Tag Archives: Jamie MacDougall

BBC Music Show Cuts

BBC Radio Scotland’s rumoured plan to axe a huge swathe of its specialist music programming has now been confirmed. A news exclusive this week by the Scotsman’s arts correspondent Brian Ferguson extracted a response from the press office at Pacific Quay that neither denied BBC Scotland’s intentions nor offered a convincing argument for the controversial decision.

Widely discussed over the festive season, Ferguson’s story confirmed that both Classics Unwrapped, presented by tenor Jamie MacDougall and Jazz Nights, fronted by singer and violinist Seonaid Aitken (pictured), had been “decommissioned” in response to the freezing of the licence fee and a shift from broadcast to digital output.

Added to the news that pipe music programme, Pipeline, was to lose its broadcast slot – revealed to writer and piper Rab Wallace before Christmas – the changes amount to the cancellation of the BBC Scotland’s commitment to much of its weekend broadcasting of traditional and classical music, opera and jazz.

Although BBC insiders believe that the cost-cutting measure is unlikely to be reversed, political condemnation of the organisation has been swift and widespread. Two of Scotland’s best known musicians, tenor saxophonist and educator Tommy Smith and composer and conductor Sir James MacMillan, have started online petitions opposing the decisions to cut Jazz Nights and Classics Unwrapped.

The new director of the Edinburgh International Festival, violinist Nicola Benedetti, quickly added her voice, and the campaign has also been supported by Creative Scotland’s Head of Music, Alan Morrison.

The justification for the axing of the programmes has looked desperately thin, with Smith and others pointing out that the programmes’ budgets will represent a small saving and Ferguson speculating that sports coverage has been ring-fenced at the expense of the arts.

It certainly looks like an abdication of responsibility on the part of BBC Scotland to curtail its support, reporting and discussion of areas of music that are a distinct national success story and whose funding is built into the political settlement of devolved government in Edinburgh.

Although its main paymaster is BBC Radio 3, it is also true that the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra is a local asset paid scant attention by BBC Scotland itself, and whose long-term future is hardly helped by the decision.

Few will also be persuaded by the BBC Scotland spokesperson’s glib statement about a shift towards digital, when more thoughtful strategies of parallel development are being pursued elsewhere in the BBC. As the range of formats and platforms employed for recorded music has long demonstrated, consumers do not follow such a linear path but prefer to be able to choose and use the full range of what is on offer.

That it has been left to an un-named press officer to justify the cuts also speaks volumes of a decision that has been made to achieve savings without affecting BBC Scotland’s narrow definition of its core activity and staffing. A senior management representative should be called to account in the face of the vociferous opposition to the changes.

RSNO: Viennese Gala

Perth Concert Hall

The challenge with any traditional orchestral Viennese Gala is to make it more than just a routine January roll out. There’s not much you can do with the music itself – it will always be a core diet of Strauss family favourites, otherwise what’s the point? So it boils down to a presentation and performance format that will give the evening the necessary zing factor. This Perth performance by the RSNO was the first in a line of repeat presentations heading around parts of Scotland till next weekend.

By the time it reaches Saturday’s final destination in Greenock I suspect this particular Viennese Gala will be as svelte as any Vienna Philharmonic New Year’s Day broadcast, but with more of a homely flavour as befits an audience probably reared on the couthy fireside charm of The White Heather Club. 

Thanks then to Scots broadcaster and versatile tenor Jamie MacDougall for doing not so much his Andy Stewart, but a creditable Bill McCue in peppering this tinselly sequence of Strauss perennials with an engaging mix of song and patter.

This was welcome in periodically whisking us away from the stylised 19th century Vienna populism so monopolised by the Strauss family business. MacDougall unleashed his inner John McCormack in the glorious sentimentalism that characterises such schmalzy numbers as pre-World War II German film composer Werner Richard Heymann’s Ein blonder Traum, Rudolf Sieczyński’s one-hit wonder, Vienna, City of My Dreams, or one actually made famous by McCormack, Charles Marshall’s I Hear You Calling Me.

The only detraction from these was a seemingly low-set amplification level, which left MacDougall partially unheard in the earlier songs. Correction made all the difference in the second half, making such further gems as Juventino Rosas’ The Loveliest Night of the Year and the more melancholy hue of Paolo Tosti’s L’ultima Canzona easy listening in every sense.

If MacDougall livened up the continuity, the conductor David Niemann – in his RSNO debut – responded with equally lithesome musical direction, evident straight off in the opening Overture from Johann Strauss II’s popular opera Die Fledermaus. For the most part, he garnered a rich response from the orchestra, at their best in the same composer’s febrile Thunder and Lightning Waltz, the more reserved ebullience of the Emperor Waltz, and in a quirky novelty piece, Künstler-Quadrille, that pieces together snatches of themes by other composers, almost too many to count.

Things weren’t so refined in the famous Blue Danube, where Niemann’s excessive temporal deliberations seemed to fox the players. Among the non-Strauss works, the same issue imbued Delibes’ Pizzicato Polka with a few stray plucks, unlike the hearty confidence exhibited in the foregoing Brahms Hungarian Dance. 

Other Strausses featured: brother Josef’s Ohne Sorgen! Polka, with its additionally notated guffaws from the players; and Johann Strauss I’s rousing Radetzky March as a programmed encore that very nearly didn’t happen. Niemann lingered overlong on his return to the stage, resulting in the audience applause fading prematurely. He made it, just in time to make it happen. 

Having served Dunfermline and Langholm since, and with Inverness and Musselburgh to come this week en route to Greenock, this enjoyable programme will probably be running like clockwork now.

Ken Walton

Further performances at Eden Court, Inverness (12 Jan), The Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh (13 Jan) and Beacon Arts Centre, Greenock (14 Jan)

Scottish Opera: Candide

40 Edington Street, Glasgow

Where do you want opera to take you? Lisbon, Paris, Buenos Aires, Suriname and Venice? Check. On a philosophical journey, along the catwalk and to fleshpots and sex dungeons? Check. Into war zones, across viciously-patrolled borders and on an inflatable boat to a new life as a refugee? Check. From one of the most familiar overtures in 20th century music through less well-known terrain that is filled with echoes of the scores to stories old and new that you already know? Check.

Scottish Opera’s new production, programmed with admirable cheek at the peak of the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe, has an extravagant address of its own: Live at No 40, New Rotterdam Wharf, on the canal side of the company’s technical centre in Edington, beyond where it staged La boheme and Falstaff during lockdown. What the company has purpose built in a vast rigid tent, filled with platforms, containers, curtain-sided trailer and trucks that become the stages, is an event – and one that everyone who loves opera, musical theatre or spectacle should rush to see. It is also an ideal introduction to any of those to the uninitiated.

The company has a significant history with Leonard Bernstein’s long-in-development adaptation of Voltaire. At the end of the 1980s, then music director John Mauceri undertook a major revision of the work by his mentor, and Lenny himself became involved in the latter stages of a revival that resulted in the “Scottish Opera version”, which is, of course, the basis of the new production.

I’d wager, however, that neither Mauceri nor Bernstein could have envisaged what director Jack Furness, conductor Stuart Stratford and their respective teams have created for this 21st century staging. Utterly true to both Voltaire and Bernstein – and using the long list of wordsmiths who have contributed to it, Lillian Hellman, Stephen Sondheim and John Wells among them – this is a Candide that is a bold satirical swipe at the ills of the world today: social media, pornography, perilous journeys by refugees, sleazy politicians and aggressive miliary invasions among them.

It is also a story of love winning out against the odds, and a vehicle for some of the most hilarious slapstick broad humour and slick verbal wit, while containing sumptuous music that may well find you choking back tears at times.

The number of performers involved in creating this rich spectacular is huge. Prominent on the central raised platform are Stratford and the orchestra, playing at their best, and largely confined to their station, although one clarinet does go walkabout. Everything else is constantly in motion; when Candide’s journey reaches Venice Carnival the gaming tables are all around us and the action and singing projected from all points of the compass in quite dizzying style.

But then, it all began in that way, with the chorus suddenly revealed as being amongst the paying public promenading in the arena. That ensemble is also revealed as being a multi-ethnic, many-aged collective with professional singers among them. They move brilliantly together, with many individual step-out moments, and sing with passion and precision; this choir sounds brilliant.

The principals would have to be on their mettle to match them, and this cast certainly is. Levels of experience range for Scottish Opera Emerging Artist Lea Shaw to company stalwarts Susan Bullock and Jamie MacDougall, with Ronald Samm (Dr Pangloss) previously featuring in ScotOp’s Pagliacci in Paisley, the recent production this most closely resembles.

The three young singers at the heart of the tale, Dan Shelvey as Maximilian, Paula Sides as Cunegonde, and William Morgan in the title role are all quite superb performers in spectacular voice, up for everything that Furness throws at them in his brilliant re-imagining of the work.

But that goes for everyone performing, and – on the evidence of the first night – for the audience as well.

Keith Bruce

Further performances August 13, 14,16, 18 and 20.

Picture  (l to r) William Morgan (Candide), Paula Sides (Cunegonde), Lea Shaw (Paquette), and Dan Shelvey (Maximillian). Credit James Glossop.