What’s on our minds this week
in Glasgow. Before, it was a popular hangout for the city’s artistic community, just a couple of minute’s walk from Glasgow School of Art; afterwards, it was an ugly, oppressive space with a cafe rather than a gallery at its centre (and not the kind of cheap and cheerful one that artists can actually afford to eat in). Looking more like a soulless corporate venue than somewhere you’d want to make or see art, it soon became an empty shell of a building and, for a while, looked as if it might close. A similar thing happened to Tramway – a major arts venue with so little artistic activity going on in it that the City Council wanted to hand it over to Scottish Ballet and, sacrilege, let the company use one of Britain’s most striking exhibition spaces for storage. Only a noisy campaign from the city’s artists prevented this happening. A combination of Scottish Ballet’s activities, NVA’s Hidden Garden, a family-friendly cafe, and the Work Room dance studio, now gives enough people a reason to visit the building for it to continue to prosper. But it could have worked out very differently.
In Musselburgh, meanwhile, the Brunton Theatre, only recently given a £3.4 million refurbishment, is now to lose £50,000 in funding over the next two years. As theatre trustee Roger Knox told the Edinburgh Evening News at the weekend, what is the point of spending millions redesigning a building if you then sabotage its chances of building an audience?
Now, all of the examples listed above are different situations, but there is a pattern here – a lack of joined-up thinking. Building shiny new arts venues is all very well, but these places only survive if they have a strong sense of purpose and identity, with artists at the centre of everything they do. The Byre had that once, and the vigorous campaign to save it suggests that, in recognising what it is in danger of losing, the people of St Andrews will do whatever it takes to save it. Sometimes it takes an emergency to remind you of what’s important. JERRY Sadowitz rarely gives interviews, and it’s easy to see why. This week, exasperated at what he saw as a series of lazy and banal questions from the British Comedy Guide, he gave the writer hell.
Here’s his sign-off: “Of all the stupid questions so far, this one is particularly annoying and irrelevant and when I meet you, I propose to write it down on cardboard and nail it to your face.” Recognising comedy gold-dust when they saw it, the Guide published his answers in full. Good for them. Read it at www.comedy.co.uk THERE can surely be few other places than Celtic Connections that could muster a crowd of several hundred for a midweek double bill of traditionally-based Nordic and Mongolian music. Similarly, it said much for the interconnectivity of today’s folk scene – and Scotland’s position as an international hub – that the Finnish/Norwegian sevenpiece Frigg included an Asturian tune in their set, learned firsthand a few years back at the Shetland Folk Festival.
With their four-fiddle frontline, backed by cittern/ mandolin, guitar and double bass, Frigg’s densely layered blend of traditional, contemporary and original material achieved a glorious synergy between hurricane- IT’S taken over two years for James MacMillan’s Oboe Concerto to make it to Scotland. Premiered in Birmingham in 2010 by the Britten Sinfonia, with the work’s dedicatee Nicholas Daniel as soloist, questions were asked then whether any other oboist could ever equally be up to the task, given the astonishing virtuosity of the solo writing and Daniel’s own precocious dexterity.
Step up French oboist François Leleux, who proved last night with conductor Thierry Fischer and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in the concerto’s Scottish premiere, that he was not only able to stamp his own distinctive character on it, but that the work, itself, is one of dazzling quality and originality.
Over an opening seedbed of layered ostinati, the oboe force momentum and technical virtuosity, weaving Celtic, Balkan and Americana strands in amongst their polkas, quadrilles and halling tunes.
Anda Union, an eightmember ensemble, draws on Inner and Outer Mongolian traditions “from all the tribes that Genghis Khan unified”. At least half a dozen equally otherworldly styles of overtone or throat-singing were on display, together with a quartet of horse-headed string instruments roughly analogous to the western fiddle family, plus bass drums, bells and flutes. A lively drinking song bowled along to an Irish-sounding melody; a musical canter across the grasslands resonated with a country twang, and two vocalists’ soaring, undulating delivery carried faint echoes of quawwali singing – all evoking yet more connections where you least expect them. straightaway assumes the initiative in an outburst of liquid virtuosity that is dance-like, ever sidestepping attempts by the orchestra to rock the boat.
That interplay creates a dynamic sense of theatre – on the one hand, bullish comments from the brass and wind, invasive and petulant, laced with the belligerent MacMillan fingerprint; on the other, eerily clustered violin harmonics, enticing the oboe from its lyrically grounded presence, but never genuinely succeeding.
Leleux’s performance was mesmerising, colouring the slow movement with a cool hint of reflective introspection, only to be thrown instantly aside by the clownish thrills and spills of the finale.
His exquisite Gluck encore sealed the deal.
The same programme, also featuring Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite and Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony, is repeated in Edinburgh tonight and Glasgow tomorrow.