Lammermuir Festival review: Francois Leleux and the Hebrides Ensemble

First published in The Herald on 22 September, 2014

The terrific French oboist Francois Leleux was artist in residence at this year’s Lammermuir Festival, and he used the opportunity to explore repertoire from Bach to Berio. He is a fearless, flawless player (during this recital he breezily turned pages with one hand while playing with the other). His sound is plush and enormous. It would be a treat to hear him in just about any music.

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Lammermuir Festival review: Bartosz Woroch

First published in The Herald on 22 September, 2014

All violinists have to confront Bach at some point or other: the composer’s six partitas and sonatas are the bedrock of the instrument’s solo repertoire and the benchmark for generations of great players. Polish violinist Bartosz Woroch, born in 1984, devised his late-night Lammermuir Festival recital around the first of the sonatas: the dark G-minor, with its searching Adagio and fitful Presto finale. Around it he programmed two 20th century works, both also in G-minor, both directly inspired by Bach’s sonata.

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Lammermuir Festival review: Steven Osborne

First published in The Herald on 22 September, 2014

After all the tensions of past days and weeks, what a balsam this was. Olivier Messiaen’s monumental Vingt regards sur l’enfant Jesus is a two-and-a-half-hour outpouring of ardour, hope and kaleidoscopic imagination. Written in occupied Paris in 1944 for the woman who later became his second wife, it is the composer’s best-known piano work – and yet few pianists can fully encompass its vast architecture, intense colours and astounding expressive range.

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Lammermuir Festival review: Christine Brewer with the BBCSSO

First published in the Guardian on 21 September, 2014

Emotions have been running fraught in Scotland whichever way you look at it, and the need for a collective unfurling is palpable. This Lammermuir Festival concert of fervent works by Wagner, Strauss and Elgar performed by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra – an ensemble whose post-referendum future has been hotly debated – was never going to feel like business as usual. And considering the BBC’s contested neutrality through the referendum, a quip from conductor Martyn Brabbins (who introduced an encore from Elgar’s Serenade for Strings by saying that we could now have “sweet dreams of a happy future”) wasn’t hugely useful.

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Interview: Jeffrey Sharkey

First published in The Herald on 17 September, 2014

Meet Jeffrey Sharkey, new face of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Just a few weeks into the job as Principal, he says he wants to encourage students to work outside their own disciplines, empower staff to be more open-minded and foster a culture of breadth as well as depth at the institution. He uses the word ‘connectivity’ a lot: connectivity between the arts, connectivity between life experience and creative expression. He laughs at his own Americanism – he comes to Glasgow from Baltimore, where he spent eight years as director of the Peabody Institute – but he doesn’t for a minute apologise for its holistic sentiment. “If you’re not fully living yourself,” he says, “what have you got to give to your art?”

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Review: Scottish Ensemble in Anderston

anderston centre

First published in The Herald on 15 September, 2014

‘Re-defining the string orchestra’ has been the Scottish Ensemble motto for some time; more and more, they’re risking the kind of projects with the imagination and dynamism to live up to it. They’re getting out of standard concert formats and concert halls and determinedly crafting an image to appeal to a younger, hipper crowd. This latest venture was called 20th Century Perspectives: City Spaces and Strings. It was staged in a disused part of Richard Seifert’s 1972 Anderston Centre, that quietly brutalist concrete warren overlooking the throng of M8 interchanges just south of Charring Cross. A bar had been set up, lights were low, the Ensemble wore regulation jeans and trainers. Site-specific art by Toby Paterson feaured large, intriguing Perspex screens painted in primary colours and begging to be walked around, hidden behind, gazed through.

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Review: Max at 80

First published in the Guardian on 15 September, 2014

It’s been a long birthday season for Peter Maxwell Davies, from midsummer concerts in Orkney to a late-night Prom on the big day itself. This Glasgow finale felt like a homecoming among friends. There were solo, chamber and orchestral works performed by musicians who have known the composer for decades, and there were birthday presents: three surprise tributes by fellow Scottish composers. Sally Beamish, Alasdair Nicolson and James MacMillan each presented short pieces responding to aspects of Maxwell Davies’s legacy. All three spoke fondly of ‘Max’ as an inspiration and a generous source of encouragement. There was a lot of love in the room.

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Classical music in an independent Scotland

First published in the Guardian on 13 September, 2014

What will happen to Scotland’s classical music in the event of a Yes vote on Thursday? The question is a microcosm of the referendum debate as a whole in that there is no single way of approaching it, let alone of answering it. Putting the question to classical musicians and music industry people around Scotland I’ve been met with reactions from wild conjecture to heady excitement, bewildered shrugs to solemnly reasoned logistics to ardent theories on deep-rooted national psychology.

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Interview: Peter Maxwell Davies

peter maxwell davies

First published in The Herald on 10 September, 2014

The classical music industry loves nothing more than an anniversary. The bicentenary of Verdi’s birth, 40 years since the founding of this choir or that – it’s the backbone of festival programming, the go-to pretext for indulging in nerdy corners of the repertoire. Needless to say, some anniversaries are worth celebrating more than others. Peter Maxwell Davies, Scotland’s greatest living composer, turned 80 earlier this week; given that he was diagnosed with leukemia last year and told he had six weeks to live, this is a birthday that deserves every one of the commemoration concerts it is getting, from Venice to Moscow to Kirkwall.

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Interview: Francois Leleux

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First published in The Herald on 3 September, 2014

François Leleux became principal oboe of the Paris Opera at 18. Even in France, the country whose woodwind tradition is reputedly the best in the world, such a young appointment made waves. Leleux went on to top positions at the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. He became a great soloist, an active chamber musician, a committed teacher, and he has recently been spending increasing amounts of his time conducting around the world. “My aim is to embrace music with as large an angle as possible,” he says. “Think about the renaissance: we should all be painting paintings, inventing instruments… I think that being just an oboist is not quite enough.”

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