Festival Folk 2015: Malcolm Martineau

Malcolm Martineau is the world’s most rock-steady pianist, a flawless scene setter in song recitals, a perfect gentleman at the keyboard. “Malcolm? He’s a bloody genius,” the baritone Florian Boesch once told me. “He’s the most empathetic co-musician I can imagine. His sense of anticipation is unique. The kind of mutual response we have is like ping-pong; after a while it’s more reflex than conscious reaction. I accompany him as much as he accompanies me.” Malcolm has been a mainstay of the Queen’s Hall morning series for years; born in Edinburgh, he says the city will forever be under his skin. I met him on stage the day before he gave a breathtaking performance with the mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly at this year’s festival.

Part of the Edinburgh International Festival series Festival Folk, in partnership with Sinfini Music
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Festival Folk 2015: Donald Macleod

Published by Sinfini on 20 August, 2015

No voice in classical music broadcasting is more iconic than that of Donald Macleod. ‘Hello, and welcome to Composer of the Week': that gorgeously sing-song, softly authoritative greeting every weekday at noon since as long as I can remember. Macleod grew up in Scotland and he comes to the Edinburgh International Festival every year to present concerts for BBC Radio 3. Some are recorded at the Usher Hall, but most are broadcast live from the morning recital series at the Queen’s Hall. For listeners who can’t make it in the flesh because of geography or work commitments, mobility problems or ticket costs, these broadcasts are a way of dipping into that special Queen’s Hall live atmosphere.

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Festival Folk 2015: David O’Neil

Published by Sinfini on 10 August, 2015

David (‘Davy’) O’Neil is quite literally the man behind the scenes. He runs the festival’s equipment warehouse – think lighting rigs, extension cables, ladders and a heck of a lot of gaffer tape. His team includes electricians, carpenters, couriers and a particularly skilled lurcher-deerhound cross called Rudi. They definitely do not hold competitive forklift races around the warehouse floor. Out back, Davy has an allotment of several raised beds and inside he keeps a beer-stocked fridge and a couple of guitars for when the long hours of loading up vans need some light relief. Things were calm when I visited, but I still managed to get a quick tune out of him.

Festival Folk 2015: Jaqi Armstrong

Jaqi has been a festival driver for 13 years. Key character trait for the job? She’s unflappable, cool-headed, utterly capable. She’s a retired NHS lab technician and a terrific gardener — her house is a haven of wild flowers on the edge of the Braid Hills. She can stay serene when Edinburgh roads are thronged with tourists come mid-August. She can bake wonders, which keeps the festival office sugared up when things get tense. She can chat for Scotland, which makes her one of the best-loved drivers in the team. During the festival she’s at the wheel for up to eight hours a day, happily picking up artists from the airport at early o’clock and ferrying whole ensembles between hotels and rehearsals. She sees it all: the pre-concert nerves, the post-concert highs and lows, the secret off-stage arguments and affairs. Her rule is that what’s said in the car stays in the car — so I went for a ride in that car to find out more.

Published by Sinfini on 10 August, 2015

Bartók’s Budapest


In Budapest this week I stopped by the Bartók Archívum, a small municipal office in the Castle district of Buda. I hadn’t called ahead and the collection of original manuscripts was guarded like a state secret, but a solemn musicologist showed me this cabinet full of first editions and somehow that was thrilling enough.


Later, I hired a clunky tourist bike and meandered out through the suburbs of Buda to where Bartók lived in this house from 1930-1939 – it was his last home in Hungary before emigrating to the USA. Inside is a tiny exhibition of personal belongings that includes the chanter he bought in Glasgow and a souvenir matchbox from Edinburgh. Couldn’t help thinking how chuffed Erik Chisholm would have been to know the chanter is still here.

Thoughts on EIF 2015 classical music launch

First published in the Guardian on 3 February 2015

Fergus Linehan held his first programme launch as new director of the Edinburgh International Festival this morning. Dressed in a dapper tweed suit, hair smartly side-parted, the Irishman looked fresh and sounded fresher. “There have been bets on whether my presentation style will be as short as Brian McMaster or as long as Jonathan Mills,” he said, referencing his two immediate predecessors. The opening gambit earned a cheerful laugh from the gathered great and good of Scotland’s arts world. Linehan is easy to like; he starts the job with plenty of good will behind him.
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