First published in The Herald on 10 September, 2014
The classical music industry loves nothing more than an anniversary. The bicentenary of Verdi’s birth, 40 years since the founding of this choir or that – it’s the backbone of festival programming, the go-to pretext for indulging in nerdy corners of the repertoire. Needless to say, some anniversaries are worth celebrating more than others. Peter Maxwell Davies, Scotland’s greatest living composer, turned 80 earlier this week; given that he was diagnosed with leukemia last year and told he had six weeks to live, this is a birthday that deserves every one of the commemoration concerts it is getting, from Venice to Moscow to Kirkwall.
First published in The Herald on 3 September, 2014
François Leleux became principal oboe of the Paris Opera at 18. Even in France, the country whose woodwind tradition is reputedly the best in the world, such a young appointment made waves. Leleux went on to top positions at the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. He became a great soloist, an active chamber musician, a committed teacher, and he has recently been spending increasing amounts of his time conducting around the world. “My aim is to embrace music with as large an angle as possible,” he says. “Think about the renaissance: we should all be painting paintings, inventing instruments… I think that being just an oboist is not quite enough.”
First published in the Guardian on 1 September, 2014
It was always an audacious move for Jonathan Mills – the Australian composer who stands down as director of the Edinburgh International Festival this year – to devote half of the last concert of his last festival to a large-scale work of his own. Sandakan Threnody (2004) is an oratorio for symphony orchestra, chorus and tenor soloist. The name refers to a Japanese prisoner of war camp in Borneo where many Australians, including Mills’ father, were incarcerated during WWII. Its texts include Psalm 130 and excerpts from Anna Akhmatova’s Requiem and Randolph Stow’s Outrider anthology.
First published in The Herald on 1 September, 2014
Liszt’s Transcendental Studies are a colossal undertaking for any pianist. They are a catalogue of showmanship, an encyclopedia of technical challenges from double octaves to frenzied scales to the kind of finger action that sounds like several hands must be pummelling the keyboard all at once. They are physically and musically unrelenting; to sit through all twelve in a row is a big ask for the listener, let alone the performer.