First published in The Herald on 31 January, 2014
Happy Hogmanay, all, and no better moment to rewind and fast-forward. Reminiscences first. These past 12 months have produced a clutch of unforgettable gems, a few inexcusable flops and an impressive contingent of fine performances. Overall we’re tremendously fortunate for the classical music on our doorsteps, especially those of us who live in the central belt.
As in every corner of the arts, the referendum forced the classical sector to do some mostly useful, occasionally fractious soul-searching. The Commonwealth Games inspired a proud showcase of back-to-back orchestral music. Jonathan Mills bowed out as director of the Edinburgh International Festival by staging his own oratorio. Creative Scotland unveiled a long-term funding strategy that threw several key components of our musical ecosystem into uncertainty. Scottish Opera remained artistically rudderless, appointed no music director and opened its expensive new Theatre Royal lobby extension seven months late.
The Dunedin Consort went from strength to strength with superlative recordings and performances; Delphian Records won best label at the Gramophone Awards. Donald Runnicles turned 60 and announced his decision to stand down as BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra’s chief conductor. The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland gained Jeffrey Sharkey as its new piano-playing, bright-talking principal. James MacMillan launched a festival in his Ayrshire hometown of Cumnock. Sound festival celebrated a decade and made Red Note its ensemble in residence; East Neuk Festival celebrated a decade and launched an annual education residency. Peter Maxwell Davies turned 80, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra turned 40, Live Music Now turned 30. Richard Youngs wrote his first orchestral piece and the BBCSSO premiered it at the second annual Tectonics festival. Karen Cargill released a breathtaking album of songs by Gustav and Alma Mahler; Robin Ticciati and the SCO released an astoundingly good Schumann symphony cycle.
Below are my personal highlights (in no particular order) of another full-throttle year of concerting in Scotland.
Delusion of the Fury at the Edinburgh International Festival. An outlandish and disarmingly moving revival of Harry Partch’s music drama, directed by Heiner Goebbels and joyfully executed by Ensemble MusikFabrik.
Wozzeck at City Halls, Glasgow.An intense and acutely perceptive semi-staging of Berg’s harrowing opera, conducted by Donald Runnicles. Thomas J Mayer was heartbreaking in the title role; the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra provided glittering orchestral commentary.
Vingt regards sur l’enfant Jesus at the Lammermuir Festival. Steven Osborne encompassed all the stillness, muscle, dazzling imagery and subtle wit of Messiaen’s monumental work, while sun streamed through the windows of North Berwick’s Abbey Church and gulls screeched in the background.
Christian Tetzlaff at Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh. The German violinist tackled Schumann’s Violin Concerto with generous, uninhibited charisma and played a mesmerising solo Bach encore. Robin Ticciati and the SCO made ideal accomplices; the chemistry of this conductor-orchestra team is as exciting as ever.
Westerlings at the St Magnus Festival. The BBC Singers gave a fearless performance of Peter Maxwell Davies’s work in a late-night midsummer concert in Kirkwall. I’ll never forget the way those piercing soprano lines resonated around the Norse-medieval vaults of St Magnus Cathedral.
St Matthew Passion at Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh. The Dunedin Consort sounded colourful, lithe and gracefully spacious in Bach’s masterpiece; John Butt conducted with typically fresh, fascinating insight.
Chris Watson at University of Glasgow Concert Hall. One of the world’s leading wildlife sound recordists, Watson staged a surround-sound oceanic mix that amounted to an operatic epic. The cast included a raucous chorus of Shetland coastal birds, chattering Atlantic seals, dolphins and pistol shrimps and male humpback whales singing mating songs of Wagnerian proportions.
Piotr Anderszewski at the Edinburgh International Festival. Always surprising, always poetic, this Polish-Hungarian pianist refuses to moderate his playing into any palatable middle ground. His Edinburgh recital of Bach, Schumann and Szymanowski was brash, gruff and tender in turn.
Erwan Keravec at Sound. The radical Breton bagpiper brought a startling programme of pipes and classical voices to Aberdeen. There was bold singing from Donatienne Michel-Dansac and Vincent Bouchot, while Basque vocalist Benat Achiary improvised around gospel, scat and the poetry of Kenneth White.
Christian Zacharias at East Neuk Festival. A day-long Schubertiad at Crail Church closed with Schubert’s Sonata in B-flat Major, D960. Raging with life and resolve, Zacharias showed us late Schubert at his most candid, conflicted and human.
Looking ahead, most programming has only been announced until summer. Here, then, are key events (in no particular order) of the next eight months.
2015 marks the 500th birthdays of Jean Maillard and John Sheppard, the 80th of Arvo Part and 70th of John Rutter. Major anniversary spotlights go to the twin pillars of Scandinavian post-romanticism, Carl Nielsen and Jean Sibelius, both born 150 years ago. The BBC SSO performs Sibelius’s Seventh Symphony (February 19, Glasgow; February 20, Inverness; February 22, Edinburgh) and Nielsen’s Sixth (March 16, Glasgow). The RSNO performs Sibelius’s Sixth (March 5, Perth; March 6, Edinburgh; March 7, Glasgow), Nielsen’s Fourth (April 30, Aberdeen; May 1, Edinburgh; May 2, Glasgow) and Nielsen’s Violin Concerto with James Ehnes (April 23, Dundee; April 24, Edinburgh; April 25, Glasgow). The SCO puts both composers in the same programme, pairing Sibelius’s Fourth Symphony with Nielsen’s Clarinet Concerto (January 22, Perth; January 23, Glasgow; January 24, Edinburgh).
Tectonics. The third edition of Ilan Volkov’s playfully intrepid festival, co-curated by Alasdair Campbell. (May 1-3, Glasgow).
Mitsuko Uchida. Piano royalty of our age, the great Uchida plays Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G with the SCO and Robin Ticciati. (February 5, Edinburgh; February 6, Glasgow)
Jenufa. Scottish Opera hasn’t mustered many positive headlines in recent seasons, but this new production of Janacek’s beautiful opera has potential. Stuart Stratford conducts, Annilese Miskimmon directs, Lee Bisset sings the title role. (April 7-11, Glasgow; April 16-18, Edinburgh)
Steven Osborne and the BBCSSO complete their cycle of Beethoven piano concertos with the Second; so far the journey has been bold and searching. (March 19, Glasgow; March 20, Perth)
Bruckner’s Fourth. Mark Wigglesworth, director-designate of English National Opera, conducts the BBCSSO in this symphonic titan; the concert also includes Alice Coote and Markus Werba singing songs from Mahler’s Das Knaben Wunderhorn. (March 16, Glasgow; March 17, Aberdeen)
Cottier Chamber Project. The fifth edition of this brilliantly spirited series features pianists Steven Osborne, Susan Tomes and Alasdair Beatson, violinist Alexander Janiczek and horn player Alec Frank-Gemmill. (June 5-26, Glasgow)
East Neuk Festival. Highlights include violinist Hugo Ticciati and a world premiere by John Luther Adams, specially commissioned for multiple horns and performed outdoors in the woodlands of Cambo estate. (June 27 – July 5, Fife)
Edinburgh International Festival. What will Fergus Linehan brings to his first edition as director? Full details of concerts and recitals will be released on February 3; general booking opens March 28. Already announced is a semi-staged performance of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro from Ivan Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra. The 50th anniversary of the Edinburgh Festival Chorus will be celebrated with some major romantic choral repertoire. (August 7-31)
Das Lied von der Erde. Another chance to hear Karen Cargill sing Mahler with the SCO? Yes please. (January 29, Edinburgh; January 30, Glasgow)