Monthly Archives: October 2013

Review: Royal Scottish National Orchestra with Peter Oundjian

First published in The Herald on 14 October, 2013

RSNO/Oundjian
Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

During his customary mid-concert chat to the audience, Peter Oundjian noted that Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra isn’t usually heard by anyone over than the age of about ten. (“Which excludes at least a few of you,” he teased the overwhelmingly silver-haired congregation.) Oundjian has a point, and he’s right to feature the Guide as ‘serious’ music – as the vivid and vivacious set of theme and variations that it is.

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Review: Scottish Chamber Orchestra with Alexander Janiczek and Llyr Williams

First published in The Herald on 14 October, 2013

SCO/Janiczek
City Halls, Glasgow

There was a smallish turnout for this Friday-night concert, surprising given the easy appeal of the programme. Perhaps that the soloist, pianist Llyr Williams, had performed a weekend of concerts in Glasgow only a fortnight ago was a factor, or that we’ll be hearing a lot of him anyway as the city’s new artist-in-resident. Either way, the audience energy seemed to reflect back onto stage: it was one of the most subdued Scottish Chamber Orchestra performances I’ve heard.

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Review: BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra with Jun Märkl

First published in The Herald on 14 October, 2013

BBC SSO/Märkl
City Halls, Glasgow

German conductor Jun Märkl has a reputation for stylish interpretations of French music: six years at the helm of the Orchestre National de Lyon and a full nine-disc set of Debussy’s orchestral works earned him his solid Gallic stripes. And there were moments during this BBC Scottish Symphony programme of Messiaen and Debussy when those stripes shone through, yet the overall picture never quite lived up.

The concert opened at its best with Messiaen’s rarely-performed Les offrandes oubliées: a bold ‘méditation symphonique’ and (incredibly) the composer’s earliest orchestral work. Märkl’s brush strokes were clear and decisive and the orchestra responded in kind – it made for a striking reminder that musical mysticism doesn’t need to be told in a whisper, nor French orchestral colours always painted through a haze.

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Big Issue column 24

tierkreis

First published in The Big Issue, October 6-14

It began in January with early atonalism, then forged through the spring with the birth of American jazz, the riotous Parisian 1920s, the cabaret music of inter-war Berlin. Now the Southbank Centre’s sprawling survey of 20th century music reaches the 1960s. There’s something of a stylistic explosion over the last weekend of October: music by Berio, Terry Riley and Ornette Coleman; Stockhausen’s hypnotic Stimmung – six singers intoning into microphones while sitting cross-legged in a circle; Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: Space Odyssey with live score performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra; Shostakovich’s 13th Symphony conducted by Yannick Nezet-Seguin; Frank Zappa’s cult classic 200 Motels in a UK premiere that’s more than four decades too late. It’s a heady cross-section, and reflects exactly the point that Alex Ross’s book (the book that inspired the series) conveyed so well: that there can be no single narrative when constructing the story of 20th century music. A healthy range of talks and films set the music in context: look out for lectures on Mods and Brutalism, Gail Zappa discussing her life with Frank, Mersey poets doing their thing and a screening of Yellow Submarine. Maybe when the year is up, festival-goers will take a vote one which decade of music was the headiest. The ’60s would be in with a fighting chance. [Southbank Centre, October 26-27]

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Interview: Speranza Scappucci on conducting Don Giovanni

speranza scappucci

First published in The Herald on 9 October, 2013

There’s been plenty of drama off-stage at Scottish Opera recently, with the shock resignation of the new music director Emmanuel Joel-Hornak and growing concerns over Alex Reedijk’s general steering of the company. Meanwhile preparations have been under way for the season’s opening run of Mozart’s Don Giovanni and there’s no small pressure upon it: now more than ever, Scottish Opera needs to earn some positive headlines and to divert attention back on-stage.

Luckily (for them and us) the new production should do the trick, at least in the short term. Sir Thomas Allen returns to direct for the fourth year running with the same designer (Simon Higlett) who did classy things with The Barber of Seville, The Marriage of Figaro and The Magic Flute. Jacques Imbrailo – the 35-year-old South African baritone who shot to attention as Glyndebourne’s Billy Budd in 2010 – takes on the title role in a cast that also includes Susan Gritton and Scottish soprano Lisa Milne. So far, so strong.

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Interview: James MacMillan on his Third Piano Concerto

james_macmillan

First published in The Herald on 2 October, 2013

The first striking detail about James MacMillan’s new piano concerto is its name: The Mysteries of Light. This is the Scottish composer’s third work for piano and orchestra, and was first performed in 2011 by the Minnesota Orchestra with conductor Osmo Vänskä and pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet. Now Thibaudet joins the Royal Scottish National Orchestra for the concerto’s Scottish premiere on Friday, and I asked MacMillan to talk us through what we should expect of the piece.

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Interview: Sally Beamish on Hagar in the Wilderness

sally beamish

First published in The Herald on 2 October, 2013

St Andrew’s Voices hasn’t even turned two yet, but already the ambitious Fife festival is staging an opera. True, it’s only half-an-hour and involves a cast of three, but it’s a Scottish premiere of a new work by one of Scotland’s leading composers, and it has the makings of a compelling, challenging drama.

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