Interview with Lisa Kowalski, producer of Ten Years of Taylor Swift

“Taylor Swift is not only an amazing songwriter with relatable and eloquent lyrics, an incredible singer, but she’s also just such a lovely person

Lisa Kowalski is a young Scottish singer songwriter and performer – and most of all she is a huge Taylor Swift fan. To coincide with Taylor Swift’s ten year anniversary as a performer Lisa decided to celebrate and to put on an event to bring together all those ‘Swifties’ out there. Well, some of them at any rate.

Lisa’s event ‘Ten Years of Taylor Swift’ was held in Glasgow and Edinburgh and featured a fantastic collection of young upcoming musicians from around Scotland who each performed their own versions of Taylor Swift classics, from her earlier country tunes to some newer pop princes anthems.

Ten Years of Taylor Swift Show (organised by Lisa Kowalski, January 2017). Our review here.


Why Taylor Swift?

She’s not only an amazing songwriter with relatable and eloquent lyrics, an incredible singer but she’s also just such a lovely person. She’s so kind to her fans and she’s so real. I also just connect with her lyrics and how passionate she is about songwriting. Writing music is my favourite thing to do and she’s really inspired me to be brave and vulnerable when I write my feelings into songs.

How big is the Swiftie community in Scotland?

Taylor sold out the Hydro in minutes, so I would say there’s a fair amount of Swifties! I’ve made lots of friends in Scotland that are her fans and it’s nice to get to talk about her and her music to people without them getting sick of me.

Have you had support from Swifties outside of Scotland?

We had a Swiftie from England fly up to Scotland for the last show which was pretty insane! He also helped us to set up a promotional website for the event which has ended up being really useful.

For this year’s event we had someone from America ask to play and cover all of the plane costs herself! Unfortunately we had all of the acts sorted but it’s pretty insane to have so much talent asking to perform and going to such great lengths to do it.

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You had a fantastic line up of young artists performing in your show. How did you bring the talent together?

All of the acts are people I’ve seen perform at gigs that I’ve also done! I chose these people not only because they’re all absolutely incredible singers and performers but also because I consider them all good friends of mine now! The show really brought us all together and I’m grateful for it.

They’re all so different from each other in the way they sing and perform – some prefer acoustic, others prefer the band. Some have higher voices, others have low. Some have loud voices, others have softer voices. Either way they’re all extremely talented in their own special way and I could never choose a favourite.

Were all of the artists who performed already devoted Swifties before the show?

Not all of them are huge fans but they still managed to take the songs, make them their own and perform them with so much passion. Everyone who performed likes different kinds of music and writes their own amazing songs but they all came together to celebrate one pop/country artist and they did it amazingly.

220px-p1070865_louvre_tc3aate_de_fausta_ma4881_rwkHow did the event in Edinburgh compare to the first event in Glasgow?

Both events were so amazing but the Edinburgh gig was in a smaller venue which I preferred. It made the show more intimate as everyone was much closer and you could see everyone dancing and smiling a lot more clearly which was really nice.

What’s the one thing you know now that you wish you’d known starting out on this journey?

There’s going to be some ups and downs but it’ll be worth it! Working really hard is definitely the key for success but when it pays off you’ll be so relieved and happy that you devoted as much time and energy as you did.

Do you plan to organize more shows in the future?

There’s a lot of factors to consider before we dive into organising another event as it definitely isn’t easy but I would definitely love to! Making other artists and an audience happy made me really happy and I would love to do it all again.

Lisa, you also performed at the show. As an artist do you have anything exciting lined up for 2017?

Within the next month I’ll be releasing my debut EP of original songs! I’m really proud of all the songs on there and I can’t wait for people to hear them in a new way! I’ll be performing at the VAMOS festival this year which is exciting!

If you could ask Taylor Swift one question what would it be??

It’s hard to just choose one question! I would probably ask for advice on making myself known in the music industry and building a loyal fan base.


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RSNO: Remmereit, Bryan. Vaughan Williams, Martin Suckling, Ravel. (Usher Hall: 3 Feb ’17)

The Lark Ascending

“In Katharine Bryan we heard some of the finest flute playing around today”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

The RSNO chose interesting, offbeat fare for their Sir Alexander Gibson Memorial Concert on Friday night, by way of complete contrast to what will be an immensely popular Rachmaninov/Tchaikovsky melange this coming week. Good for them, and I am sure that the great man, who brought so much to the RSNO in his extraordinary twenty-five year tenure and yet died at the relatively young age of 68, would have thoroughly approved.

The first piece was not without controversy: Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending transposed for flute by the RSNO’s Principal Flautist, and soloist on the night, Katharine Bryan. This well known work – indeed, it is number one in Classic FM’s Hall of Fame (make of that what you will) – while for some overexposed, is to me almost sacred. I first heard it as a schoolboy played in a concert in Dorchester Abbey in Oxfordshire by one of my peers, Richard Deakin, who went on to teach music at the Royal Academy and found the Orchestra of St John’s Smith Square. An early summer evening by the Thames with the fading sun streaming through the Abbey’s stained glass windows … and the piece moved onto my spiritual and emotional hard drives for ever.

To transpose it to flute had me and a number of others worried. Yet for me, full of reservation, it was a triumph. The warmth and roundness of the flautist’s timbre brought a new dimension to the work outwith the capacity of the violin. Bryan’s playing was exquisite: her control of her breathing in long passages extraordinary, her phrasing superb, her control and precision utterly convincing. So much so that I shall buy the recording. Now there’s a compliment in this age of streaming and downloads.

Composer Martin Suckling came on next to introduce his world premiere performance of our next piece,  The White Road. Interesting as this prologue was, it later became clear  – as our flautist returned  in a shimmering white dress rather than her earlier red version –  that this was a fill in. No matter, it gave the next quite difficult fifteen minutes some context.

Notwithstanding the composer’s aspirations the work essentially was a back and forth between sharp musical bites from the flute echoed by percussion, with minimal brass, wind and string support and unconvincing body bops by the soloist to accentuate the to and fro with little added value from the microtones. Melody went missing until the end of the work and I found it unremarkable. Fairly typical of the modern genre, I suppose, but it really only came into itself at its close.

Our nerves were soothed by Bryan’s blissful rendering of Massenet’s Thais as an encore, accompanied only by harp. Luscious.

Following the interval we were treated to Daphnis and Chloe Suites No’s 1 and 2. This piece is a conductor’s nightmare in terms of its fluidity and apparent lack of time signature, so it would be timely to point out that the baton was being held on the night by Arild Remmereit standing in for the indisposed Peter Oundijan. A fine job he made of it (and for the rest of the evening, too). You never felt the orchestra were out of control and their disciplined playing impressed. The work opened with a flute solo and lo and behold, there was Katharine Bryan again, now in black dress, back in her familiar principal flute’s chair. The Danse Guerriere at the conclusion of the first suite showed real verve and the Lever de Jour opening Suite No 2 was well realised and convincing. Remmereit got everything he could out of the band in the Danse Generale which ended our evening with a – or rather, several – bangs.

So in conclusion,  this was a concert that entertained with the familiar, challenged with new takes on familiar themes, and also with new material. Sir Alexander would have been proud of his orchestra’s playing and in Katharine Bryan we heard some of the finest flute playing around today.

 

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Reviewer: Charles Stokes (Seen 3 January)

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Ten Years of Taylor Swift (The Mash House: 14 Jan ’17)

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“A fun and fantastic showcase”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars

Not being a huge Taylor Swift fan myself I was slightly apprehensive before the show. However, I must admit I was very pleasantly surprised. This gig was set up by 16 year old Lisa Kowalski, who with some help from mum managed to put on an entertaining evening any event organizer would be proud of.  The three hour set – a good length! –  showcased a range of Taylor Swift’s material – from her younger country days to newer pop songs.

Before the show there was an excited buzz around the room and I could immediately tell I was surrounded by some devoted Swifties. There was not much in a way of an introduction before singer Matthew Gibb, together with the backing band, started off the night with his original version of ‘Blank Space’.

Soon it was clear to see that despite their young age these are all very talented singers and musicians including The 45 and Beth Swan. Although the backing band added an extra kick of enthusiasm to the night I was glad that there was an acoustic session in the middle, where you could clearly hear each performer’s voice.

Each act enjoyed great stage presence but there were three performers who really stuck out – Ashleigh Burns, Olivia Dawn Haggerty and Lisa Kowalski herself.

17 year old Ashleigh from Glasgow gave an impressive performance with her versions of ‘Love Story’ and ‘Trouble’. Her strong, soulful voice in combination with a charming presence and confidence on stage made it a great set. Olivia impressed with her beautiful ballad version of ‘All Too Well’ whilst Lisa was not only good at talking to and entertaining the crowd, but vocally she also did well, with a good range and a convincing ‘attack’. Although not pitch perfect at all times these girls have serious energy and potential.

All night everybody’s enthusiasm was so contagious that I couldn’t help bopping along and I even got caught up in the whole sing-along spirit of the night! I can only recommend this particular show if you are a big Taylor Swift fan but I really loved the whole idea behind it – celebrating an artist together with lots of like-minded fans. The whole event was brilliantly organized and you could clearly see the huge effort put in from all parties. It was definitely a fun and fantastic way to showcase young talent from across Scotland.

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Reviewer: Iona Young (Seen 14 January)

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Edinburgh Quartet, Beethoven (St Andrew’s and St George’s West: 11 Jan. ’17)

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“The Edinburgh Quartet have some magic dust around them that creates real homogeneity and synergy”

Editorial Rating:  4 Stars

I saw on Facebook that a friend of mine was going to Wednesday’s Edinburgh Quartet Rush Hour Concert, and “ticked’ that I was going too. “They’re playing the Rasumovsky Quartet”, he enthused, virtually. “Which one?”, I replied. “Eh?”, came the rejoinder. For not many people know that there are in fact three, all commissioned by Count Andres Rasumovsky, the Russian Ambassador to Vienna, with the stipulation that they should contain Russian themes. Well actually, the one we heard, the third and arguably the finest, didn’t, but it contained an awful lot of interesting new approaches to the genre.

The Edinburgh Quartet bring a pleasingly creative approach to their programming and tonight we heard from Edinburgh Artist Erik Petrie, who was working alongside them this week at their Residency at the Ocean Terminal and just hours earlier had completed a magnificent, colourful violin scroll canvas which the Quartet proudly displayed. Second violinist Gordon Bragg discussed the intriguing relationship between quartet and artist with Erik before the concert started.

The Edinburgh Quartet have recently adopted a practice of having a theme for their concert series, and the theme for this early part of the New Year is “Revolution”. For certain, the works by Mozart (French Revolution) and Shostakovich (post Russian Revolution and very influenced by Stalin) could be deemed as appropriately covered by this banner, but for Beethoven in 1808 it was stretching a point, other than that the Rasumovsky Quartet, Op.59 No.3, is certainly revolutionary in construction.

The first movement Allegro opens with a series of diminished sevenths punctuated with silences that set off an atmosphere of wonder and mystery, resolving into C major and we are away in more conventional quartet form. Quite a shock for its audience then and quite a surprise today. Comparisons and styles can legitimately be made to `Mozart’s “Dissonance” Quartet.

The Andante con moto employed a lot of pizzicato and if Beethoven was trying to persuade his sponsor that the quartet contained a Russian theme it would be here, with its intimations of folk song.

Come the third movement Allegro we found ourselves listening to a cheerful minuet, yet just as we were beginning to relax and take it easy we barnstormed into the final Presto at breakneck speed. The players did not make one slip in these very demanding passages which they delivered with real verve. One felt the spirit of troubled Beethoven, hounded by deafness and in the process of beginning to admit it to his brothers and close friends. On the early sketch of this movement he had written “Let your deafness be a secret no longer – not even in art.”

Yet again, despite a number of personnel changes, the Edinburgh Quartet have some magic dust around them that creates real homogeneity and synergy, giving the impression they had been playing together for years. We had a relaxed yet assured, inspired performance. The tight, together playing we have become accustomed to, and sheer listen-to pleasure, was joyfully experienced tonight as always.

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Reviewer: Charles Stokes (Seen 11 January)

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RSNO, Prieto and others (Usher Hall: 2 Dec’16)

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“…this was a strong, conviction performance of a great work with some fine playing and singing”

Editorial Rating:  4 Stars: Nae Bad

“An opera in ecclesiastical robes” (Von Bulow”). “Bulow has blundered. It is a work of genius” (Brahms). But Von Bulow was not necessarily being pejorative. So what if the Verdi Requiem is an opera in ecclesiastical robes? This perennial argument does have some merit in criticism of the work. I see nothing wrong in celebrating a requiem in operatic style, but it is the structure and intervals within the requiem format that get in the way of the flow of the work. It is a series of seven moments, apart from the enjoyably more substantial Dies Irae and Libera Me. To me, its enjoyment is entirely secular. If I want a spiritual or religious high, I turn to Faure, or Mozart or, indeed, Brahms. If I want music to die for (le mot juste?), then it’s Verdi.

Friday night’s wonderful performance by the RSNO, RSNO Chorus and four soloists: soprano Evelina Dobraceva, mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong, tenor Edgaras Montvidas and Bass-Baritone Hanno Muller-Brachmann – under the baton of Carlos Miguel Prieto was at times spoilt by the audience. On the whole I have a lot of time for the RSNO followers, who do not whoop or whistle, do not clap between movements, and allow a respectful interval at the end of a piece before applauding, but on Friday they coughed and they croaked as and when they pleased, spluttering just a few moments into the desperately fragile pianissimo Requiem. Surely they could have held back at least until the forte passages. I relished – in the fortissimo Dies Irae – the thought of drowning them out myself. This may be the price you pay for live music in winter, but perhaps the Usher Hall could print a few useful tips on muting the effect, as they do in the programme notes at the Royal Festival Hall.

Enough of the audience and on to the artists. The 120 strong chorus managed to keep precision and intensity in their pianissimo entrance, and sang throughout with discipline, force and feeling. Sopranos never harsh, well balanced between the four parts and every entry spot on; basses clear, and good mid range from the altos and tenors. They sang the Dies Irae and Libera Me as well as I have ever heard it sung. Bearing in mind the size of their catchment area this pays a real compliment to their talent and training.

The orchestra were also well up to the task and played with feeling and élan. The “stereo” effect of placing two trumpets up in the gods at the back of the hall in reply to the others on the stage in the Tuba Mirum worked very effectively – it doesn’t always – and it was a revelation to hear, again in the Dies Irae, a double fortissimo, that’s four fortes, without any blaring or coarseness.

The casting of the four soloists from America, Lithuania, Germany and Russia, coming together for a couple of gigs in Glasgow and Edinburgh shows what an international world classical music is, and how Scotland is right up there with the best of them in its ability to attract such talent. The work is not easy on the soloists, especially when singing with each other in duet format. Individual soloists sang well with the orchestra but the two sopranos struggled to sound homogenous in the Recodare, Jesu Pie in the Dies Irae but had got more used to each other in the kinder Agnus Dei. One felt bass-baritone Hanno Muller-Brachmman wasn’t entirely comfortable in the Mors Stupebit and Confutatis maledictus in the Dies Irae, but he entranced us later in the Lux Aeterna. Their quartet for the Offerterio worked well, and soprano Evelina Dobraceva thrilled us in the concluding Libera Me where she really nailed it.

Overall this was a strong, conviction performance of a great work with some fine playing and singing with just a few issues of coordination and integration between soloists, which is always a risk with a live performance of a work that really puts them on the spot. There was a respectable pause before enthsiastic applause broke out, showing that the audience’s heart was in the right place, even if their fitful larynxes were not.

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Reviewer: Charles Stokes (Seen 2 December)

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SCO, Gamba. Bartok. Maxwell Davies. Sibelius. (Queen’s Hall: 1 Dec.’16)

Map of Orkney

“A complete and wonderful surprise … much of it was huge fun, and what was more serious was beautifully and movingly interpreted.”

Editorial Rating:  5 Stars: Outstanding

The concert was promoted as “Peter Maxwell Davies: Orkney Wedding” and thereby probably did itself a disservice, as ‘Max’ is not everyone’s cup of tea, which is a shame, as if his work was better known, it might well be. The concert was in fact only half ‘Max’, balanced with Sibelius and Bartok, was mostly very accessible and enjoyable, and made for a fabulous evening’s music.

The concert was in effect a musical treatment of the folk idiom over some 80 years, starting with Sibelius’s Valse Triste and Scene with Cranes, both from Kuolema (1903), although the former is probably best known in its own right. Valse Triste was historically Sibelius’s most regularly performed piece, with the double irony of it being composed while he put his magnificent Violin Concerto on hold in order to placate his brother in law who wanted some incidental music for a play, and more annoyingly that he failed to negotiate a royalty agreement and never received a kroner subsequently. It is a fairly light yet sublimely melodic piece and the SCO played it beautifully managing the many varying tempi and dynamics with complete ease.

The following work, Peter Maxwell Davies’s Strathclyde Concerto No 2 (1987) was probably the only work of hard substance in the evening. One of ten “Strathclyde Concertos” commissioned by Strathclyde Regional Council and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, it is part of their DNA and the SCO embraced its challenging tonality and technical demands skilfully. Moreover, cellist William Conway, who played on its first performance in 1989, was completely at ease with the work. While definitely in the modern idiom it is an accessible and at times beautiful and certainly moving work, and it was good to hear it.

Following the interval it was time for Bartok’s Divertimento for String Orchestra, having gone back 50 years to 1939. Beautifully orchestrated, we experienced a wide range of textures including witty pizzicato and rich, broad bowing producing resonant sonority. The orchestra was going at full tilt with attack and vitality of playing. A rewarding, and again, accessible work.

The concert was brought to an end with the banner piece, Maxwell Davies’s Orkney Wedding with Sunrise (1984). This is not a serious work, but a hilarious one, and shows one should not take all of Max’s Orkney compositions too seriously. The piece does what it says on the tin, describes a riotous rustic wedding, and Gamba and the SCO interpreted it in that spirit, with outrageously vulgar brass, deliberately tipsy violin playing, and a steward appearing with a couple of tumblers of whisky gratefully consumed by conductor and leader. The whole was brought to a glorious conclusion by the sound of the bagpipes off stage, and then a piper appearing in full Highland Dress and Bearskin brought the piece to a close.

Overall, the evening was a complete and wonderful surprise. All the music was accessible, much of it was huge fun, and what was more serious was beautifully and movingly interpreted. And Rumon Gamba was a stand in for the indisposed Alexandre Bloch. Bravo (which resounded throughout the auditorium)!

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Reviewer: Charles Stokes (Seen 1 December)

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RSNO: SONDEGARD, SOLLIMA (Usher Hall: 18 Nov ‘16)

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 “Was this the new Russia? Who cares? The music was amazing.”

Editorial Rating:  3 Stars

“Football is a game of two halves” as the crass saying goes. The intimation is, there is a good half, and a bad half. Friday’s RSNO concert can be explained in such terms. Relatively speaking, the first half disappointed, the second enthralled.

Cellist Giovanni Sollima was the soloist for the Dvorak Cello Concerto, and, to kick the evening off, in his own piece Violoncelles, vibrez! (in fact a duo for two cellos and orchestra) he shared the soloist platform with Aleksei Kiseliov, the RSNO’s principal cellist. Written to mark the tenth anniversary of the death of Sollima’s teacher, Antonio Janigro, and dedicated to Sollima’s fellow student Mario Brunello, one might have expected a deeply personal, even reflective work. It was, however, rather light, and reminded me in places of works by Max Richter, barely in the classical genre. The first movement did contain some long melodic lines but the work was neither unpleasant nor particularly demanding. The orchestra gave good support.

Then came the Dvorak. Dvorak as a concerto composer has never satisfied me as much as his fine symphonic or string quartet writing. Plainly, the orchestration is there, but the solo pieces (less so in the violin concerto) just do not seem to fit in so well, the exact opposite, for example, of Chopin. This facet of the work was exacerbated by some less than convincing playing by Sollima. The long orchestral opening of the opening Allegro was masterfully handled by the RSNO, who played their part with relish, sometimes, indeed often to the detriment of the overall balance with the soloist. Sollima did not seem particularly in command, Sondergard was standing in at short notice. The end of the first movement, much of the second and the majority of the third were a more comfortable experience. Sollima’s encore left one in no doubt as to his virtuosity.

I was looking forward to hearing Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony again, and to see what the RSNO, in such good form this season, would make of it. They did not disappoint. Much has been said and written of the political background to the composition of this symphony under Stalin’s gaze, “A Soviet Artist’s reply to just criticism” but to me this is largely irrelevant: Shostakovich was a pragmatist, the symphony is an outstanding work and for many people its relative accessibility makes it a welcome introduction to the oeuvre of one of the twentieth century’s greatest composers.

Meticulous, sparse playing brought out all the fear and austerity suggested by the opening Moderato, quickly followed by woodwind and brass creating a marvellous, confident orchestral sound. This was just the beginning. Powerful basses and cellos introduced the subsequent Allegretto as the work grew increasingly manic. The third movement Largo was electrifying, and the Allegro non troppo finale bursting with optimism and confidence. Was this the new Russia? Who cares? The music was amazing.

 

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Reviewer: Charles Stokes (Seen 18th November)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED