First published in The Herald on 10 March, 2014
â€œI guess I’m just a natural multi-tasker,â€ says Iain Burnside as he downs a coffee and finishes telling me about overlapping key structures in Rachmaninov’s collected songs. â€œI like using different parts of my brain,â€ he shrugs. â€œIf I do nothing but play concerts I go crazy.â€
Burnside is a Glaswegian pianist, teacher, radio presenter, writer, programmer and â€“ well, what else, Iain? â€œOh I don’t know,â€ he says with exaggerated coyness. â€œI suppose you’d have to add playwright to the list.â€ Indeed: he has written several theatre pieces for students at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama â€“ one about Britten, one about Brahms and Clara Schumann, one about Ivor Gurney. The Gurney script, A solider and a Maker, has now been commissioned as a radio play for BBC Radio 3 and will be broadcast this summer.
First published in The Big Issue, 10-16 March, 2014
The Hilliard Ensemble turn 40 this year, and also hang up their boots. Three out of four members of the all-male vocal group are nearing retirement. Their iconic sound â€“ sparse and mystical, timeless and immediate, piercing and shrouded in cool ECM reverb â€“ would be near impossible to reconstruct with a new set of singers. So they’ve set an end date. Their last concert will be on 20 December, 2014, at London’s Wigmore Hall. Until then they tour the world showcasing the special brand of eclecticism that they’ve made their own â€“ ‘quintessentially Hilliard’, they’re calling it. Whether or not their collaboration with Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek back in early 1990s kick-started the ‘cross-over’ fad is a thorny point â€“ who really wants that dubious honour? â€“ but there’s no question that the Hilliards trod new ground as they roamed between ancient and contemporary, jazz and plainchant, the sacred and the very secular. Hear them while you still can: in Glasgow and Aberdeen (March 14 and 15 with Garbarek); in London (March 27; music by Arvo Part and Gavin Bryars) and in Leeds (March 27; a rare all-early programme of Sheryngham, Cornysh and PÃ©rotin).
First published in The Herald on 5 March, 2014
The Proud Bassoon. That’s the name of a new album of baroque chamber music from the Irish bassoonist Peter Whelan and Ensemble Marsyas. There is no exclamation mark, no hint of irony. The cover art shows an elegant 18th century chap holding an elegant 18th century wooden instrument. The text is in unapologetic lime green. Because ‘proud’, Whelan explains, is an adjective that was once regularly applied to the instrument.
â€œMost people nowadays associate a bassoon with extreme or funny music: the strangled opening of The Rite of Spring, Mickey Mouse in The Sorcererâ€™s Apprentice, the grandfather in Peter and the Wolf. There’s an episode of The Simpsons in which Mr Burns is portrayed by a bassoon (Homer is a tuba). In German the instrument is called a faggot. In English the word sounds like buffoon or baboon. Let’s face it: we’re an easy target.â€
First published in the Guardian on 1 March, 2014
City Halls, Glasgow
Steven Osborne is currently making his way through Beethoven’s piano concertos with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and conductor Andrew Manze, and if one quality has headlined the cycle so far it has been his unerring, unassuming, often revelatory sense of clarity. There’s been plenty else to admire, too â€“ the thoughtful invention of his Fourth, the blithe spark of his Emperor. But above all he and Manze seem to share a touch that’s lucid, fresh and brilliantly plain-speaking.
First published in The Big Issue, February 24 – March 2
Half a century has passed since the early music revolution kicked off. Like many revolutions, the changes didn’t come overnight. And like many revolutions, what began as a rebuke of the mainstream ended up more-or-less becoming it. Starting in the 1950s and gaining force through the ’60s and ’70s, crusaders like William Christie and Ton Koopman, John Eliot Gardner and Christopher Hogwood ushered in a new era of fresh, vigorous performance. They overhauled the way we expect to hear music from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries â€“ in fact, their stripped-down sounds and general inquisitiveness raised the game across all classical music. The movement made it impossible to ignore questions around authenticity: what a composer might have wanted, how musicians might have played.