Tuesday, August 30, 2011

too much to do

Just back from another weekend at the Edinburgh Festival and a whole new raft of students who arrived on Monday, eager to learn. Always a bit daunting, but after the first full day in the workshop, making a simple polished brass ring (!), they mostly seemed pleased. Long may it continue.

Festival fun, as ever, with a series of events I didn't plan to go to. Started on Friday night with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment playing some music I had very mixed feelings about: Weber's "Freischutz" Overture, Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto and Liszt's "Faust Symphony". I love the Liszt, have heard the Weber too many times and am completely cold on the Mendelssohn, or should say "was completely cold"... As with everything that orchestra touches - their Beethoven 9 is a revelation - the lightness and openness of their approach makes everything so very fresh and this concert was no exception. The Liszt, of course, was phenomenal but the real surprise to me was the Mendelssohn, a composer I've never much been interested in before. The violin - played by Alina Ibragimova - was given incredible clarity and presence, as opposed to the muddiness I've heard in performances on the radio and on CD.

On the way out of this concert, I was given a flyer for another concert, this time of unaccompanied choral music by Debussy, Dvorak and Szymanowski, held in the wonderful "Old St Paul's" church just off the high street in the oldest part of the town. A very odd place indeed, it feels like it is underground, which it is, partially:

Altar, Old St Paul's

The chorus were brilliant and the music perfect for the surroundings. An oddity about the concert was that it was advertised as a "Hot Chocolate" concert and we all got a cup of a kind of thick, melted chocolate when we went in, much needed on a cold and wet Edinburgh evening (even in August!).

Chorus and Director

On Saturday, I took in the exhibition of work at the Ingleby Gallery, asking the question "Mystics or Rationalists", a patchy exhibition with the outstanding highlights of pieces by Cornelia Parker and this incredible piece by Susan Collis, "You Again":

You Again

Which may look like a pile of building waste, but which, in fact, is carefully constructed from exotic woods, rare pigments and precious metals. Definitely my favourite piece in the show!

I revisited the newly-refurbished National Museum of Scotland again, to find that "newly refurbished" can be read as "dumbed down". Another museum bites the dust as push-button gratification replaces the encouragement of genuine curiosity. Tucked away at the back, I did find a couple of interesting pieces which I hadn't previously noticed, a rather excellent archery medal and some silver dog collars which were given as a prize in a dog race:

Archery Medal

Silver Dog Collars

These relate directly to something on my bench at the moment.

The afternoon was taken up by one of the most dreadful theatrical experiences that I can remember, "Beowulf: A Thousand Years of Baggage". Where to begin? Take the Seamus Heaney translation of Beowulf and remove the sensitivity to language, remove the poetry and replace it with undergraduate pub ramblings of pointlessly repeated text and needless "dirty words", make Grendel a thuggish, drunken lout (he actually drinks beer and showers the audience with it), make Beowulf a crusty neo-hippy with terrible B.O. (he actually stank), add relentlessly naff songs played at high volume and wrap it all up in a pretentious veneer mocking academia and you have some idea of how appalling this piece actually is. I left after 25 minutes and the friends with whom I was attending wished that they had left then too, as it got no better. Dreadful. Absolutely dreadful. £14 down the drain.

The evening was saved, however, by the concert I went to in the evening in St Cuthbert's Church, one of the oldest churches in Edinburgh and also one of the oddest, being the most Italianate and fanciful of any Scottish Presbyterian church I've ever been in, with gilding and angels and an enormous alabaster "Last Supper":

Last Supper

A concert of music for Baroque and Renaissance guitar and theorbo, given by the excellent Gordon Ferries, an hour and a half of quiet, reflective beauty, a million miles from the horrors of Beowulf!


Like so many amazing things at the Edinburgh Festival, this concert was "free", a donation was all that was asked and nobody minds paying for ninety minutes' worth of superlative entertainment.

Sadly, all over for another year.