50 years ago, Yehudi Menuhin founded the Yehudi Menuhin School of Music. 14 years after that, he collaborated with Ian Stoutzker to found Live Music Now, which, to this day, supports talented young musicians by offering a range of opportunities including performances. Edinburgh International Festival’s current series of Café Concerts, which take place at The Hub at 9pm, is curated by Live Music Now and produced in celebration of the life of Yehudi Menuhin. An audience of around 50 or so gathered firstly at the back of the café to buy a drink from the bar, before taking a cosy seat at one of the tables that were informally arranged around the venue. It was a comfortable and intimate experience, with a relaxed and undaunting atmosphere that provided both performers and audience the chance to breath freely and engage.
Tonight’s offering came from Flercussion – a pairing of flautist Jo Ashcroft with Calum Huggan who played the marimba and other percussion instruments. They presented a colourfully varied whistle-stop tour into the flexible sound-worlds of their ensemble, which combined familiar and novel works. Their programme opened and concluded with attention-grabbing pieces by Piazzolla, demonstrating spicy Latin American panache and flashy interplay between the players. When Calum’s music was accompanying that of Jo, he responded to her with flair, spontaneity and skill. At other times, his expansive dynamic range and beautiful shaping of lines added much to the performance. The audience was charmed as each piece was presented with confident, friendly and informed introductions. The duo might consider filming their performance – helpful for promotion perhaps, but also to see whether they are happy with the entirety of their speaking, as some of the playful humour, injected no doubt for the best of reasons, didn’t seem to add much to what, for us, was a richly engaging musical experience.
Setting aside the awkwardly unnecessary jokes - and the performers’ own private laughter - the audience was enchanted by Debussy’s Sleeping Beauty, bedazzled by Calum’s virtuosic flair in Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum, enlivened by Shostakovich’s ever-popular Waltz and intoxicated by Piazzolla’s famous Libertango. I wondered whether Jo might explore a more varied pallet of timbres and if Calum might consider using just slightly less rubato (at times), but otherwise this impressive pair brought their audience alive with a cleverly organised journey of musical treats that is sure to excite and inspire all kinds of audiences.