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42 TIIEUST 2-16 Dec 1999
CLASSICAL PREVIEW James MacMillan Symphony No 2
Cause celeb: James Macmillan
Since when did composers of classical music start hitting the headlines? Normally, they don't. However, the premiere of James MacMillan’s Symphony No 2 and, more particularly, his programme note to it, has stirred publicity for contemporary Scottish music in unusual places. Broadsheets and tabloids alike have pounced on what has been interpreted as an attack on Scotland and its arts.
Taking his lead from his fellow Ayrshireman, writer Andrew O'Hagan, and Orkney born poet Edwin Muir, MacMillan quotes the final line of Muir’s Scotland’s Winter, a poem of joyless desolation written in 1956. The description ’content with their poor frozen life and shallow banishment’ is hardly likely to win the confidence of a
people living in an arts-rich society. But when MacMillan is sharing headlines with stories of soaring teenage crime and endless needless waste of life, is it surprising that he has taken the harshness around him as a metaphor for his music, in the same way that Muir did for his poetry? When Muir, nearing 70, was writing Scotland’s Winter, Scotland was about to embark on exciting times for the arts. The formation of Scottish Opera was close, and free instrumental music lessons in schools (from which MacMillan himself benefitted) became widely available. This burgeoning of the arts grew throughout the ensuing years; and this magazine alone is proof of their current health.
Blossoms, though, are not always indicative of what is happening at the roots. Accusations of mismanagement aside, the artistically successful Scottish Opera desperately needs stronger funding. Children no longer have the same opportunity to learn an instrument. Audiences for orchestral concerts are falling, and Edinburgh doesn’t even have a large scale concert hall. Yet what MacMillan — like Muir - is really saying in his second symphony is that in spite of such bleak odds, miracles can, do and will continue to happen. (Carol Main)
I The SCO premiere the Symphony No 2 by James MacMillan at Ayr: Town Hall, Thu 2 Dec; Glasgow: City Hall, Fri 3 Dec; and Edinburgh: Queen ’5 Hall, Sat 4 Dec.
CLASSICAL PREVIEW The Tokyo Quartet Edinburgh: Queen’s Hall, Mon 13 Dec.
Edinburgh's New Town Concerts Society may only promote four concerts in a year, but (to borrow some festive parlance) each one is a cracker. Well known for bringing chamber musicians of international calibre to Edinburgh outwith Festival time, the Society's second concert of the season features the renowned Tokyo String Quartet in Haydn, Beethoven and Ravel. Long-established (the quartet was formed as far back as 1969), they give around 100 concerts each year from Holland to Hawaii. They are not, however, without a social conscience in such a hectic schedule. When they performed the complete Beethoven cycle of string quartets throughout the world, all the proceeds from the six performances at New York's Carnegie Hall were donated to Classical Action: Performing Arts Against Aids.
Although the quartet’s origins can be traced to the Toho School of Music in Tokyo, the official formation of the
Eastern promise: The Tokyo Quartet
group was at the Julliard School of Music in the US. Of the four original members who came to study in the States, only the viola player, Kazuhide Isomura, is still part of the group. Second violin Kikuei Ikeda is the only other current Japanese player and also came through the Toho School, joining the quartet in 1974. The 905 have seen major changes. Ukrainian violinist Mikhail Kopelman, previously first violin of the equally renowned Borodin Quartet, joined in 1996, and in June of this year the newest and youngest member, Royal Northern College of Music trained cellist Clive Greensmith took up his position.
Apart from their outstanding musicianship, which ranks the Tokyo String Quartet as one of the world's best, the quartet is noted for performing on rather special instruments known as 'The Paganini Quartet', which are on loan from the Nippon Music Foundation. These were made by Stradivarius and named after the legendary 19th century virtuoso, Niccolo Paganini. (Carol Main)