The Scotsman

What’s on our minds this week

- Jerry v jour­nal­ism an­drew ea­ton-lewis sue Wil­son Ken­neth Wal­ton Arts · Glasgow · Glasgow School of Art · United Kingdom · Musselburgh · Edinburgh · St Andrews · Scotland · Birmingham (England) · Genghis Khan · Igor Stravinsky

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 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.

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