursday March 11 in George Morton’s reduced orchestration. The concert begins with contemporary American composer Augusta Read Thomas’s Plea for Peace and concludes with Sir James MacMillan’s signature 1989 work, Tryst.

A Classical Solution…?

A CLASSICAL SOLUTION FOR A NEO-CLASSICAL ICON?

Is the future of Edinburgh’s Old Royal High School reaching a musical conclusion? A series of “cultural conversations” aims to state the case. KEITH BRUCE explains.

He may have been born in Glasgow, and designed buildings and monuments all over Scotland, but neo-classical architect Thomas Hamilton is most especially associated with Edinburgh, and there with two public buildings whose recent fortunes have been very different.

The Dean Orphanage, which sits above the Water of Leith in the West End of the capital, is now styled SNGMA2, an extension, across Belford Road, of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, previously simply the Dean Gallery and before that for many years a teacher training facility.

Beyond the East End of Princes Street, on Regent Road opposite the monolithic Scottish Office building, St Andrew’s House, is “The Old Royal High School”, as it has been identified ever since the school moved to Barnton, far out the Queensferry Road, in 1968.

Some recent media coverage of plans for its future has insisted that the building has been “unoccupied” in the half century and more that has passed, but nothing could be further from the truth. In the years after the school pupils for whom it was designed and built moved out, it has seen a great variety of tenants, and often occupied a very prominent place in the discourse about the future of Scotland.

What is beyond debate is the quality of the building itself. Built in the 1820s, it was greatly admired in its own century by Alexander “Greek” Thomson, and more recent architectural historians have called it “the architect’s supreme masterpiece and the finest monument of the Greek revival in Scotland”. With a commanding position on the side of Calton Hill in “the Athens of the North”, it is unsurprising that it was considered in the 1970s to be the natural home for a Scottish Parliament in the run-up to the 1979 referendum, which failed to clear the hurdle to establish such a body.

Nonetheless the debating chamber that had been created inside was pressed into service as the meeting place for the “Scottish Grand Committee” – as distinct from the Scottish Select Committee – a gathering of all of Scotland’s Westminster MPs. By the time Scotland did vote to have its own parliament, the old school building was judged to be inadequate to the purpose, and had, perhaps, become too closely associated with the campaign for more than devolution.

Pending the construction of a new parliament building at Holyrood on the site of a demolished brewery, the devolved administration set up temporary camp at the other end of the Royal Mile and Thomas Hamilton’s neo-classical masterpiece began a longer and more uncertain phase of its existence, but one which may at last be approaching a conclusion.

What is notable during that time, when responsibility for the building returned to Edinburgh City Council, is that the arts have often enlivened it, and been at the heart of plans for its future.

In 1998, Fringe impresario Richard Demarco moved in with a programme of performances and masterclasses during the Edinburgh Festival in a partnership with the European Youth Parliament.

In 2004 the Edinburgh-resident former press secretary to Her Majesty the Queen, Michael Shea, was the main spokesman for a multi-million pound proposal to convert it into a national museum of photography, an artform in which Scotland had produced a good number of pioneers, but which still lacks a major gallery. The plans failed to find the necessary Heritage Lottery backing.

Ten years later the Old Royal High School was pressed into service as a venue for the Edinburgh Art Festival, then in its own tenth year, with film installations in the main chamber and neon artwork on the façade.

Since 2014 speculation about the future of the building has centred around controversial hotel plans, while a proposal by St Mary’s Music School, currently housed in buildings not far from Hamilton’s Dean building, to return it to the realm of education, for which it was designed, has steadily gained ground.

With planning consent for the hotel proposal now lapsed, and the council open to offers for the site, the Royal High School Preservation Trust and St Mary’s have joined forces on the Perfect Harmony Development Board to drive forward the plan for a national music centre and national music school, with substantial backing promised from Carol Grigor’s Dunard Fund.

Part of that public awareness campaign will be a series of monthly Cultural Conversations online, informing people about the plans for the redevelopment of the building and the work of the school.

Vox Carnyx is delighted to be involved in these, with Keith Bruce and Ken Walton putting questions to key people involved in the project before open question and answer sessions. Architects and engineers, teachers and alumni will be taking part in the webinars running from March to August.

The first of these is on Friday March 5 from noon, when Keith Bruce will be speaking with William Gray Muir of the Royal High School Preservation Trust and Carol Nimmo of the Perfect Harmony Development Board.

Readers who wish to watch should visit https://stmarysmusic.ptly.uk/event/culturalconversations01 to receive an access code.

Image: Students of St Mary’s Music School in front of the Old Royal High School (credit Mike Wilkinson)

Six New SCO Concerts

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra has followed the RSNO in announcing a new clutch of digital concerts which will be recorded at Edinburgh’s Queen’s Hall and Perth Concert Hall and broadcast free on Thursday evenings on the SCO’s YouTube channel and Facebook site.

The six concert season in March and April concludes with a world premiere from the orchestra’s Associate Composer Anna Clyne. Overflow, inspired by the poetry of Emily Dickinson and Jalaluddin Rumi, is for a group of wind soloists and will be directed from the oboe by Nicholas Daniel. That concert, on April 15, also includes music by Caplet and Dvorak, and it will, like everything in the season, be available to view free for 30 days after first transmission.

The season begins with an established showpiece for the orchestra’s principal clarinet, Maximiliano Martin. Sir James MacMillan’s Tuireadh, a lament for the victims of the Piper Alpha disaster in the North Sea, features on Martin’s recent Delphian disc with the Orquesta Sinfonica de Tenerife. It will be played on March 4 in its original version for clarinet and string quartet in a programme that also includes Britten’s Phantasy Quartet and Prokofiev’s Quintet in G Minor.

Piano Quartets by Mozart and Faure feature in the other new Queen’s Hall concert, on March 11, when violinist Maria Mloszczowska, Felix Tanner on viola, and principal cello Philip Higham are joined by pianist Susan Tomes.

The first of the run of concerts from Perth, on March 18, is an all-20th century programme of chamber music, pairing two familiar male names from Russia, Prokofiev and Shostakovich, with a wind quintet by Poland’s Grazyna Bacewicz and a trio for oboe, clarinet and bassoon by Czech composer Vitezslava Kapralova.

The following week has a focus on percussion in a programme that sees Reich, Part, Andriessen and Britain’s Dani Howard, who is still in her 20s, bracketed by two works from Henry Purcell.

The penultimate concert, on April 8, features baritone Marcus Farnsworth, who is also due to appear alongside soprano Susanna Hurrell with the RSNO in May. In Perth he features in a recital of rare baroque repertoire including works by Telemann, Biber, Froberger, Muffat, Schop and J C Bach.

Full details and instructions on watching and listening to the concerts are available at sco.org.ukKeith Bruce

RSNO’s New Digital Season

It is a measure of the confident way that Scotland’s national orchestra has dealt with the restrictions imposed on its work by the coronavirus pandemic – and coped with many enforced changes of plan along the way – that it is able to launch a new season in upbeat and positive style.

The headline news is the extension of the contract of Music Director Thomas Sondergard to the autumn of 2024. The further three years of commitment to the RSNO come as the Danish conductor is preparing to make his debut with the Berlin Philharmonic on Saturday, stepping into the shoes of Sir Donald Runnicles to direct a programme of Prokofiev, Sibelius and Kurt Weill.

For Sondergard, the important analogy is that he has found the same warmth and eagerness to work in the German capital that he encountered in his first dealings with the RSNO. He also suggests that the work the Scottish orchestra has made available to a global audience with its online programme during the health emergency has enhanced reputations far beyond its home audience, which is likely to prove crucial if touring proves problematic in the future.

That optimistic tone is echoed by chief executive Alistair Mackie, whose pre-COVID enthusiasm to develop the orchestra’s online work has necessarily moved to the top of the agenda over the past year. “It is true that we have made progress,” says Mackie. “We have learned a lot from our first Digital Season, and, as many of our audiences will know, we often had to move quickly and adapt to travel and working conditions that changed with very little notice. I want to thank our audiences for the support they have shown us during this time.”

The new season will begin on Friday April 16 when Sondergard conducts a concert in the strand of Polish music announced nearly a year ago, including the Violin Concerto No 1 by Karol Szymanowski with Nicola Benedetti as soloist. Benedetti also closes the season on Friday June 11, when she plays Szymanowski’s Second Violin Concerto, working with the orchestra’s principal guest conductor, Elim Chan.

Says Sondergard: “It is incredible to think that little over a year ago myself and the full RSNO Orchestra were touring Europe with Nicola Benedetti, performing in sold-out venues, and experiencing standing ovations night after night. We could not have imagined the experiences of the past year were waiting just around the corner. 

“The past year has been difficult for all of us, and sadly tragic for so many people. Music is our way of expressing and sharing our moments of grief and frustration, but also the moments of happiness and hope that help get us through these extraordinary times.”

Up until now, the behind-closed-doors concerts have been filmed in the orchestra’s rehearsal space in the RSNO Centre, but the new programme will be recorded in Glasgow Royal Concert Hall next door following its successful use for the online incarnation of the Celtic Connections festival last month.

The move enables compliance with social distancing guidelines for up to 75 musicians on the extended stage, when fewer than 60 could be playing together in the RSNO Centre, making areas of repertoire possible once more. The two concerts Chan conducts in June will include the Concertos for Orchestra by Bela Bartok and Witold Lutoslawski, the latter partnered by Chopin’s Piano Concerto No1 played by Benjamin Grosvenor, recreating the line-up on last year’s prize-winning recording of the work.

Lutoslawski also features in the May 14 debut of Polish conductor Marta Gardolinska with the orchestra, when his Mala suita prefaces Dvorak’s Seventh Symphony, and in a chamber music concert a fortnight later, when principal oboe Adrian Wilson is soloist in his Epitaph for Oboe and Piano and Lena Zeliszewska plays Szymanowski’s Violin Sonata in D Minor.

The season also salvages more of the “Scotch Snaps” planned for the 20/21 live concerts – short pieces by contemporary Scottish composers, with works by Michael Murray, Craig Armstrong and Christopher Duncan. The first of these is included in a chamber music concert featuring pianist Paul Lewis, who featured in the RSNO’s recent all-Grieg concert conducted by Ed Gardner, and the Armstrong precedes Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto, played by orchestra leader Maya Iwabuchi and conducted by Angus Webster.

Principal cello Aleksei Kiseliov is joined by pianist Alasdair Beatson for a programme of chamber music by Beethoven, Strauss and Dvorak on May 7 and conductor Kevin John Edusei is on the podium on May 21 for Schumann’s Second Symphony, Mahler’s Blumine and soprano Susanna Hurrell and baritone Marcus Farnsworth singing Schubert as arranged by Brahms.

An individual subscription to the new season is £85, with a household subscription priced at £150. Individual concerts are prices at £10 and £20 and there is a concessionary rate of £27 for all nine concerts, or £3 each, available to full-time students, those under 26 and people with disabilities or who are unemployed.

Download the season brochure and book tickets at rsno.org.uk

Keith Bruce

Musical movies in the East Neuk

The East Neuk Festival of chamber music in exquisite locations in the Kingdom of Fife is, like many other events, still waiting to see what is possible this year after having to cancel last summer’s event.

In the meantime, it has embarked on a Big Project with its “Arts Activist” David Behrens to which local residents and any of the festival’s regular audience are invited to contribute. Behrens has made a beautiful – and surprisingly musical – little film, 3 Amazing Minutes in St Monans, which can – and should – be viewed on the Vimeo platform (https://vimeo.com/508804285).

It was shot entirely on his smart phone, and now the ENF is soliciting 10 second pieces of phone-made footage from its friends and followers for him to work with. Complete instructions and examples of the sort of thing he’s after can be found at eastneukfestival.com/bigproject. Our picture of the much-snapped breakwater at St Monans is a still from one short video by festival director Svend McEwan-Brown.

New Cumnock Partnership

News that Sir James MacMillan has launched a major new initiative to establish Cumnock as a global centre of excellence in the learning and teaching of composition should come as no surprise. 

MacMillan’s preeminent worldwide reputation as a composer, allied to his establishment of the annual Cumnock Tryst Festival, with its formidable record in fostering new compositional talent and associated schools and community initiatives, positions this latest initiative as a bold and natural advancement in the widening impact and influence of his expanding East Ayrshire project.

The new scheme, a partnership between The Cumnock Tryst and Trinity College London, aims to support composers at crucial stages in their development: those just embarking on a career; those teaching composition in schools; and those studying composition either at school or in higher education. 

“It has long been an ambition of mine to take all the experience and learnings we have built over many years of teaching composition in the schools around Cumnock and East Ayrshire and make those available to teachers and students further afield,” said MacMillan, who will be assisted on the ground by fellow composer Jennifer Martin.

The new Tryst-Trinity partnership will kick off this year with a project for Advanced Higher music students at the new Robert Burns Academy in Cumnock, and the launch of a supporting publication for music teachers and young composers, written by MacMillan and Martin, timed to coincide with the 2021 Cumnock Tryst festival in October.

MacMillan, whose new hard-hitting Christmas Oratorio is reviewed this week in VoxCarnyx, added: “The resources we create will not just be focused on teachers, but also support students studying composition at a higher education level or even self-taught. As part of our work to date we have mentored many emerging composers and supported some incredible talent nurtured here in Cumnock, such as Jay Capperauld and Electra Perivolaris, through commissions for our festival.” 

“I really believe that here we have the skills and resources to create an internationally recognised centre of excellence which will benefit the potential composers in the area, but also those around the world.” 

Future Cumnock Trysts are also set to benefit from a substantial new auditorium in the Robert Burns Academy that can seat upwards of 500 people. MacMillan is confident it will become an important venue, not just for the festival, but for performing groups in the community, in schools and from further afield. 

A gala opening was planned for last year’s Cumnock Tryst, featuring the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, but had to be abandoned due to Covid-19. “It is our intention to mark the new space with a celebratory event as soon as we are allowed,” MacMillan promised.

Glasgow Barons Pandemonium

The Govan-based orchestra Glasgow Barons, founded and directed by Paul McAlindin, has announced an ambitious and eclectic digital season of seven concerts filmed in Glasgow venues and building into an archive available free to view via Vimeo.

The series begins on Thursday January 7, with a programme of songs of exile, set to an electronic score by Hamish MacLeod and filmed by him with sound engineering by Tim Cooper at Govan and Linthouse Parish Church. MacLeod is joined by Hannah Rarity, Midya Xan and Aref Ghorbani in exploring repertoire that ranges from Gaelic songs of the Highland Clearances to Kurmanji Kurdish and Farsi lyrics of life as a refugee in Scotland today.

MacLeod and Cooper are also behind the realisation of the Thursday January 28 concert, entitled Flux, for which composer Matthew Ward has worked with Shona MacKay and Nick Olsen from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland on a five-movement suite exploring the power and memory of water.

The MacLeod Hall of Govan’s Pearce Institute is the venue for performances of Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings (January 21) and Thea Musgrave’s Night Windows (Wednesday January 13). On the latter the orchestra is joined by oboe soloist Amy Turner. Concerts of William Sweeney’s Sian Orainn, originally written for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, and of Alasdair Nicolson’s Stramash, commissioned by the City of London Sinfonia, have been filmed at SWG3 on the other side of the Clyde, and are premiered on February 4 and 11 respectively.

The season concludes with a live recording of Steg G’s new album Live Todays on March 4, featuring new pieces by RCS graduates Aidan Teplitsky – entitled Almost Achilles, Always the Heel – and by Kevan O’Reilly – Scotland versus Scotland.

The films are part of the orchestra’s residency project with Glasgow Life and will be available from 7pm of the day of release  via glasgowbarons.com and remain online for a year.

EIF & Linn forge Digital Partnership

An exciting new partnership between East Renfrewshire-based Linn Records and the Edinburgh International Festival is launched this week with the release of three new recordings featuring landmark performances from the 2020 Festival’s reshaped digital music programme.

The recordings were conceived by the EIF to counter Covid restrictions, which saw opera, orchestral and chamber music performances from various Edinburgh venues screened online to a remote Festival audience. Key to that initiative was the engagement by EIF of Linn’s award-winning senior producer Philip Hobbs to oversee much of the sound production.

This week’s trio of releases include: the world premiere recording of Klaus Simon’s reduced orchestration of Mahler’s Seventh Symphony, performed by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra under its musical director Thomas Sondergard; Scottish Opera’s compelling film version of Menotti’s television opera The Telephone with soprano Soraya Mafi and baritone Jonathan McGovern as protagonists Lucy and Ben; and a compendium of highlights from the Chamber Music Series recorded at The Hub, featuring such classical stars as pianist Steven Osborne, mezzo-soprano Catriona Morison, tenor Mark Padmore, soprano Andrea Baker and the Elias Quartet.

Andrew Moore, the Festival’s head of music, welcomed the joint initiative. “I’m delighted that we are to bring highlights of our reshaped digital 2020 Edinburgh International Festival programme to music lovers through this new partnership with Linn Records”. 

Hobbs, who last month added a prestigious Prise de Son from French classical music magazine Diapason to his long list of industry awards, and was recently named as the first ever visiting professor of recording at the Royal Academy of Music, acknowledged the potential of this new venture. “The result is some wonderful performances which will stand as significant contributions to the recorded catalogue for years to come.”

All three recordings will be released on Friday 18 December via key download and streaming platforms, and in Studio Master from www.LinnRecords.com

SCO Stays Free in ’21

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra has unveiled its Spring season of online concerts, when it will be continuing to offer all the music free to view and listen to via its website and YouTube channel.

Chief Executive Gavin Reid said that it is thanks to the generosity of individual supporters and the continuing support of its business sponsors that the concerts remain free to view. Capital Document Solutions, Pulsant, Baillie Gifford, Insider.co.uk and Institut Francais d’Ecosse are among the orchestra’s partners.

Former principal bassoon Peter Whelan returns to direct the first concert of 2021 and a Mozart programme with soloist mezzo soprano Katie Bray that also features an overture by Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges. The season has a strong line-up of singers, with Benjamin Appl performing Butterworth’s A Shropshire Lad in a March concert conducted by Andrew Manze. It also features the UK premiere of the Beethoven-inspired Stride by SCO Associate Composer Anna Clyne, co-commissioned by the SCO with the Australian and Lausanne Chamber Orchestras.

A February concert directed by Principal Conductor Maxim Emelyanychev sees the orchestra in Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre for a performance of Stravinsky’s Pulcinella with soprano Claire Booth, tenor Andrew Staples and baritone Roderick Williams. In combination with January’s Queen’s Hall performance of the same composer’s The Soldier’s Tale, this represents a direct clash with the BBC SSO, which has scheduled the same Stravinsky pairing in its own February programming.

The Festival Theatre is also the venue for the SCO’s contribution to January’s online Celtic Connections festival when it is teamed with folksinger Karine Polwart and her regular accompanists Steven Polwart and Inge Thomson under the direction of violinist Pekka Kuusisto.

Emelyanychev is at the harpsichord for part of his first concert of the season, with Benjamin Marquise Gilmore, Nikita Naumov and Philip Higham also soloists in a Queen’s Hall programme of Bottesini, Bruch, Haydn and Hasse. Two more SCO principals, violinist Stephanie Gonley and flautist Andre Cebrian, feature in his March concert of Bach, Adams and Mozart. Gonley also joins Kristian Bezuidenhout as co-director and co-soloist in an all-Mendelssohn programme from the Festival Theatre in February.

Completing the roll call of singers is baritone Marcus Farnsworth, who sings Bach as part of a baroque chamber programme from the Queen’s Hall on January 21. The preceding week sees a chamber ensemble play Dvorak, Hass and Martinu.

In March saxophonist Jess Gillam makes her SCO debut in a concert conducted by Joana Carniero at Perth Concert Hall, and Susan Tomes joins SCO players for Mozart and Faure Piano Quartets. The season concludes in Perth at the start of April when Francois Leleux conducts the world premiere of a work for winds by Clyne, entitled Overflow and inspired by the poetry of Emily Dickinson and Jalaluddin Rumi.

French Award for Scots Producer

Philip Hobbs, chief producer at leading Scots recording label Linn Records, has received the prestigious Prise de Son (Sound Recording) Award from the French classical music journal Diapason. 

The magazine described Hobbs, who has over thirty years’ experience in the industry, as an “exceptional” talent, whose professionalism consistently meets the very highest standards in sound recording. In particular, it cited January’s Linn release of JS Bach: The Well-Tempered Consort 1, performed by the viol consort Phantasm, adding that “the assiduous care he [Hobbs] takes in his work gives the appearance of great simplicity”.

This is the second major award in as many years for the Glasgow-based producer. In 2019, his work for Linn on the third of Robin Ticciati’s French repertoire series with the Deutsche Symphony Orchestra earned him a coveted Trophée from French broadcaster Radio Classique for Best Sound Recording of the Year.

Hobbs’ notable expertise has been put to wider use during the current Covid pandemic, producing many digital concerts for the Edinburgh International Festival, Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Royal Scottish National Orchestra. 

Back in April, the RSNO also featured among Diapason winners, its album of Chopin Piano Concertos with soloist Benjamin Grosvenor and principal guest conductor Elim Chan netting a distinguished Diapason d’Or. The RSNO previously appeared in the French awards list under its former music director Stephane Deneve.

Christmas Concert On The Box

With live Family Christmas Concerts off the Yuletide menu this year, the RSNO and Children’s Classics Concerts (CCC) have joined forces to create a traditional Christmas Show you can tune into from the comfort of your own home. 

“The Night Before Christmas” has been devised by popular percussionist and regular CCC presenter Owen Gunnell who is seen making frantic attempts to get Christmas organised after inadvertently sleeping through the first 12 days of December, and worse still forgetting to post his letter to Santa. The emphasis is on fun for the whole family, with music to sing along to and favourite seasonal performances from the RSNO, RSNO Junior Chorus and, of course, the irrepressible Gunnell himself. 

The initiative signals a new relationship with STV Player, which joins the RSNO and CCC FaceBook pages and YouTube channels in screening the event. “The Night Before Christmas” is premiered live on 12 December at 2pm, and is available to view free of charge for a further 30 days.  

“We are excited to be teaming up with the STV Player for the first time to bring this concert into homes across Scotland,” said RSNO chief executive Alistair Mackie. “It has been a difficult year for us all and we hope this production will bring a little joy to all the RSNO and CCC audiences that have supported us so strongly in recent months.”

Full information at www.rsno.org.uk & www.childrensclassicconcerts.co.uk

Nevis Ensemble picks its carols

Nevis Ensemble has selected the professional and student composers winning its fleet-footed 2020 carol competition, whose works will be recorded by the travelling orchestra and mezzo-soprano Andrea Baker for broadcast online on Christmas Day.

Balfron High School’s Harry Baines, who also studies at the Junior Conservatoire of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland with Nicholas Olsen, is the under-18 winner. Mentored by composer Stuart MacRae, he will set a new Scots language text by poet Stuart Paterson, A Blythe Yule.

The parallel open call to established composers has selected Ailie Robertson, harpist and composer-in-residence at Glyndebourne Opera and Aberdeenshire’s sound festival. She will set a new Gaelic text by Marcus Mas an Tuairneir, An Dubhlachd.

Both new carols will be recorded alongside a new commission from British-Chinese composer Alex Ho at Adelaide Place Baptist Church in Glasgow for the December 25 broadcast. In the run up to the event, Nevis Ensemble will share snippets from its musical history in an Advent Calendar, accessible through its website.nevisensemble.org

Image: Composer and harpist Ailie Robertson

Madrigirls Advent concert

What this year has clearly lacked is a new wassail, but fortunately Glasgow University-based choir Madrigirls and Glasgow-based composer Emily Dolittle have stepped up to supply just that.

Dolittle’s new wassail, The Wren King, will be premiered during the choir’s annual Advent concert, entitled A Light in the Darkness, which is being streamed on YouTube on Sunday December 6 at 7.30pm.

The Madrigirls seasonal event, usually held in the University’s Memorial Chapel, where conductor Katy Lavinia Cooper is director of music, will this year be a filmed event celebrating the choir’s 20th anniversary, combining new video and audio recordings with archive material. As well as Dolittle’s work, the recital will include a new setting of medieval text There is no Rose by American composer Frank La Rocca. Both pieces are the fruits of crowdfunding campaign earlier this year to commission pieces to mark the choir’s birthday.

Cooper and Catriona Downie formed Madrigirls in 2000 when they were both undergraduates at the university. Initially a female group, it is now an inclusive upper-voice choir of around 40 members, and more than 250 singers have passed through its ranks in the past two decades.

As well as music, the Advent concert will feature visual art by Odeta Brazeniene and readings submitted in response to an open call to writers from Paul Cuddihy, Rosemary Gemmell, Freya Holliman, Susan Mansfield, Claire Quigley, Kate Robinson, Denise Steele and Siobhan Walsh.

madrigirls.org.uk  

Image: Madrigirls 2019 credit Harry Campbell

« Older Entries