First published in The Herald on 2 March, 2016
In the great hall at Stirling Castle, one of the wooden portraits peering down from the ceiling has a discreet halo of zeros, ones and twos. When the carving was restored in the late 1990s it was hailed as the earliest surviving instrumental notation in Scotland — binary code for the kind of harp music that might have entertained James V and his 16th century court. But was it strictly a tune? Those cryptic numbers probably represent a bass line above which musicians would have improvised: in other words, the melody was up for discussion but the bass line was worth carving for posterity.
First published in the Guardian on 29 February, 2016
It was a night of many tributes from the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. Sally Beamish turns 60 this year and Anthony Payne turns 80; both composers were at City Halls to hear his blazingly symphonic Time’s Arrow and her thorny and lachrymose Second Cello Concerto. James MacMillan dedicated his little motet Hodie Puer Nascitur to conductor Martyn Brabbins, and Brabbins dedicated the concert’s opener, Joybox, to its recently deceased composer John McCabe — who wrote it in memory of Steve Martland. Basically there was a lot of collegiate love in the room.