The curse of the Counter-Enlightenment

Edinburgh Festival 2009 (1) 

Edinburgh, the capital of the devolved nation of Scotland, is the place to be this summer, partly owing to the fuss about the compassionate freeing of the convicted Lockerbie bomber, Mr Al-Magrahi. I've yet to talk to a Scot who thinks  the Libyan actually did it; so much dinner-table conversation here consists of  conspiracy theories, and the wilder they are, the more people seem to enjoy propounding and rebutting them.    
Last year was the first time I missed the Edinburgh Festival in many years, and it was also the first festival for its new director, the Australian composer, Jonathan Mills. Mills is a friend of mine (that's the interest declared); so I'm very pleased that I've been able to come this year. I arrived at the beginning of the second week and, my god, it started with a bang.
(This is the visual emblem of the 2009 festival, toile de Jouy, with urban activities and scenes substituting for pre-Enlightenment bucolic ones,)

 The 11.0 morning concert at Queen's Hall was the splendid string quartet, Quattor Mosaiques, who were playing a Haydn programme of the Quartet in D Op 33 No 6, and the string quartet arrangement of The Seven Last Words of our Saviour on the Cross. They were playing period instruments, which means fragile gut strings; the first violin broke his A or E string (I couldn't see) early on --  and so a five-minute pause. As the piece was getting increasingly harrowing, a cello string snapped, for  another delay, giving a wobbly, distressed- looking gent a chance for the house manager to help him out. Then just after (I think) "Sitio" (I thirst), there was a crash as an elderly woman in the back stalls fell over onto her neighbour; she was taken away, rapidly in an ambulance, and it was only a few minutes before Jonathan Mills, marshalling all the sangfroid in his nature, was able to nod that the performance could continue. The Seven Words is a sub-theme of this edition of the Festival - I heard another version at Queen's Hall on Tuesday, Scottish composer James MacMillan's utterly scary, moving masterpiece, sung by the Scottish chamber choir, Tenebrae, accompanied by the Scottish Ensemble, for whom the piece was written (plus an incredibly virtuosic orchestration for them of Ravel's Quartet in F by Rudolf Barshai). Last night  I heard the full Haydn German version, with four world-class soloists, including Rebecca Evans and Christine Rice. The piece had already claimed another victim, for Sir Charles Mackerras who was to have conducted it, was indisposed and had to be replaced by the too-loose limbed (to mark the beat clearly, with the result of scrappy orchestra ensemble) Garry Walker. (Also on the programme was the world premiere of Giorgio Battistelli's "Fair is foul, foul is fair," which turned out to be superior horror movie music, involving a great deal of work for the two percussionists)
This must surely have some bearing on the overall theme of the 2009 festival, which is the Enlightenment. It looks to me as though some secret and sinister religious order, determined on the overthrow of Enlightenment values, and on having the very last word,never mind the Seventh, has placed a  jolly effective curse on  at least some of  the proceedings.

August 27, 2009 4:54 PM | | Comments (1)


Actually, this is Mills' third year as festival director, his first was the 2007 festival.

We were obviously in different concerts as there was nothing scrappy about the SCO's Haydn from where I was sitting.

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This page contains a single entry by Plain English published on August 27, 2009 4:54 PM.

Tristan's triste tryst in Sussex was the previous entry in this blog.

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