Leger lines

The Herald - Arts - - Arts - Con­rad Wil­son

When a new work has been been suc­cess­fully launched, your first thought must be to won­der how soon it will be be­fore you hear it again. But if you are cyn­i­cal, or merely re­al­is­tic, you know that the de­sired re­peat may never hap­pen. The chances are that not only you, but those who have never heard it at all, will be de­prived of it for ever.

Yet there was a time in Scot­land when sub­se­quent per­for­mances hap­pened more of­ten. The pe­riod co­in­cided with the first great surge of Scot­tish tal­ent, when Scot­tish Opera was still young and the Scot­tish Na­tional Orches­tra per­formed new Scot­tish mu­sic as a mat­ter of course, not just through a sense of duty, or be­cause it had a con­duc­tor (Alexan­der Gib­son) who be­lieved in it. Dis­il­lu­sioned com­posers who had moved else­where to try their luck were en­ticed to com­pose again for Scot­land. Res­i­dent com­posers knew that at last they had a chance to hear their own mu­sic on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. What had been long es­tab­lished in Hol­land, Scan­di­navia and other Euro­pean out­posts was sud­denly hap­pen­ing here.

Sadly, it didn’t last. To hear any of that mu­sic, first per­formed 30 or 40 years ago, is now at best a mat­ter of luck. No mat­ter how good it was, most of it has gone, to be re­placed by what is new in­stead of be­ing built firmly into an ex­pand­ing Scot­tish reper­toire. Thus we have been de­prived of Iain Hamil­ton’s hal­lu­ci­na­tory, Shelley-in­spired Alas­tor, Robin Orr’s co­gent Sym­phony in OneMove­ment, Martin Dalby’s Tower of Vic­tory, Ken­neth Leighton’s ques­tion­ing Sin­fo­nia Mis­tica, Thomas Wil­son’s early sym­phonies and Thea Mus­grave’s zany Cham­ber Con­certo No 2, to men­tion just a few works wor­thy of be­ing heard again. Adding opera to the list, we may won­der why Hamil­ton’s Cati­line Con­spir­acy, Mus­grave’s Mary, Queen of Scots and Orr’s Full Cir­cle have never been brought back.

When Ed­ward Harper’s Sym­phony No 2, an im­por­tant new work by a ma­ture Ed­in­burgh-based com­poser, was pre­miered by the Scot­tish Cham­ber Orches­tra last month, it could have been an oc­ca­sion for the plan­ning of a Harper ret­ro­spec­tive. But where was his fine Sym­phony No 1, fas­ci­nat­ingly in­spired by the slow open­ing tread of El­gar’s Sym­phony No 1? Launched in 1979, it has sunk with­out trace. Where was his ex­hil­a­rat­ing or­ches­tral show­piece, Bar­tok Games, and where, above all, was his Fanny Robin, that terse, at­mo­spheric, ro­man­tic trib­ute to Thomas Hardy? A dou­ble-bill of this and Orr’s Full Cir­cle, a sharp op­er­atic trans­for­ma­tion of Syd­ney Good­sir Smith’s lit­tle thriller about Cly­de­side poverty be­tween the wars, would suit the RSAMD’s opera school to a nicety.

In Scot­tish mu­sic there is a black hole into which too many fine works have dropped, with­out hope, it would seem, of ex­ca­va­tion. Since sev­eral of the com­posers are now dead, and oth­ers have aban­doned com­pos­ing, any prospect that their for­tunes will change is fast di­min­ish­ing. Yet Mus­grave’s clar­inet, horn and vi­ola con­cer­tos, and her vividly re­source­ful Con­certo for Orches­tra are 20th-cen­tury clas­sics that are now too rarely given an air­ing (though the Na­tional Youth Orches­tra of Scot­land has proved help­ful here). Even works com­mis­sioned by Scot­land from com­posers of other na­tion­al­i­ties – Lu­ciano Be­rio’s com­pelling study in ar­rested mo­tion (typ­i­cally en­ti­tled Still), Birtwistle’s ex­quis­ite Me­len­co­lia II for clar­inet, harp and strings, and the des­o­late beauty of Peter Maxwell Davies’s Stone Litany, stand badly in need of re­vival.

So what can be done? If the BBC Scot­tish Sym­phony Orches­tra, from its new power base in Glas­gow City Hall, were to seize the ini­tia­tive, oth­ers might fol­low. Ed­in­burgh Con­tem­po­rary Arts Trust and the He­brides Ensem­ble, fill­ing the gap left by Ed­ward Harper’s now de­funct New Mu­sic Group of Scot­land, could do some­thing on be­half of lost cham­ber mu­sic. A slot in the Ed­in­burgh Fes­ti­val could surely be found by our new artis­tic di­rec­tor. If other coun­tries far from the Euro­pean main­stream – think of Fin­land or Nor­way – can do this sort of thing on be­half of their own mu­si­cians, then why can’t we?

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.