First published in the Guardian on 13 October, 2014
Symphonic Mahler isn’t exactly home territory for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra: this is a band that made its name playing elegant, vivacious classicism, surely worlds apart from furrowed-browed late romanticism. Or is it? Since the arrival of Robin Ticciati as principal conductor the SCO has been treading new ground without ever losing sight of its starting point. This performance of Mahler’s Fourth had traces of other recent projects: the acute detail and vivid colours of the orchestra’s Berlioz recordings, the grand sweep and expressive depth of its Schumann symphony cycle. Yet it was vintage SCO, too, with the orchestra’s heritage etched into every poised phrase, every uncluttered tutti.
First published in The Herald on 8 October, 2014
What does sneezewort sound like? A bit slimy. Lichen? Think intertwining, symbiotic melodies. Waxcap mushrooms? Plain murky. Cellist Sonia Cromarty and violinist Alice Rickards of the string duo High Heels and Horse Hair have commissioned eight Scottish composers to write music about local wild flowers. The likes of David Fennessy, Judith Weir and Eddie McGuire have contributed scores that depict the St Kilda dandelion (remote, resilient, unadorned), the sundew (deceptively pretty) and the humble clover (idyllic, bucolic and ever so slightly hallucinogenic).
First published in the Guardian on 6 October, 2014
It’s tenuous to describe a country’s contemporary music ‘sound’ – most likely there are umpteen – and even more tenuous to ascribe that sound to landscape. But this BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra concert of new Icelandic works revealed a pronounced shared aesthetic among some, at least, of the country’s rising young composers. And call me prescriptive, but with their expansive vistas, subterranean rumbles, pale textures and chilly microtonal clusters, images of geysers and icy tundra were never far from the imagination.
First published in The Herald on 6 October, 2014
This was the opening concert of James MacMillan’s brand new festival, The Cumnock Tryst. Besuited and beaming, the composer greeted his home audience at the door and gave his welcome address from the pulpit. St John’s was the church where he was baptised (as were his parents and grandparents) and where he played the organ as a teenager. “It all began here,” he said. “The Cumnock Tryst is my way of giving something back.”
First published in The Herald on 4 October, 2014
“I refuse to get too bogged down in the business of being a singer,” says Karen Cargill, internationally-renown Scottish mezzo soprano. We’re talking about how she manages to keep her cool on the world’s biggest stages. “Let’s face it” – she leans over the table, whispering like a naughty secret. “Basically, I’m just a musician who stands up there and delivers words and melody. I don’t save the world, I don’t save lives. I try to give people something for however long I’m on stage. Some listeners might hate it, some might love it, but they’ll all have had an experience and that’s art. That’s what we do.”
First published in The Herald on 1 October, 2014
Susannah Wapshott is unfazeable. She has to be: as staff répétiteur for Scottish Opera, her role translates to quick-fire knowledge of pretty much every aspect of the opera business. Wapshott can sing a decent approximation of any vocal part and sight-read full orchestral scores at the piano. She can coach singers, direct chorus rehearsals, shadow movement directors, fine-tune diction in several languages. She can provide a shoulder for singers to cry on in rehearsals and nerves of steel in performances. And she can conduct. “An almighty multi-tasker,” she calls herself. “A jack of all trades. A blagger who has to convince everyone, including myself.”
First published in the Guardian on 26 September, 2014
There’s a mini Shostakovich strand to the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra’s new season, with performances of the Fifth and Fifteenth symphonies coming up in the next few months. The opening concert was a brawny all-Russian affair that culminated in a gripping account of the Tenth Symphony. The collective focus, drive and dynamism of the playing only confirmed what has been clear for some time: that under its chief conductor Donald Runnicles, this orchestra really is outstanding.