Cumnock Tryst: Arta Arnicane
From its first announcement, back in October 2013, Sir James MacMillan’s intention for The Cumnock Tryst has been that it serves and reflects the community where he was raised. Inevitably there have been times, however, when the programme of music performed by professional visitors and the inclusion of contributions from local amateurs have seemed some distance apart.
On the last day of this year’s programme, in the august surroundings of the restored splendour of Dumfries House, that was emphatically not the case.
On Sunday afternoon, in the lovely recital room in the house itself, Latvian pianist Arta Arnicane fulfilled a promise to herself and to an amateur composer from nearby Troon when she played a recital that featured the music of Douglas Munn alongside that of Debussy and Martinu. Munn, who died in 2008, and his wife Clare, who was present, had supported Arnicane as a student and now she is returning the favour in championing his compositions, which also feature on a recently-released recording.
She opened with Martinu’s Butterflies and Birds of Paradise, a trio of pieces that would also be unfamiliar to many listeners, but a glorious discovery. Akin to French Impressionism at the start, the final work also had hints of Mussorgsky’s Pictures and segued beautifully into a Nocturne by Munn from 1944, written when he was just 15 years old.
Unlike some of the other pieces on the Toccata Classics album, it was not revised by Munn after his retiral from a stellar career as a mathematician, so any minor corrections to the score were the pianist’s own. The teenage composer was clearly modelling his work on Chopin, but his own talents were considerable.
Following three of Debussy’s Estampes – La soiree dans Grenade played with special finesse and the Ayrshire rain returning to the grounds of Dumfries House for Jardins sous la pluie – Arnicane played three of Munn’s Preludes. The most substantial of these, in D major, could, as the pianist said, equally have been entitled “Ballade” and dates from the end of his years composing, before the maths took over, when he was still just 18. It and its predecessors are the work of a young man with a remarkable gift for melody who must have been a pianist of considerable technical prowess himself.
The “Pavilion” at Dumfries House is a semi-permanent structure so far from being a marquee that gilt-framed mirrors and pictures hang on two of its walls. Alongside the function suite at Cumnock’s Dumfries Arms Hotel, where the Tryst’s closing ceilidh would happen, it gives the festival a fine new space, large enough to accommodate the amateur Ayrshire Symphony Orchestra and the Cumnock Tryst Festival Chorus.
They were joined by a second choir of members of the Cumnock Area Musical Production Society – a music-theatre group with the best acronym ever – for the Scott Riddex Memorial Concert, celebrating one of their members. Sir James shared conducting duties with the orchestra’s conductor John Wilson in a programme that was as diverse and entertaining as it was deeply moving, beginning with a movement from Greig’s Holberg Suite and concluding with a 28-minute version of Gavin Bryars’ Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet that included all the singers and players.
With principal oboe Joanna Senior the soloist in Ennio Morricone’s music from The Mission soundtrack, the orchestra’s first violin was a crucial instrumental voice in the two new songs by MacMillan that the chorus premiered. Part of the Tryst’s evolving celebration of the area’s mining heritage, Blackcraig Hill and A Fire of Ages set poetry by a soprano, Maggie Broadley, and a bass, Allan McMillan, from within their ranks. Those, and the Bryars that followed, were the sound of the Tryst making its own precise, individual and remarkable mark – and a nonsense of any distinctions between music-makers of all ages and commitment.
Pictures by Stuart Armitt