The mar­vel­lous range of the Fair City’s fes­ti­val

The Herald - Arts - - OPINION - KEITH BRUCE

WITH the un­veil­ing of the pro­gramme for its 46th event this past week, Perth Fes­ti­val of the Arts has taken an­other step to­wards pre-em­i­nence as Scot­land’s most com­pre­hen­sive sin­gle pan-genre pop­ulist cul­tural event. That may seem a bold claim, but although it is dwarfed in scale by all that hap­pens in Ed­in­burgh, what was orig­i­nally also a clas­si­cal-fo­cused event has moved into other mu­sic to at­tract the widest au­di­ence. While Fer­gus Line­han’s “con­tem­po­rary mu­sic” sec­tion of the EIF con­cen­trates on a par­tic­u­lar strand of that catch-all term, this year’s Perth Fes­ti­val spec­trum of pop and rock runs from The View to Justin Cur­rie, and both are rel­e­vant rather than ran­dom choices.

The clas­si­cal side is still very strong – the ab­sence of Harry Christo­phers’ choir The Six­teen am­ply cov­ered by a recital of Rach­mani­nov and other “Rus­sian Trea­sures” by Tene­brae, the Moscow Phil­har­monic also play­ing an all-Rus­sian pro­gramme with pi­anist Freddy Kempf, Nigel Kennedy do­ing his J S Bach thing, and Nicola Benedetti and pi­anist Alexei Grynyuk the open­ing at­trac­tion. Longserv­ing fes­ti­val ad­min­is­tra­tor San­dra Ral­ston said that the 2017 pro­gramme had been a dif­fi­cult one to pull to­gether, but that ef­fort has been well worth it. Kyle Fal­coner and his co­horts in The View may be a hard-gig­ging out­fit, but the wild Dun­do­nians haven’t played douce Perth in an age.

Del Amitri front­man Justin Cur­rie’s con­nec­tion is through his fa­ther, who di­rected Perth Fes­ti­val Opera from 30 years ago to the start of the mil­len­nium, when it be­came clear that mount­ing its own pro­duc­tions was be­yond the fes­ti­val’s bud­get. Yet in a year when Line­han has pushed the boat out on opera in Ed­in­burgh, Perth’s peren­nial com­mit­ment to the art-form should be noted.

Scot­tish Opera pro­vided its ear­li­est pro­duc­tions be­fore the man whose John Cur­rie Singers had filled the slot Tene­brae will oc­cupy this year stepped up with a Cosi fan tutte in 1988. ScotOp is back on board with its Pop-Up trailer venue and some bite-size Bo­heme and Pi­rates of Pen­zance, but the main stage slot has be­come a rare chance to see the ex­cel­lent English Tour­ing Opera, who are bring­ing Puc­cini’s Tosca to Perth Con­cert Hall this year – a venue where it has pi­o­neered new con­fig­u­ra­tions of its ca­pa­bil­i­ties, in the ab­sence of Perth Theatre, un­der­go­ing ma­jor re­fur­bish­ment. If that has meant less theatre in the Perth pro­gramme of late, the word is that the 2018 event will rem­edy that by be­ing based in the newly re­opened venue.

Mean­while, look again at the mu­si­cal range of this year’s event. Jools Hol­land re­turns once more with his Rhythm and Blues Or­ches­tra and vo­cal­ists Chris Dif­ford (of Squeeze), Ruby Turner and Beth Row­ley.

There is an Ella Fitzger­ald cen­te­nary cel­e­bra­tion by vir­tu­oso gui­tarist Martin Tay­lor with singer Ali­son Burns and a show­case for ris­ing young sax­o­phone star He­lena Kay, al­ready a vet­eran of the Na­tional Youth Jazz Or­ches­tra and Tommy Smith’s Youth Jazz Or­ches­tra and win­ner of the Young Scot­tish Jazz Mu­si­cian in 2015, who hap­pens to be from Perth.

If your taste runs more to mod­ern trad-in­spired mu­sic-mak­ing, how about a triple bill of Rachel Ser­manni, Adam Holmes and The Em­bers, and Treach­er­ous Or­ches­tra?

Al­ter­na­tively there is an all-singing, all-danc­ing recre­ation of Har­lem’s Cot­ton Club in the 1920s or a “Come and Sing” stag­ing of Gil­bert and Sul­li­van’s HMS Pi­nafore with the Lon­don Operetta Com­pany.

Mar­cus Brig­stocke, ab­sent from the cur­rent Glas­gow Com­edy Fes­ti­val, is this year’s stand-up turn, and the vis­ual arts ar­rives in a tented gallery be­side the con­cert hall, cu­ra­tor Hugh Gor­ing’s an­nual ArTay ex­hi­bi­tion em­blem­atic of the fes­ti­val as a whole in its eclec­tic mix of styles, me­dia, and price tags.

In the back­ground to all this is Perth’s bid to be UK City of Cul­ture in 2021. In Scot­tish cul­tural cir­cles, the re­ceived wis­dom seems to be that Pais­ley is the Cale­do­nian horse to back, press­ing its case for us­ing the arts as con­duit to re­gen­er­a­tion fol­low­ing on from Derry/ Lon­don­derry and Hull, and the model cre­ated by Glas­gow when it was made Euro­pean City of Cul­ture in 1990.

That ar­gu­ment has it that the Fair City is sim­ply us­ing the bid­ding process to put the City Halls far­rago in the past, cre­at­ing a cul­tural use for that site, and win the re­turn of the Stone of Destiny as a tourist-at­tract­ing gain along the way. But some book­ies are giv­ing Perth the edge, and in both cases – per­haps in all these com­pe­ti­tions – the bid­ding process may well be the most im­por­tant as­pect of the whole deal.

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