Barber Shop Chronicles (The Lyceum, 23 Oct -9 Nov: 19:30 : 1hr 4)

“Unbridled and Exuberant”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

When you enter into the Lyceum, white is the colour that pops into your head. Not a black veil in front of the eyes; not velvet, countless red. 

No. White.

When you grab a sit on the bottom row and see a rather elegant field of white hair, white skin, middle class spectators facing a stage where a bunch of black actors are dancing unbridled and exuberant, owning the whole place at the sound of Afro B… it’s just priceless. For once, you don’t feel in a museum but within a game of contrasts that actually mingle.Visual art at its best. 

This storytelling masterpiece is a living example of how an actor actually enjoying the momentum can warm up the audience, let it breath and even feel grateful.

Inua Ellams’ play talks about the affairs of working-class (surprise!) black men through an intimate, tender study of masculinity’s emotional and political anatomy. Stories set in barber shops across Africa, interlinked as threads (wires in the scenography help to create this imagery) pass through the eye of a needle that spins like a hanging globe  – London.

Industrial set design, expressionist lightning and alienating effects remind us of a Brechtian play. Sheibani’s canny direction is not far from that. Articulate expressiveness highlights what Odin Teatret would call the presence of the actor and lives in different kinds of anthropological scenic art – eyes, mouth, hands and feet proficiency-. The homogeneous and impressive cast work is shaped by Aline David (the female presence in the script came to light at the after-show talk, but what about the production?). 

Along with the movement, the glowing pulse of the vocal work- phatic expressions, highly marked cadences as if the sentences were sung, voice projection- makes this a great example of what storytelling is. Needless to say, the art of storytelling is to keep the audience interested, and this production managed to keep the energy well-balanced from beginning to end – though sometimes it flirts with devolving into a stream of political or cultural references. Still, that’s what we ultimately want as an audience, to make the brain dance with the play since we cannot -unfortunately- dance on the seats.  Because If I can’t dance to it, it’s not my revolution

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Helena Salguiero (Seen 8 November)

“The world-historical significance of Martin Luther simply cannot be gainsaid.” – Author Richard Rex discusses The Making of Martin Luther

“Luther may have been kicking the scholastics in the teeth, but he was standing on their shoulders to do it.”

WHAT: “A major new account of the most intensely creative years of Luther’s career The Making of Martin Luther takes a provocative look at the intellectual emergence of one of the most original and influential minds of the sixteenth century. Richard Rex traces how, in a concentrated burst of creative energy in the few years surrounding his excommunication by Pope Leo X in 1521, this lecturer at an obscure German university developed a startling new interpretation of the Christian faith that brought to an end the dominance of the Catholic Church in Europe. Luther’s personal psychology and cultural context played their parts in the whirlwind of change he unleashed. But for the man himself, it was always about the ideas, the truth, and the Gospel.

Focusing on the most intensely important years of Luther’s career, Rex teases out the threads of his often paradoxical and counterintuitive ideas from the tangled thickets of his writings, explaining their significance, their interconnections, and the astonishing appeal they so rapidly developed. Yet Rex also sets these ideas firmly in the context of Luther’s personal life, the cultural landscape that shaped him, and the traditions of medieval Catholic thought from which his ideas burst forth. Lucidly argued and elegantly written, The Making of Martin Luther is a splendid work of intellectual history that renders Luther’s earthshaking yet sometimes challenging ideas accessible to a new generation of readers.”

WHO: Richard Rex is a historian. He is the Professor of Reformation History at the Faculty of Divinity of the University of Cambridge. He is also the Polkinghorne Fellow in Theology and Religious Studies at Queens’ College, Cambridge, where he is Director of Studies in Theological and Religious Studies, Tutor for graduate students, and Deputy Senior Tutor. Although not a frequent performer in the travelling circus of modern academia, he nevertheless makes occasional guest appearances at the Academia Moriae, Amaurote, as well as at universities and schools closer to home.

Richard’s other titles include: ‘The Theology of John Fisher’ (1991); ‘Henry VIII and the English Reformation’ (1993); ‘The Lollards’ (2002); Lady Margaret Beaufort and her Professors of Divinity at Cambridge 1502-1649′ (2003); ‘A Reformation rhetoric Thomas Swynnerton’s The tropes and figures of scripture’ (2004); ‘The Tudors’ (2006); as well as ‘The Making of Martin Luther’ (2017).

MORE? Here!


Why Martin Luther?

The world-historical significance of Martin Luther simply cannot be gainsaid. The Reformation, that shattering of the Latin Christendom of centuries in two or three decades, was not all about Martin Luther. But Luther himself saw truly enough that the throng of other ‘reformers’ who followed after him all poured through the breach he had made in the walls. They would have known nothing, he said, if he had not written first. So no Luther, no Reformation. That’s ‘why Martin Luther’.

Yours is the story of a mind and world view developing and maturing yet we tend to think of Luther as a fixed figure in the intellectual firmament. So as well as WHY Martin Luther, WHEN was Martin Luther?

Martin Luther ‘happened’ in 1518. It was in 1518 that the ‘Ninety-Five Theses’ (originally dated 31 October 1517) actually burst onto the public stage and made him famous in weeks. And it was in 1518, probably in Lent (and certainly by Easter), that he first attained his most fundamental and revolutionary theological insight, namely that the true Christian should believe with absolute certainty that he or she definitely enjoyed the grace of God and was therefore forgiven their sins. This mental state of certainty, summed up as ‘justification by faith alone’, was a new demand, or perhaps better a new offer, in Christian theology, and it was the principle from which all else in his thinking stemmed. In the seven years that followed, Luther worked out the full implications of his insight. His notorious appearance before the Reichstag at Worms in April 1521 marked his definitive break with the Roman Catholic Church. And his outspoken polemic, ‘The Slave Will’ (1525), written against Erasmus’s ‘Free Will’ (1524), marked the final stage in the evolution of his views. His last two decades were characterised by consolidation rather than by the fierce creativity of those seven years. But it began in 1518.

Luther ended his life believing that the Papacy was THE enemy. Did he ever suggest that the Papacy could be defeated by the forces of Reformation? What did he imagine victory might look like?

Luther’s theology was deeply sceptical of the value of human effort. Nobody could do anything to save themselves or to merit their own salvation. He certainly did not expect the papacy to be overthrown by any human power, because he saw it as the temporal embodiment, almost literally the incarnation, of ‘Antichrist’. Even more than most zealous Christians, he seriously felt that he was living in the last days. To reverse the modern cliché, it was the end of the world – if not that minute or that year, then within a century or so. It was precisely his perception of the papacy as the Antichrist enthroned in the temple that convinced him that the end was nigh. So it would not be ‘the forces of Reformation’, but the second coming of the Lord that would settle accounts with the papacy. The only ‘victory’ he expected was the vindication of the elect on the last day.

Keynes described Newton as the last of the magicians rather than the first of the scientists. Was Luther’s a medieval or a modern mind?

The dichotomy is of course too simplistic, and must at some level be resisted. Yet it is structured into our thought, and we cannot resist collaborating with it. The analogy with the Keynesian diagnosis of Newton is strangely apt. One might say, in imitation, that Luther was the ‘last of the scholastics’. Certainly, Erasmus, the stand-out humanist of that generation, thought Luther had more in common with the scholastics than with the more flexible and dialogical approach cultivated by himself and his followers. And Luther’s theology is almost unimaginable without the backdrop of the medieval scholasticism he was confronting. Luther may have been kicking the scholastics in the teeth, but he was standing on their shoulders to do it. The answers he gave were often radically new, and he developed a new vocabulary in which to give them, but the questions that he asked were either traditional scholastic questions or at least near variants upon them. Thus, the question of whether a Christian could be certain (without a special direct revelation from God) that they were in a ‘state of grace’ had been asked for centuries. Luther was simply the first theologian to answer ‘yes’.

Luther had a lot to say about Jews and Judaism. Is there any evidence that he ever actually talked with Jewish scholars or experts?

Not as such. He probably had tuition in Hebrew from Matthias Adrian, a converted Jew who taught the language for a while at Wittenberg. And he had some acquaintance with the tradition of rabbinical exegesis, and very occasional written contact with Jews. But there was no Jewish community at Wittenberg in his time, nor at Erfurt (where he had himself been to university), so he had little opportunity. And his profound hostility towards Jews would not have inclined him to take up any such opportunity had it been presented to him.

How did Luther square his bibliocentric vision with his intense belief in the relatively non-canonical antichrist?

Luther’s unquestioning acceptance of the ‘Antichrist’ myth is one of the most ‘medieval’ aspects of his mindset. Another, of course, was his acceptance of the inspiration and inerrancy of scripture. Though he was capable of acidic and acerbic scepticism at times, he was not by nature a doubter. Doubt was not his default position. Nor was doubt a methodology for him, as it was to be for Descartes. ‘Antichrist’ was too familiar a figure, and played too central a role in his theology, for him to bring to that myth the mindset he brought to indulgences, purgatory, or the sacraments. He did not need to square any circles here, because he saw no difficulty in accepting the biblical foundation of ‘the Antichrist’ – even though he did, characteristically, reshape the doctrine of Antichrist to fit better into his doctrinal perspective.

How did one be (not become) a famous author in the time of Luther? Did he receive income from his writings? Were there book launches, appearances and signings?

The modern rigmarole of authorial book-peddling was undreamt of in Luther’s time. There were no liturgical assemblies of devotees in bookshops or literary festivals to celebrate the cult of the author with handshakes, selfies, and signed copies. For most authors, the tangible rewards from publishing were indirect rather than direct. Publishing a book which sold well brought an author reputation, and this could be traded into lucrative office in church or state. One of Luther’s busiest opponents, Johannes Cochlaeus, was as tireless an author as he, but far less popular – and far less gifted! He often had to pay printers to produce his books, and they were far harder to sell than Luther’s, and far less often reprinted. But the judicious distribution of free copies, or better still of dedication copies, to powerful patrons could pay handsome dividends in cash or office. Duke George of Saxony eventually made Cochlaeus his secretary, and various church authorities bestowed benefices upon him in recognition of his efforts. Another German opponent of Luther’s, Dr Johann Eck, dedicated his widely read refutation of Luther to Henry VIII and came to England to present a copy in person: he left with £25 in his purse – equivalent today to a whole year’s salary, and a very good salary at that.

The direct profits in the publishing industry went to printers, not to authors, and printers throughout Germany rapidly cottoned onto Luther’s commercial value. Yet although Luther’s sales were in the millions, which would have made him a wealthy man today, even he made nothing directly from them. He owed his financial security to the Electors of Saxony – whose university in Wittenberg he had singlehandedly made one of the most famous in Europe. The students who flooded in brought wealth to the city, as did the huge output of his books from its burgeoning printing industry, which he had in effect created. As Andrew Pettegree has shown in his Brand Luther, Wittenberg developed a cutting-edge printing industry on the back of Luther, producing vast numbers of his works in high-quality editions that were distinctively authorised with the ‘Luther seal’ that he devised.

In return, his prince granted him the Augustinian friary as his family home, along with a good salary as the leading professor of theology in the university itself.

Could Luther ever have been neutered or muted with promotion to high ecclesiastical office?

No. He was on the fast track to leadership in his own religious order anyway when he began to develop his new approach to Christianity, and he was not in the least deterred by the obvious damage he was doing to his career prospects. And while he might have risen to be ‘Provincial’ (head of a province), or even perhaps more, in the Order of the Hermits of St Augustine, it is unlikely that his abrasive character would have equipped him for high office in the wider world, so that at a deeper level the question does not arise. Nobody could ever have seen him as, administratively, a ‘safe pair of hands’. The practical details of organising everyday life in the emerging Evangelical Churches of the German Princes were sorted out not by Luther but by his acolytes – Johannes Brenz, Johannes Bugenhagen, and the rest.

Luther was never in any sense ‘an organisation man’. While he was undoubtedly a ‘charismatic leader’, and the experience of being the focus of a personality cult was evidently one he relished, he was not driven by any of the obvious kinds of ambition or careerism. Making him a bishop would simply have given him a bigger pulpit, literally and metaphorically, from which to preach.

You describe how a personal cult began to burgeon around Luther in his own lifetime. Had his worldview admitted of sainthood, and were you the curator of his leading pilgrimage site, what would be the top relics you would want to possess?

History answers that question. For his worldview, and that of his followers, did not manage to exclude the trappings of sainthood quite as cleanly as might be imagined from the theological emphasis on Christ as the unique mediator and on the immediate experience of ‘justification by faith alone’. In a world in which literacy was slowly but steadily increasing, and in which, perhaps thanks to print, respect for books and writing was higher than ever before, later Lutherans particularly valued things he had written – actual letters, ‘autographs’ (in our sense – examples of his actual signature), books he had published (especially early copies of his translation of the Bible) and, in particular, copies of books in which he had personally written.

So if I were running a Luther shrine, I would want it to focus on things he had physically written. There are interesting parallels here, by the way, with the early miracles reported of the founder of the Jesuits, St Ignatius Loyola. The miracles credited to Ignatius are often associated with examples of his autograph signature. But buildings with which Luther had been associated also came to be highly prized in later Lutheran tradition, in particular two houses in Eisleben: the one in which he had been born, and the other, in which he had died. It would be fanciful to detect here an echo of the Holy House of Loreto, the shrine in northern Italy believed by some to have been the actual Nazareth home of Jesus, miraculously transported to its new location by angels. Yet while Luther’s houses had stronger historical claims, there is a common factor: both traditions embodied in their own ways a new sense of the centrality of the ‘nuclear’ family in western Christianity.

What are you currently working on?

An edition of an exchange of letters between Luther and Henry VIII in 1525-26, an episode hardly ever noticed in biographies of either man. Accompanied by an introduction setting this storm in a teacup within the broader perspective of their interactions over some twenty-five years, this edition will be published by Boydell and Brewer. And a Short History of the Tudors for Bloomsbury Continuum. Maybe one day I’ll get to write a ‘big book’.

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Interview: Catch-22 (12 -16 Nov. ’19)

 

“When I discovered that Heller had done his own stage adaptation I knew it was something I wanted to direct.”

WHO: Hannah Bradley: Director

WHAT: “Captain John Yossarian is a U.S. Army bombardier and the last Assyrian alive, and he would very much like to keep it that way. Convinced that an entire army is trying to kill him, Yossarian desperately tries to evade battle (and the increasing demands of his superior Colonel Cathcart), but finds that there is always a catch. Meanwhile, the unit’s long-suffering Chaplain has found himself inadvertently caught up in a strange war of his own. And everyone is trying to locate the mysterious Washington Irving.”

WHERE: The Biscuit Factory

DATES: 12 – 16 November

TIMES: 19:30

MORE: Click Here!


Why ‘Catch-22’?

I fell in love with ‘Catch-22’ when I read the book in high-school. It’s one of the few novels which has made me laugh out loud. And Heller has such a way with words, it’s like reading a 500-page poem, there’s a unique rhythm which carries you through the story. When I discovered that he had done his own stage adaptation I knew it was something I wanted to direct. The timing has been fortuitous with George Clooney’s mini-series earlier in the year introducing so many more people to these characters. I think that’s why it’s persisted as a classic – the characters are relatable, even with their faults. And they find themselves in situations that we all do, subject to the whim of the machine.

What’s the one thing about this show that everyone should know BEFORE they take their seats?

It’s one of the best satires of the 20th century. So iconic in fact that the term Catch-22 comes from the book.

What makes this production unique?

We’re staging it at The Biscuit Factory which is giving the show a totally different feel. This isn’t some black box or black canvas; it’s industrial, it’s grungy. It’s been a really cool and interesting space to work with and adds another element to the show.

What’s the one thing you know now that you wish you’d known at the start of rehearsals?

The challenge of directing 14 actors in 40 parts – that’s been a real learning experience. And how difficult it is to dye silk with tea!


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“The Monstrous Heart” (Traverse Theatre, 22 Oct – 2 Nov : 19:30 : 1hr 15mins)

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Photography by Mihaela Bodlovic

” Elegant and attentive direction”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars Nae Bad

An obvious symbol lies on a table at the centre of the stage.

A dead beast as the first actor of an analogy game that unfolds itself like a Russian nesting doll – the monstrous, the wild, the Other, the Mother, the Daughter. A metaphor and, ultimately, a show that rushed like hot blood within a febrile body: hastily.

During a storm in the Canadian mountains, the prodigal daughter visits her mother after a long time to seek answers and amend past decisions.

The attempted analysis of the human passions and post-freudian determinism (which of course condemns women first) with clear romantic allegories (Frankestein, connection between nature and sentiments through sound and light design) fails along the way. A good idea, but unfortunately without resolution.

Director Gareth Nicoll’s taste for Shakespearean, abrupt violence and the delicate language of gestures are as easily seen in this production as his others. But even elegant and attentive direction and fairly competent acting cannot save a flat plot and circumspect script.

A neatly conducted rhythm at the first part of the dialogue becomes a self-explanatory, polarised monologue. Rather than raise drama or empathy, the self indulgent storytelling leaves one wondering if one character is listening to the story or the actress is simply waiting to say her speech.

There’s a lack of tension all the way through the script: the position of power remains always the same, embodied by the daughter, whose acting is quite hectic and leaves no room for audience expectancy at the beginning. Nevertheless, her physical characterisation is superb. The restraint of the mother was sometimes staggered by little details (dramatic hand tics in particular), but the character blossoms once she downs a dram and the actress allows herself to relax.

In short, this is a strong initial concept that craves revision. I hope that it’s returned to, for the simple reason that the idea, the discourse, the creative team’s work and the cast have so much to offer – but, unfortunately, cannot be cured from the restraints of the substandard playwriting.

Maybe the magnificence of a living bear cannot be portrayed if the insides are not beating guts, but soft stuffing.

nae bad_blue

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Helena Salguiero (Seen 23 October)

The Panopticon (The Traverse: Oct 11 – 19 : 19:30: 2hrs 45 mins)

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Photography by Mihaela Bodlovic

” A masterfully produced piece of white hot tragedy”

Editorial Rating:  4 Stars: Outstanding

Shows are a lot like types of friendship. Some primarily uplift you; they wrap you up in a distancing blanket from what’s actually out there, or distract you from what can’t be escapes. Others are more of an intellectual affair, where the value comes from what you can glean. A working partnership, maybe, as much as acquaintanceship. Some are good, some are fine, and some you cannot wait to forget.

The Panopticon is a singular type of play: it’s like having a witty, irreverent friend who also spontaneously beats the shit out of you. It’s cool, you agreed to it, and honestly there’s a lot of heart and soul in the neverending chest-stamping and throat-chopping, but nonetheless beaten ye shall be. The Panopticon is a masterfully produced piece of white hot tragedy, an important artwork – but if the content warnings plastered around the Traverse Lobby don’t tip you off, it’s not welcome territory for a frail disposition.

The premise of the story is easy to ramp into: a young girl named Anais is put into a home built in the shell of a disused panopticon: a prison wherein all prisoners may be seen from a central tower, and never know if they’re being watched. It becomes a damned succinct example of ‘setting-as-overall-metaphor’, and sets up a rollercoaster ride of extreme highs and disorientating lows centred around the lives of the troubled and shunned, and the tragedy of a loveless childhood.

The star of the show, both literally and performatively, is Anna Russell-Martin as Anais: an acerbic, highly troubled young woman for whom the lines between reality and psychosis are not so much blurred as violently shaken together. Russel-Martin offers a masterclass performance in the title role: running the gamut from charming and rambunctious to devastated to utterly destroyed, whilst still maintaining rock-solid continuity of character. Anyone who’s been to a few theatre productions has likely seen grief, rage and joy played out – when watching Russel-Martin, it’s like seeing them for the first time.

Beyond the easy classification of “who is the main character”, the ensemble cast is both a blessing and a curse: a group of performers so uniformly talented that it makes picking a starting point incredibly difficult. Do you start with Laura Lovemore, whose attention to consistent physicality not only makes every one of her characters distinct, but wholly individual? Kay McAllister, who portrays beauty of spirit and acidic tragedy like an angel in a crack den? The wonderfully afflicted bravado and uncertainty of Louise McMenemy’s Shortie, the edge-of-unsettling vibrancy and humanity of Lawrence-Hodgson Mulling’s John, the kaleidoscope-esque multiplicity of Martin Donaghy. There’s simply too much good to unpick here without it turning into a bullet-pointed gush list, but suffice to say, they’re an ensemble cast dream team. Wholly professional, wholly consistent and an absolute joy to watch.

I would be remiss, however, not to highlight my two favourite performers: Gail Watson and Paul Tinto. Tinto, rugged yet approachable, almost singlehandedly carries the light of optimism for the majority of the show with a charisma and earthy crunch that turns what could easily have been a trying, one-note archetype into what may be one of the show’s more understatedly complex roles. And Gail Watson. Gail Watson! Chameleons would weep and don monochrome jackets out of shame. No matter the demands of the myriad parts she plays, each is done with nuance. Personality. Although Eddie Murphy’s Norbit may have traumatised me away from films where one actor plays every part, if Gail Watson were headlining? I might be persuaded to invest in the necessary therapy to enjoy it.

These players would be delight enough on their own, but when cast into sets as well designed and dramatic as those created by the incredibly talented stage team, it only serves to elevate. Not only are they clever to the point of enviousness, they are (much like everything from the lighting to the sound ops) integrated to the point of seamlessness. It’s very much like watching a morbid dollhouse play itself to pieces: a rare treat to watch though perhaps, given the subject matters, not a constant delight. The team behind The Panopticon commit entirely to the concept of theatre as illusion-making, and the results are wonderfully encapsulating.

Of course, perfection is theoretical, and this production proves that fact. Though the viscerality of the acting cannot be denied, the fight choreography felt too floaty and impactless for most of the violent scenes to carry home the needed drama. And although the digitally projected visuals were inspired, oftentimes they felt more like a palate-cleanser to cut the drama rather than an off-angle surprise to elevate it. This is less of an issue with, say, the visualization of the mental sensation of an orgasm, but is fairly noticeable on the subject of psychotic dreams.

It feels prescient to state here that, if you haven’t already guessed, this isn’t a show that flinches when it comes to deeply upsetting events. The plot features things that would certainly warrant thorough show research and consideration for anyone with prior trauma, and even if you don’t, make sure not to go on a bad day. It’s a white hot furnace of dismay, but it forges something deeply important and meticulously well performed.

It might be the darkest show I’ve reviewed for Edinburgh49 yet, but it’s a shining star on the theatrical horizon.

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Jacob Close (Seen 11 October)

RSNO:SONDERGARD; CARGILL: USHER HALL 4 Oct 2019

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Imperial Palace (Hofburg) Vienna

 

“All in all a promising start to what looks like a first-class season.  Bring it on.”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars Nae Bad

The Season Opener for the RSNO always gets a buzz going at the Usher Hall and tonight was no exception.  Moreover, the happy occasion was also music director Thomas Sondergard’s 50th Birthday, which the audience and orchestra recognised by singing and playing “Happy Birthday” at the end of the concert, amply led by mezzo soprano Karen Cargill.

For the repertoire we were taken unashamedly and full on into early twentieth century Vienna: Richard Strauss, Alban Berg and Gustav Mahler.  There is no doubt in my mind that the capital of the once great Austria-Hungarian Empire was the world capital of music from the eighteenth to the early twentieth century.  Lots of fabulous orchestration, complex rhythmic and compositional patterns, and brass.  Oh, the brass!  Eight horns for the Mahler.  Seven timpanies.  And the opening Strauss wasn’t shy about using them too.

The evening started with Richard Strauss’s Don Juan, an eighteen-minute escapade if not quite a romp comprising complex and multi-varying patterns of tempo and orchestration, the latter being the composer’s undoubted strongpoint.  Loud and soft, quick and slow, joyful and sinister that amply caught the character of the eponymous antihero.  Considering this was the first piece of the evening the orchestra was well on top of it, although it possibly lacked a little in terms of overall togetherness and smoothness which was perhaps unavoidable in a piece of such variety.  It made a tremendous start to the evening and set the tone of enjoyment and engagement.

Next we heard an early piece from Alban Berg, Seven Early Songs.  These slow, contemplative pieces allowed formidable Scottish mezzo soprano Karen Cargill to show off her beautiful rich and mellow tone along with a perfectly suited vocal range for a piece that could well have suited a contralto.  I was stunned by the quality of her voice. The orchestra accompanied her sensitively and effectively.  This was Berg in early, melodious form (1905-08) written under the instruction of Schoenberg, whose teaching, if not his composition, was decidedly traditional.  However the later orchestration (1928) gave a hint of his subsequent more complex compositional style.  The orchestra accompanied Cargill with sensitivity and empathy.

Following the interval came Mahler’s Symphony No 1 in D Major, the Titan.  An accessible and entirely enjoyable work in four movements it is a useful entry point to the composer, with all the mixture of poignant melodies and crash bang wallops that is his stock in trade.  Sondergard’s interpretation was a breath of fresh air, highly detailed bringing out every nuance of the piece, and the individual sections of the orchestra excelled from the piccolos and leader’s violin solo to the full-on brass and percussion. Yet perhaps because of this, I did not quite get a feeling of ‘wholeness’ from the orchestra because of this detailed interpretation.

All in all a promising start to what looks like a first-class season.  Bring it on.

 

 

nae bad_blue

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Charles Stokes (Seen 4 October)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

BRITTEN-SHOSTAKOVICH FESTIVAL ORCHESTRA: PIKE; LATHAM-KOENIG : USHER HALL 22 SEPT 2019

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Jennifer Pike

“The playing was quite superb, and I could have been fooled into thinking I was listening to a world class orchestra”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars:Outstanding

The Usher Hall’s excellent series of Sunday afternoon concerts from orchestras all over the world commenced its 2019/20 season with an almost unsustainably high standard.  The newly formed Britten-Shostakovich Festival Orchestra, the brainchild of Artistic Director Jan Latham Koenig (a British conductor working in Moscow) and our Ambassador over there, Sir Laurie Bristow, with a membership of Russian and British members all auditioned for their posts, and formed to sustain the legacy of the 2019 Year of Music between Britain and Russia, as well as the close relationship between the eponymous composers, kicked off the proceedings.

Whilst not overtly political or peace promoting in concept (one thinks of the highly successful Barenboim/Said Divan Orchestra made up of Israelis and Palestinians) the combination of musician from both countries is not without political relevance in these troubled times and can be only a force for good.

With an itinerary ranging from Sochi to Basingstoke, the band hit Edinburgh towards the end of their tour and were well into their stride.

As with all the Usher Hall’s Sunday afternoon concerts, the programme was immediately recognisable, accessible and undemanding, but none the worse for that.  The playing was quite superb, and I could have been fooled into thinking I was listening to a world class orchestra, emotions were surely touched.

The programme started with Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes by Benjamin Britten.  I was struck by the clarity of the strings, warm brass tones and relaxed cohesion of the band as a whole.

We were then treated to Ralph Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending and privileged to hear Jennifer Pike handle the violin solo. This young lady has blossomed since her arguably winning BBC Young Musician of the Year too young, and this, the second time I have heard her play it, was a more rounded, secure rendition that let the glorious music speak for itself, the sign of real artistry.  As a violinist of meagre ability myself, I first heard the work played by a school colleague in the Abbey of Dorchester on Thames in the 1960s who went on to be a professor of music at the Royal Academy. I have known it and loved it all my adult life and Jennifer really delivered. Moreover, the orchestra went untroubled into accompaniment mode rather than performing mode, effectively and subtly.

Shostakovich’s Suite for Variety Stage Orchestra was a delightful raucous romp showing the composer’s lighter side and sent us chuckling into the interval.

After refreshment, something more serious, Prokofiev’s Extracts from Romeo and Juliet.  Six extracts were chosen, starting with the proud “Montagues and Capulets”, later the searing agony of Death of Tybalt, ending with the serene, if troubled, The Death of Juliet.  In all six episodes the orchestra was more than equal to the task which they played with the right balance of restraint and emotion, never brassy nor vulgar, representing their fine musical training and technique.

Our finale was, of course, Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.  Plenty of opportunities, but none taken, for brassiness or vulgarity here, but, again, a finely judged performance, in particular with a huge tuba, big bass drum amply representing cannon fire, and the triumphant tubular bells.  All credit to the incredibly versatile and unflustered percussionist, Uliana Scherbakova, and tubaist Grady Hassan.

One wonders why this excellent orchestra was not performing at the Proms, but of course it was not formed when the programme planning took place.  To get such an accomplished band up and running so quickly is a real achievement and shows the energy and vitality that is the international music scene today.

 

outstanding

StarStarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Charles Stokes(Seen 22 September)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED