Interview: Susannah Wapshott

susannah wapshott

First published in The Herald on 1 October, 2014

Susannah Wapshott is unfazeable. She has to be: as staff répétiteur for Scottish Opera, her role translates to quick-fire knowledge of pretty much every aspect of the opera business. Wapshott can sing a decent approximation of any vocal part and sight-read full orchestral scores at the piano. She can coach singers, direct chorus rehearsals, shadow movement directors, fine-tune diction in several languages. She can provide a shoulder for singers to cry on in rehearsals and nerves of steel in performances. And she can conduct. “An almighty multi-tasker,” she calls herself. “A jack of all trades. A blagger who has to convince everyone, including myself.”

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Review: Donald Runnicles/BBCSSO season opener

First published in the Guardian on 26 September, 2014

There’s a mini Shostakovich strand to the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra’s new season, with performances of the Fifth and Fifteenth symphonies coming up in the next few months. The opening concert was a brawny all-Russian affair that culminated in a gripping account of the Tenth Symphony. The collective focus, drive and dynamism of the playing only confirmed what has been clear for some time: that under its chief conductor Donald Runnicles, this orchestra really is outstanding.

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Delphian Records

delphian

It was a good year for Scotland at the Gramophone Awards. Of the 12 trophies handed out at a swish industry ceremony in London last week, two went to Scottish recipients. John Butt and the Dunedin Consort won the choral category with their recording of Mozart’s Requiem on the Glasgow label Linn. That disc was one of three in final contention for the magazine’s coveted Recording of the Year, which eventually went to Ricardo Chailly and the Leipzig Gewandhaus for their Brahms symphony cycle on Decca. In terms of industry clout and financing, the awards hardly compare like with like.

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Lammermuir Festival review: Acis and Galatea

First published in The Herald on 23 September, 2014

Don’t let anyone tell you that the narrative of Acis and Galatea is too vapid for decent drama, nor that an opera in concert performance can’t be properly entertaining. What little plot there is to Handel’s 1718 pastoral mini-opera involves a nymph, a shepherd and an evil monster, all lifted from book eight of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Usually a performance is worth sitting through for is its gorgeous music alone: this concise little two-acter contains some of Handel’s most irresistible tunes.

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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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