MacMil­lan and friends mak­ing Cum­nock the meet­ing place for mu­sic

The Herald - Arts - - OPINION - KEITH BRUCE

FROM a dis­tance – per­haps 400 miles away, where they tend to be fear­fully judge­men­tal – it may have looked a lit­tle like a van­ity project, and even up-close it can ap­pear to be a one-man op­er­a­tion, al­though those in the know are clear that the role of his wife Lynne should never be un­der­es­ti­mated. But, of course, if Sir James MacMil­lan had wanted to start a fes­ti­val to bur­nish his own halo, it would have been daft to do it in Cum­nock, even if that is where the cou­ple hail from.

The Cum­nock Tryst, the third edi­tion of which was launched this week and takes place in and around the East Ayr­shire town from September 29 to October 2, is far from all about MacMil­lan, even if his drive brought it into be­ing and sus­tains it, and it will, once again, in­clude the premiere of a new work from his pen (al­beit a niche piece, for con­tra­bass clar­inet soloist Scott Ly­gate, at Dum­fries House as part of the clos­ing event on Sun­day). In the short time since he dreamt it up, how­ever, the event has found a form and a cir­cle of friends that look sus­tain­ing in the long term. The most prom­i­nent of th­ese is Ayr­shire lass Ni­cola Benedetti, as pa­tron and par­tic­i­pant, who this year brings her trio with cel­list part­ner Leonard Elschen­broich and pi­anist Alexei Grynyuk to Trin­ity Church in the town to play Ravel, Tur­nage and Brahms. This may be the def­i­ni­tion of a hot ticket. But the event has also forged a part­ner­ship with one of the world’s top cham­ber choirs – and, far from co­in­ci­den­tally, es­teemed per­form­ers of MacMil­lan’s choral mu­sic – The Six­teen, with singer and con­duc­tor Ea­monn Dougan di­rect­ing the Cum­nock fes­ti­val’s own new cho­rus and Gen­e­sis Six­teen, the train­ing academy for young singers that has quickly be­come a root into the main ensemble, bring new young tal­ent to the event. It has also be­come part of the an­nual mix that Cum­nock Tryst cel­e­brates the area’s her­itage – this year the min­ing in­dus­try’s Barony A Frame and Cum­nock’s Bell Tree – and in­cludes tra­di­tional mu­sic – singer Jackie Oates on the Satur­day night at the Dum­fries Arms Ho­tel – as well as the lighter side of singing, with the same venue wel­com­ing a re­turn visit by the won­der­fully-acronymed Cum­nock Area Mu­si­cal Pro­duc­tion So­ci­ety (CAMPS). There is also a com­mit­ment to ed­u­ca­tion and to work­ing with peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties and learn­ing dif­fi­cul­ties, this year link­ing with Drake Mu­sic Scot­land and Clarence Adoo and John Kenny in the Headspace group at Cum­nock Academy.

All of which is not a mil­lion miles away from the model of the St Mag­nus Fes­ti­val, es­tab­lished, of course, by another com­pos­ing knight, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. As that event now an­nu­ally draws the faith­ful to Orkney (about 250 miles fur­ther from the fear­fully judge­men­tal), it is not that fan­ci­ful to sug­gest that the Cum­nock Tryst is well on the road to es­tab­lish­ing it­self as a “des­ti­na­tion event”, as they say in the tourism busi­ness, ap­peal­ing to a con­stituency well beyond fans of con­tem­po­rary com­po­si­tion alone. The coun­try­side you have no op­tion but travel through to reach Cum­nock was look­ing very lovely in­deed on Wed­nes­day evening. Look out for it ex­pand­ing beyond the main week­end too, with what MacMil­lan de­scribed as “up­beats” whet­ting the ap­petite be­tween now and then, be­gin­ning with a visit by the Elysian Singers to St John’s in Cum­nock on June 9. Con­tra­dict­ing my li­bel above, Sam Laughton’s choir is, I should be clear, Lon­don-based.

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