Interview: Rory Macdonald

First published in The Herald on 29 October, 2014

“There’s a special kind of nervousness that applies to performing at home,” says the Scottish conductor Rory Macdonald, who makes an overdue debut with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra next week. “How can there not be? I’ll have friends, family, my old music teachers in the audience. They’ll all be remembering me as a wee boy.”

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Review: Erwan Keravec + Fulgor al Bies at Sound

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First published in The Herald on 27 October, 2014

Erwan Keravec is a Breton bagpiper, improviser and potent performer. His music roams far from traditional pipe territory and he galvanises composers and other improvisers to confront an instrument that can, he suggests, be tethered by ‘cultural associations’. The project he brought to Sound festival was called Vox/Nu-piping #2 – a meeting of pipes and the classical voice, although there was little ‘classical’ about the fearless singing of Donatienne Michel-Dansac and Vincent Bouchot. In Oscar Bianchi’s Fluente they unleashed squeaky-high undulations while Keravec’s pipes whispered and crooned. In Jose Manuel Lopez’s No Time, they used loudspeakers to enact a phone call between ex-lovers while the pipes spluttered incredulous commentary. There was a surprise appearance, too, from the astounding Basque vocalist Benat Achiary, whose improvised duets with Karavec encompassed gospel, bluesy scat, primal catharsis, vintage chanson and the poetry of Kenneth White. Throughout it all Karavec meddled with the pipe’s drone tuning, shifting perametres, making anything seem possible.

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Review: Red Note + Orchestre d’Auvergne at Sound

First published in the Guardian on 26 October, 2014

Aberdeenshire’s estimable Sound turns ten this year and has plenty reason to celebrate. This is a festival that clinches that most elusive of ideals: it’s a genuine meeting point of community engagement and contemporary music. The programme happily blurs genre lines in the name of inclusivity but doesn’t shy away from hard-hitting new work. Over the past decade it’s done energising things for arts in the North East of Scotland; hopefully double digits will bring the wider recognition it deserves.

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A decade of Sound

First published in The Herald on 25 October, 2014

“A little more gentle, a little less hard-edged.” That’s how festival director Fiona Robertson sums up the difference between Sound and other contemporary music festivals. “Gentle” isn’t an adjective generally courted by the avant-garde. Typical rubrics would be substantially less comforting – ‘experimental’, ‘cutting-edge’, maybe ‘pioneering’. But Robertson is right in saying that Sound is not like other festivals. It can’t be, it doesn’t want to be, and it is precisely in its difference that it is – whisper it – genuinely experimental, cutting-edge and pioneering.

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Review: Wozzeck

First published in the Guardian on 24 October, 2014

There was a poignancy to the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra’s Wozzeck before it even began. This performance came the day after Donald Runnicles announced he will be standing down as the orchestra’s chief conductor in 2016, a post in which he has done great things. No other company would present Alban Berg’s formidably complex masterpiece in Scotland these days. With a mediocre La Cenerentola currently playing up the road at the Theatre Royal, there’s fat chance from Scottish Opera.

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Wozzeck and the art of semi-staging

Alban Berg

First published in The Herald on 22 October, 2014

A century ago this year, the composer Alban Berg went along one May evening to the Rezidenzbühne in Vienna to see a then little-known play called Woyzeck. Its author, the German poet and dramatist Georg Büchner, had been born a century earlier in 1813 and died tragically young of typhoid at the age of 23; Woyzeck was the last play he wrote. 200 years on, it is still a starkly modern, brutally uncomfortable drama.

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Review: La Cenerentola

First published in the Guardian on 16 October, 2014

Rossini’s 1817 opera is basically a comedy; there’s an indubitable daftness to the characters, a gleeful frivolity to much of the music. Yet it’s also a socially-conscious retelling of the Cinderella tale. The title character is lifted out of hardship not by any flick of a fairy-godmother’s wand but by her own kindness – it’s the simple humanity of being charitable to a beggar that earns her a ticket to the ball.

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Preview: St Andrews Voices / The Marian Consort

First published in The Herald on 15 October, 2014

St Andrews Voices is young yet – the third annual edition opens next week – but as Scotland’s first and only festival dedicated exclusively to vocal music it already has a niche in the classical calendar. It has a strong footing within St Andrews, too. “There’s a huge appetite for singing in this town,” says Sonia Stevenson, the festival’s co-founder and artistic co-director. She points out that St Andrews Chorus is the largest choral society in Scotland and that the university’s top choir, St Salvator’s, is now good enough to rival the iconic chapel choirs of Oxford and Cambridge. “The enthusiasm and knowledge among the festival audience is extraordinarily high,” she says. “Almost everyone who comes along is a singer of some description themselves.” Incidentally, she defines ‘singer’ as anybody who hums a tune in the shower, but the point stands: St Andrews is a well-versed crowd.

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