Monthly Archives: September 2013

Review: Hebrides Ensemble with François Leleux

First published in The Herald on 16 September, 2013

Hebrides Ensemble/Leleux
Yester House, Gifford

A cheer went up when it was announced French oboist François Leleux will be artist-in-residence of next year’s Lammermuir Festival. This is good news indeed for East Lothian audiences. Leleux makes an unparalleled sound on the instrument and his musical personality is generous and inventive. If he’s not as well known in the UK as he is in France and Germany, hopefully Lammermuir’s platform should go some way to correcting that.

Continue reading

Review: Scottish Chamber Orchestra with Joseph Swensen and Alec Frank-Gemmill

First published in The Herald on 16 September, 2013

SCO/Swensen
Dunbar Parish Church

There’s a fine line-up at the Lammermuir Festival this year, with some classy chamber music and vocal ensembles still to come over the next seven days: haste ye to East Lothian if you can. What the four-year-old festival still lacks is a decent venue for orchestras. The opening weekend kicked off with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in the newly refurbished Dunbar Parish Church, whose boomy acoustics are yet to be broken in. You could count the several-second reverb in the pregnant pauses of Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture, and the sizzling bravado of Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony blurred like fireworks in a fog.

Continue reading

Review: Sally Beamish’s Flodden

First published in the Guardian on 14 September, 2013

SCO/Swensen
Town House, Hamilton

On 9 September 1513, the armies of Scotland and England fought at Flodden Field in Northumberland and between them racked up the heaviest single-battle deathtoll of British troops until the Somme. To mark 500 years since the Battle of Flodden, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra commissioned a new work from Sally Beamish – a Quaker who was born in England and has lived in Scotland for more than two decades. Like Benjamin Britten’s pacifist War Requiem, she has responded with a searing emotional indictment against war.

Continue reading

What’s worse: a noisy crowd or an officious one?

Edinburgh international festival audience clapping

First published in the Guardian on 11 September, 2013

When friends who aren’t used to hearing live classical music come with me to concerts, they often ask whether they need to behave in any particular way. I tell them to just turn up and listen, that a concert needs no dress code or special handshake. But there are some unspoken rules. The recurring theme muttered around this year’s Edinburgh International Festival had to do with noise – not the noise made by performers on stage (the noise that ticket-buyers paid to hear), but the noise made by audiences in the halls. Edinburgh is a noisy crowd, and not in a good way.

Take the last movement of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony: that tender, faltering statement of resignation and frailty. As conductor Daniele Gatti held the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in a breathtaking suspended whisper, the moment should have been utterly transporting – unfortunately, the piercing sound of an unadjusted hearing aid went ringing round the hall like a tiny, whiny theremin. A couple of weeks earlier, Mariss Jansons and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra had to compete with a cheerful volley of dry coughs ricocheting around the Usher Hall. And there were phones ringing while Nikolai Lugansky played Janáček, shuffling and chatting as Ensemble musikFabrik played Cage.

Continue reading

Interview: Alec Frank-Gemmill

Alec Frank-Gemmill

First published in The Herald on 11 September, 2013

Alec Frank-Gemmill was just 23 when he became principal horn of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. By that point he’d already polished off an undergraduate at Cambridge, postgraduate at London’s Guildhall and orchestral posts in Innsbruck and Zurich. Now a ripe old 27, he’s one of the most respected French horn players in the UK, a regular soloist with his own orchestra and guest principal with the likes of the London Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Concertgebouw. He has even (though he only bashfully admits it) featured on German television with superstar tenor Rolando Villazon. If Frank-Gemmill had played the violin or piano he’d be well on his way to becoming a household name by now. As it is, he’s on a quiet crusade to earn the French horn “credit where it’s due”.

Continue reading

Interview: Jamie MacDougall

jamie macdougall

First published in The Herald on 3 September, 2013

He isn’t normally lost for words, but Jamie MacDougall has been pondering what to say when it comes to the launch of his debut solo album later this month. “Because frankly, I’ve seen hundreds of singers who are young and good-looking launch the start of some lucrative record deal, and I can tell you now that I’m none of those things.” The Scottish tenor’s discography already runs to 40-odd, so this is by no means the first time he’s gone into a recording studio. But at the age of 47, it’s the first time that he has felt ready to commit a solo recital disc. “It’s been a long time coming,” he says.

Continue reading

Big Issue column 22

First published in The Big Issue, 26 August – 2 September

When Calixto Bieito directed Verdi’s A Masked Ball at English National Opera in 2000, the curtain rose on 14 men sitting on the lavvy with their trousers around their ankles. The following year Bieito was back at the Coliseum with a Don Giovanni that critics variously slammed as “a coke-fueled fellatio fest” and “a Don Giovanni for yobbos, attaining the intellectual level of football hooligans”. Last year there was Carmen, which according to the The Daily Mail was “tacky, tawdry and tasteless”.

The controversial Catalan theatre and opera director is a perennial stirrer of trouble, a flagrant snubber of social niceties on the stage. He has a zeal for brash rewrites that outrage the purists and features lurid sexual violence that shocks some audience members to the core. His admirers see his work as vibrant, original and relevant – a response to the spiritual vapidity and material compulsion of today’s world. What will he do with Beethoven’s Fidelio? His production opens at English National Opera in September and sets the opera in a Borges-style labyrinth of the mind. Bieito describes it as a philosophical thriller that will appeal to Kafka fans. One thing’s for certain: it won’t pass unnoticed. London Coliseum, September 25 – October 17

Continue reading

Review: American Lulu

First published in the Guardian on 2 September, 2013

American Lulu
King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

Olga Neuwirth’s American Lulu is billed as ‘a new interpretation’ of Alban Berg’s great unfinished opera Lulu. Neuwirth’s aim was to take a fresh look at Lulu from a female perspective and to set her mythical rise and fall against a backdrop of the American civil-rights movement. The score rehashes parts of Berg’s original for an on-stage ensemble that sort of resembles a jazz big band, and adds a new third act that is dramatically clumsy, musically forced and conceptually futile. The action shifts to the American 1970s with flashbacks to the 1950s, where a black Lulu takes centre stage among predominantly white men and Martin Luther King speeches are crudely spliced into the musical fabric.

Continue reading

Review: Véronique Gens and Susan Manoff

First published in The Herald on 2 September, 2013

Véronique Gens/Susan Manoff
Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

There are plenty of operatic singers who can deliver subtlety and fine sounds on the recital platform. There are just a handful who can break down the distance between stage and audience in a single phrase; who can deliver every poetic nuance with effortless finesse. French soprano Véronique Gens is one.

Continue reading

Review: Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra with Daniele Gatti

First published in The Herald on 2 September, 2013

Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Gatti
Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Three weeks ago we heard a staggering account of Mahler’s Second Symphony from Mariss Jansons and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. Three days ago, Daniele Gatti led the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in an unforgettable performance of the Ninth. For the Usher Hall audience, the 2013 International Festival was framed by powerhouse Mahler.

Continue reading