Seven out of the twelve gigs in Edinburgh International Festival's contemporary music strand sold out this year, with a total audience of 13,500
Edinburgh International Festival
The original "official" festival
It was the most perfect of summer evenings to celebrate the ending of another fine Edinburgh International Festival. Entering the Gardens from the St Cuthbert's Steps, the audience seemed larger than it has ever been. Regulars had been arriving in good time to get a view from the grassy slope that is not interrupted by trees. This year more than ever; many were having to watch through the branches. But there was an eager expectation and only slight frustration of a seven minute delay in the start of the concert.
The Usher Hall was full to watch Sir Simon Rattle conduct his London Symphony Orchestra in a programme of two works, both of about an hour in length. The large Orchestra was to play what we might consider a traditional symphony in its form as well as a more modern symphony-length work.
Britten’s War Requiem was commissioned for the opening of Coventry Cathedral following the destruction of an earlier building by German bombs in November 1940. Edinburgh architect Basil Spence was a popular choice as architect, whilst there was considerable concern over the choice of Benjamin Britten for the music for its opening. Britten was not only homosexual but as a pacifist had fled to America for the early years of the Second World War.
National treasure, Stephen Fry brings his best-selling novel, ‘Mythos: The Greek Myths Retold’, to life. The tantalisingly dramatic mythology of the Greeks is full of gore, sex and life lessons. Fry has taken on the mammoth task of performing three different plays centred on different aspects of the mythology: the Gods, the heroes and the mortals. Today was an in-depth looks at the powerful yet flawed Gods and how the world began, ‘not with a bang but with chaos.’
Birds of Paradise produced Purposeless Movements back in 2016 to address a specific medical description of CP: "Which of our movements are purposeless?" The production dives into what it means to be a man living with Cerebral Palsy. Four professional actors with varying intensity of the condition present their perspective in an open, funny and poignant manner.
The Quartet was formed 21 years ago, and this long-term collaboration really shows in the ease with which they communicate during the performance. Each member of the Quartet throws themselves into the full body of the music with such commitment that the audience is taken on a wonderful, energetic and passionate journey through the pieces performed.
Both Scottish premieres, two profound and powerful works that had the Usher Hall enthralled.
The Doric Quartet were the featured ensemble at this morning’s recital at the Queen’s Hall. The players – Alex Redington (violin); Ying Xue (violin); Helene Clement (Viola) and John Myerscough (cello) – have been performing together since the inception of the quartet in 1998. Much of their time is spent on global tours as they develop a reputation of being one of the best quartets on the circuit.
They chose to begin their recital with Haydn’s String Quartet in E flat major Op33 No 2, ‘The Joke’. Haydn had completed a series of string quartets in 1772 “written in a new and special way” and commonly referred to as the Russian quartets as they were dedicated to the Grand Duke Paul of Russia. The introduction incorporated a delightful lightness of touch, superbly illustrated by this group of exceptionally talented players. Working in harmony as a perfect ensemble they stuck to the original score including ‘the joke’, a moment when the principal violin emanates the gliding drunken antics of a peasant. They took the finale as a feverish pace and concluded with a terrific panache.
The next work was the European premiere of Brett Dean’s String Quartet No 3, ‘Hidden Agendas’. Dean first heard the Doric Quartet when they were playing one of his works on the radio in 2007. He was so impressed by their interpretation, became friends with them, and specifically wrote this string quartet for them. In five movements titled Hubris; Response; Retreat; Self-censorship and on-message, the work was inspired by the ever changing media landscape present in our current society. A perfect platform for this immensely versatile quartet, the movements are peppered with a vast variety of emotions, oscillating from dynamism to reflection, with the musicians creating a fabulous interpretation of the fourth movement, which includes “the whispery use of bows without resin.” There is no predominant theme as the instruments resonate individually until a form of unity emerges at the end. Judging from Brett Dean’s response, he was delighted with their performance, as was the audience.
The recital concluded with Brahms late String Quintet No 2 in G major Op 111. Brett Dean, who was a viola player with the Berlin Philharmonic for many years, joined the players. He blended so well with them it was as if he had always been a part of the quartet. This richly textured quintet frequently features the violas – played by Helena Clement and Brett Dean – but also highlights the skills of John Myerscough on cello and Alex Redington and Ying Xue on violin. Brahms was influenced by Slavonic music when writing this quintet and it incorporates many emotions associated with this style – vibrancy coupled with yearning melancholy – all of which the musicians brought to the fore. And their rendition of the finale was positively uplifting.
Atmospheric, dark and quirky, this show uses animation, live actors, live music and pre-recorded voiceovers in telling the unusual fairy tales presented. With the animation appearing on a drop-down screen, the actors work with the projected images, in front and behind it, with a skill that is beautifully timed and fascinating to watch.