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The Herald - Arts - - Arts - Keith Bruce

To­mor­row in Ed­in­burgh’s Usher Hall and onMon­day at Glas­gow Royal Con­cert Hall, the Ray­mond Gub­bay Christ­mas Fes­ti­val be­gins. Happy Hanukkah, Mr Gub­bay – an im­pre­sario who pro­vides more mu­sic over the fes­tive sea­son than any­one else.

The con­certs are, to be sure, the familiar mix: carols by can­dle­light; an opera gala; Rus­sian mu­sic; big band nights, but Gub­bay’s pro­mo­tions an­nexe the main con­cert halls in Scot­land’s main pop­u­la­tion cen­tres be­cause the for­mat is very pop­u­lar. It is a phe­nom­e­non my col­league Michael Tumelty has mon­i­tored closely as it has grown and as usual he will be re­view­ing a se­lec­tion. It is also a style that has been aped by the sub­sidised sec­tor. Gub­bay is in the front rank of those who de­cry “sub­sidy junkies” in the arts, but that has not de­terred those in re­ceipt of gov­ern­ment money from fol­low­ing his ex­am­ple. Nor has it stopped Gub­bay him­self us­ing the sub­sidised Royal Scot­tish Na­tional Orches­tra in the past for his Christ­mas con­certs (th­ese days the orches­tra’s own pro­mo­tions ap­pear among the Gub­bay dates).

The im­por­tant con­sid­er­a­tion, of course, is not the na­ture of what is be­ing pre­sented, but its qual­ity. Box of­fice re­ceipts for Gub­bay’s sea­son would not be so im­pres­sive if the con­certs were not slickly pre­sented and the per­for­mances (vari­able though they can be) of­ten very good in­deed. Mr Gub­bay is no snake-oil sales­man and his re­cent ap­pear­ance on Ra­dio 4’s peren­nial Desert Is­land Discs was con­se­quently of par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est.

Th­ese days, of course, Desert Is­land Discs is of­ten far from the pro­gramme its cre­ator Roy Plom­ley would recog­nise. Things have moved on since 1942 and­mu­sic of all hues is now se­lected by the cast­aways. Gub­bay, how­ever, pro­duced a pro­gramme that was as “clas­sic” a show as you could hope to hear. The discs made for a roll-call of the most fa­mous names from opera and classical mu­sic: Cal­las and Sch­warzkopf, Menuhin and the Ber­lin Phil, Beethoven, Puc­cini, Mozart and Verdi. Bless him, even his lux­ury – an es­presso ma­chine – showed no signs of ec­cen­tric­ity.

Yet, as pre­sen­ter Kirsty Young pointed out, there is some­thing ar­rest­ing about the Gub­bay life story. Born just af­ter the Se­condWorldWar, of the gen­er­a­tion that be­came the first teenagers, for him Elvis and The Bea­tles never hap­pened. When his con­tem­po­raries all dis­cov­ered rock’n’roll, he spent his youth go­ing to con­certs in the Gold­ers Green Hip­po­drome, then went on to pro­duce draw­ing room en­ter­tain­ments of Vi­en­nese mu­sic and Gil­bert and Sul­li­van.

He must have been thought an elit­ist in his tastes by his peers, yet to­day he is the quin­tes­sen­tial pop­ulist. Is that ap­par­ent con­tra­dic­tion just a ques­tion of chang­ing times or is there more to it than that?

Most ob­vi­ously, there needs to be a clear dis­tinc­tion, now as then, be­tween artis­tic elitism and so­cial elitism. The lat­ter is sim­ply snob­bery and of­ten man­i­fests it­self in a con­de­scend­ing cu­rios­ity about any­thing that at­tracts a mass au­di­ence, from a po­si­tion of never hav­ing been part of one. Artis­tic elitism is an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of ex­cel­lence and an un­will­ing­ness to be fobbed off with the ill-con­sid­ered or the sec­ond rate. The route to the sec­ond is pri­mar­ily ed­u­ca­tion, not class, yet it is not un­usual to hear ap­par­ently ed­u­cated peo­ple con­fuse the two; con­demn­ing ar­tis­ti­cally ap­pre­cia­tive peo­ple for snooti­ness and the less well off for philis­tin­ism.

Gub­bay il­lus­trated where he stood when Young asked him how he chose what to pro­duce. He be­gan by say­ing some­thing about giv­ing the peo­ple what they want but quickly qual­i­fied that with “what he wanted to hear him­self”. There you have it: he is for­tu­nate, skilled, and ed­u­cated enough to have the taste to recog­nise work that is worth shar­ing. There was, of course, not a se­lec­tion among Gub­bay’s Desert Is­land eight that was less than top notch. Two of them, per­haps tellingly, are now avail­able on in­dus­tryrev­o­lu­tion­is­ing bud­get la­bel Naxos at £5.99 each. See­dio4 for de­tails.

Ray­mond Gub­bay’s Scot­tish con­cert sea­son be­gins to­mor­row at the Usher Hall, Ed­in­burgh with a carol con­cert and runs through to Strauss Galas at Glas­gow Royal Con­cert Hall on Jan­uary 13 and 14

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