Mike Vickers' Blog

March 10, 2019

Continental Drift with the Scottish Ensemble

Filed under: 'Moot' Local Decision Making, Brexit, Europe, Music, Scottish Ensemble, Uncategorized — derryvickers @ 9:57 pm

An Across Continents Concert this afternoon.

The Scottish Ensemble joined forces with three Europeans playing instruments new to us: a santoor from India, a stringed percussion instrument; a zarb, a kind of drum from Persia; a baglama, a stringed instrument from Turkey; a lyra, a very small cello from Greece and frame drums.

Santoor

Baglama

Zarb

Lyra

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The European music spanned from Hildegard von Bingen in the 12th century through Purcell to Bartok in the 20th but the programme included music from the eastern Mediterranean, Turkey and India. The players playing the frame drums used just their fingers to achieve a remarkable sustained rhythm.

Frame Drum

 

 

 

All the players joined in to all pieces. An exciting sound experience

 

 

 

 

The concert was entitled Continental Drift and we could see why. I can only hope that these European players with their novel instruments will still be allowed into Scotland post Brexit.

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March 7, 2019

Red Note at the RCS

Filed under: Brexit, Immigration, Music, Red Note, Royal Scottish Conservatoire — derryvickers @ 11:57 pm

Red Note performs the established classics of contemporary music, commissions new music, develops the work of new and emerging composers and performers from Scotland and around the world and finds new spaces and new ways of performing contemporary music to attract new audiences”. So says the blurb on the programme for tonight’s concert at the Royal Scottish Conservatoire, Glasgow (RCS).

They did all of that tonight, working with MusicLab; “MusicLab is the RCS’s student ensemble dedicated to performing music of the twentieth and twenty first centuries”; also, from the blurb.

Six RCS student pieces: Coachman Chronos, Snapdragon, Daethletics, Nikuda, Turbulences and Die Stucke der Windrose.

The pieces were played by a combination of Red Notes and MusicLab players. We know, Robert Irvine, cello, the principal player of Red Note having met him at Loch Ossian Youth Hostel; he fished while we walked. But this was the first time, from our view point, that Maximiliano Martin, clarinet, from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra joined the group.

The music was great, and I can only hope that the composers will go far, as will the MusicLab players. RCS takes students from across the world and I hope that this is not affected by Brexit. To me, one of the best ways for Scotland to be in the forefront of the world, is by attracting students to Scotland; they will go home knowing one other good country as well as their own.

March 6, 2019

Goethe’s Advice

Filed under: Literature, Music, Strindberg, Writing — derryvickers @ 10:47 pm

Further to my blog earlier today

Every day at least to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words” – Goethe

Well this evening it was August Strindberg’s Miss Julie at the Studio Edinburgh (the Studio is a little theatre at the back of the Festival Theater) put on by Perth Theatre.

More than a little song and if possible, a few reasonable words.

Miss Julie is 1.5 hours of hard listening and viewing; very much in the style of Ibsen and Chekhov though much more direct and painful; Miss Julie cuts her throat in the finish. Just three characters; Julie daughter of the big house, Jean, the valet and Christine the kitchen maid, but also the lord of the big house, who is the grey eminence.

You can read more at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miss_Julie.

Or if you have time you can see it at the Studio till Saturday 9 March.

Every day at least to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words

Filed under: Brexit, Europe, Music, Personal, Writing — derryvickers @ 3:32 pm

Goethe

In these trying times of Brexit and Austerity, worth a thought each day.

What can I do about it.

Goethe had the right idea

 

March 2, 2019

Make America Great. Dvorak was there long before Trump, when the US was Great.

Filed under: Music, Trump, USA, World Class — derryvickers @ 8:01 am

The RSNO, last night, under conductor Gilbert Varga,  gave a magnificent rendering of Dvorak’s New Word Symphony No 6 at the Usher Hall.
Paul Philbert on drums and the signature tune with Amy McKean on cor anglaise.

I wonder if Trump has ever spent time to listen to the symphony. Dvorak’s music conveys an entirely different vison of the US, than Trump would understand.

For a little more see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symphony_No._9_(Dvo%C5%99%C3%A1k)

February 25, 2019

Towards Local Decisions

Filed under: economics, Music, Politics, Scotland — derryvickers @ 5:16 pm

In a previous blog I reported on going to hear the Scottish Ensemble playing music with a political context.

Yet again the question has been raised as to whether music tuition should be free in Scottish Schools. The musical flash mob yesterday before the Midlothian Council Offices changed the councillors’ decision to keep free music tuition in the curriculum. Applause all round: Democracy triumphs.

True, but someone else suffers. Budgets are limited from many causes and it is unhelpful in my view to point fingers. One can only hope that Brexit will not make money scarcer still in this country. West Lothian I believe has come to as sensible compromise on music tuition with annual fees for those who want to learn to play for those whose parents can and free for those who can’t; but even here I understand that the number of pupils wanting to continue to play has gone down this year. And I wonder can the West Lothian Council hold its compromise. Will what’s happened in Midlothian affect West Lothian’s decision?

It seems to me that there has to be much more open discussion about priorities on spending in Linlithgow and the Community Council has a central role here supported by its Ward Councillors and the Community Development Trust should be involved. Music, Buses, Recycling, you name it, its there.

But of course, Linlithgow and Linlithgow Bridge is not an island; we are part of West Lothian as a whole and any such discussion on priorities needs to encompass the whole Authority. West Lothian Council will say that they involved the whole community in the last Budget Round; but I sat through the Council Meeting where the budget and cuts were discussed and seemly random dictates were instructed to council officers: cuts or no cuts to music teaching, how many recycling centres should go; which village halls should seek cash through the Community Empowerment Bill; only this week the Link Linlithgow budget is to be reduced. I believe we must do better. and Community Councils are central here.

I have no ready solution, but our communities must be much more closely integrated into the budgeting process so, at least, they understand that money is ‘limited’, and they understand why their preferred groups has less funds from the central pot than last year.

But back to our concert; you may like Gabriela Montero, a Venezuelan talking about her piece ‘Babel’ and how her country is being ripped apart by political strife and how she considers that music is essential to continued humanity in her country Venezuela. Thank heavens we in Scotland ar not in this political turmoil . Having played her new piece supported strongly by the strings of the Scottish Ensemble, at the applause, she pulled a Venezuelan flag out and this brought the house down.

OK I’m sticking up for continued good music in Scotland and Montero’s will underpin why, there are many other deserving groups, Linlithgow Link is one such and I believe that our Community Council need to take a much more active part along with the Linlithgow Community Development Trust in working towards a better understand of where the balance in priorities should be in our Town.

If you want to hear more of Gabriela Montero rationale for her Babel please go to:

https://scottishensemble.co.uk/magazine/venezuelan-pianist-gabriela-montero-discusses-her-new-piece-babel/

February 23, 2019

James MacMillan and Colin Currie – made in Scotland

Filed under: Cumnoch Tryst, economics, Education, Music, St Petersburg, World Class — derryvickers @ 7:32 am

Last night, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (SCO) performed a 60th Birthday concert for James MacMillan: MacMillan conducting two of his pieces Veni, Veni, Emmanuel and Seven Last Words from the Cross.

There was also a short introductory piece by Part. The Seven Last Words from the Cross (1992) was a choral piece and was well done, the SCO Choir gave their best, but I’m not a fan of Choral Works.

But the Veni, Veni, Emmanuel was something out of this world. Colin Currie was stupendous on percussion. Playing everything from snare drums, foot drum, xylophone, vibraphone, dancing everywhere. Excellent backing from the SCO. MacMillan used every possible woodwind instrument and even the strings to provide a deep sound.

What MacMillan has done is to completely integrate modern / jazz with percussion into the classical symphony repertoire.

But in another way, in his Cumnock Tryst, he has brought classical music to the people of Scotland. He established his tryst in Cumnock, an old mining town in Ayrshire, some five years ago and brought a new life to it. OK, just four days a year in the Autumn but the local musicians practice the whole year for the event: He involves the whole town. Last year, the theme was the First World War and to me the centre piece was ‘All the hills and vales alone’ (https://www.thecumnocktryst.com/all-the-hills-and-vales-along) using a forgotten poem by a forgotten Scottish poet Charles Hamilton Sorley. MacMillan brought in singers such as Ian Bostridge, but the choir was local, and the orchestra was the Dalmellington Brass Band backed by the Scottish Ensemble. He was taking the piece on to London where they would use the London Symphony Orchestra.

If we want, in West Lothian, to see what Modern Classical Music can do for our Core Development Towns then we could persuade MacMillan and Currie to give Veni, Veni, Emmanuel in Livingston with the orchestra being one of its many brass bands: he has the skills to transpose the music to brass band as demonstrated with ‘All the hills and vales alone’. Sorry, I may sound pejorative but I’m not. One has only to think of perhaps the greatest symphony of all, Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7 played first (almost) to a packed audience in bombed out and besieged Leningrad in 1942.

Free Music Tuition for Schools is a ‘hot potato’ in Scotland , butget’s are short and tuition fees are an easy target.  West Lothian has come to a reasonable compromise with the those that can pay do pay and those that can’t go free.  But people get a kick out of music, and Veni, Veni, Emmanuel is just one that could bring the whole community together, rather than ‘Them and Us’.  The Concert last night at the Queens Hall was filled with the ‘Usual Suspects’ but there were at least 20 children near the back.

 

February 14, 2019

Babel – and addition

Filed under: Brexit, Europe, History in the making, Music, Politics — derryvickers @ 5:10 pm

I should have included in my last blog the display flashed up during the Babel piece

Brexit cannot be neutral

Not just Venezuela but equally true of Brexit

February 13, 2019

Babel – a piece by the Venezuelan Pianist and Composer Gabriela Montero

Filed under: Music, Politics, War — derryvickers @ 9:29 pm

 Babel

 We have just been to a concert given by the Scottish string orchestra, the Scottish Ensemble.

The programme was called Babel after a new composition by Gabriela Montero and focused on the interplay between Music and Politics.  The music covered the modern period from Shostakovich, Glass, Vasks, and finished with Messiaen ‘Quartet for the End of Time’.  Messiaen wrote it while a prisoner in a German war camp and played it at a camp ‘concert’; the piece this evening was transcribed just for violin and piano; the violin, played by Jonathan Morton leader, sang out piercingly above the piano, played by Montero and you could hear the proverbial pin drop.  Written I understand for cello, violin, piano and clarinet certainly didn’t suffer for the transcription.

The Shostakovich was his Chamber Symphony written after the death of Stalin and a lot freer because of it ;  while the Philip Glass featured two violins first in dissonance but finishing in harmony but backed by the full strings. The Vasks in contrast brought in the Environment and very much the personal.

 But the centre piece was written and played by Gabriela Montero called ‘Babel’ and the music centred around political unrest in Venezuela.  Montero is Venezuelan and present-day Venezuela hurts her, and this piece of music was written before the latest turbulent event. The piece is for piano with Montero playing piano and for strings, the Scottish Ensemble being a string orchestra made the most of it; hurt mixed with laughter.

The Scottish Ensemble wins hands down of all the orchestras we go to.  They act as one and clearly enjoy playing together, as they did this evening.  A lot of this night’s music was painful, the Messiaen in particular, while the Vasks piece had a serenity and the Glass had a rhythm and repetition that mirrors the modern world.   We were asked to hold off clapping till the end but when the end came the applause was overwhelming.  This was enhanced by Gabriela Montero pulling out of dress a Venezuelan Flag and bowing; the audience was cheered.

 Gabriela Montero talking on her new piece if you would like at

 https://scottishensemble.co.uk/magazine/venezuelan-pianist-gabriela-montero-discusses-her-new-piece-babel/

 

October 7, 2018

The Cumnock Tryst.

Filed under: Music, Poetry, War, World Class — derryvickers @ 8:40 pm

 Cumnock is not an exciting place, it used to be the central town of the Ayrshire Coal Field; now no more.  However, it’s the birthplace of Sir James MacMillan and what a difference he has brought to the Town.  He created the Cumnock Tryst  five years ago and since then the Tryst opens up the Town to music and the elite come to Cumnock (rather than vice versa).  Not only the music goers but this year the Tryst was graced by Ian Bostridge.

We went to just two pieces (6 in all); the second first; a musical promenade through the rooms of Dumfries House.  The House was saved and restored with the support of Prince Charles and Alex Salmond with Scottish Government Money. The Promenade started with Nikita Naumov on double base – a young Russian who plays with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and looked delighted at his reception today.  Then came the primary school bell ringers supported by Sirocco Wind and local singers.  The bell ringers chimed to old tunes and new from MacMillan; you may think this childish, but MacMillan takes it very seriously and it’s great that he uses his talents to bring forth kids to succeed him and in doing so becomes one source of dispelling the previous desperate state of the town and its surroundings.  The Promenade finished with five modern French pieces for woodwind from the Sirocco Wind – all young and should go far.

But the truly outstand piece was last night was an oratorio by MacMillan that will be played later this month by London Symphony Orchestra to mark the Armistice of WW1.  But that performance is unlikely to be anywhere near as exciting as last night’s.  The Oratorio text came from a WW1 Scottish poet, Charles Hamilton Sorley.  Sorley like so many other poets only lasted just 6 months into the battlefield; the text is entitled ‘All the Hills and Vales Along’.  The players were: Ian Bostridge the lead tenor, the Cumnock Tryst Festival Chorus, the Edinburgh Quarter (a group of four, two of whom regularly play with the Hebrides Ensemble), Naumov on double bass and the Sirocco Wind but the main orchestra came from the Dalmellington Band (Brass);  the mines may have closed but the Band plays on;  and how MacMillan had the Band at the core of his oratorio;  it shatters the desire of the Scottish Government to save money by deleting music education from school curricula.  There was a standing ovation and quite rightly so.

 

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