Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Hidden Gems: Edinburgh International Festival 2013

(Image courtesy of 2012.eif.co.uk)
     Continuing in the vein of summer festivals throughout Europe, we turn our gaze from London to its norther cousin, Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. It is not often that one considers this relatively unknown place when one considers the major cities of Europe, for its influence does not seem to extend beyond the realm of tourism within the history of England and perhaps France. However, we should be quite remiss to neglect a mention of it in any sphere of interest in classical music and operatic festivals. A glance over the programs scheduled for this year tells us that any attempt to dismiss it even by a small amount when comparing it to the host of other offerings on the continent this summer is a grave error in judgment. If we, as international travelers and ardent admirers of the most excellent performances of refined music that has stood the test of time and appreciation relegated upon it by the most revered of audiences over the past few centuries, could only visit one country, a word I use loosely to define the United Kingdom, there is arguably no better place in all the world to which we might journey than precisely there. If we had three months to spend there, we could enjoy most of the BBC Proms, and then we could make a pilgrimage to Edinburgh to catch the Edinburgh International Festival.

     Running from August 9, 2013, to September 1, 2013, this year's calendar of events once again exceeds my expectations. Since this is often the case with this venue, I fear, dear most patient readers, that I am guilty of not granting the city of Edinburgh its due prominence in the world, and, if this is the regrettable case, I do hastily apologize for such an ignorance as this certainly must seem to you. If there are some who believe this to be true, please say as much in a comment, and I beseech you to bestow some light upon this for my benefit. As for the festival itself, where most festivals focus on a single realm of art, of which music is of primary interest to me, the Edinburgh International Festival juxtaposes the performing arts under its banner and gives us offerings of classical music, opera, theatre and drama, dance, and visual arts, which makes it an ideal booking for those with varied interests or for groups of people with diverse likings. Furthermore, for the more adventurous among us who strive to further the specific arts we love in the best way we can and to gain as much knowledge in so doing as is possible, there are talks and workshops from the experts in each category given for the benefit of the astute and inquisitive audiences these performances and exhibitions shall attract to them.

     Before I proceed to this year's exceptional schedule and my personal favorites from its calendar, a look at its history is well in order. It was established in 1947 in auspicious fashion by none other than Sir Rudolf Bing, then general manager of Glyndebourne Festival Opera and later very famously and rather successfully general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, and Henry Harvey Wood, who had already secured himself a distinguished history with the BBC Proms. Begun with a broad envisage of enriching the cultural scene of Europe, which does, today, seem a trifle ambitious, the festival lives up to this standard even unto this day, and its duration of three weeks remains mostly unchanged from its beginning to present. It opened in its first permanent home, the Hub, Edinburgh Festival Center, in 1999. Since 2006, its director has been Jonathan Mills, and the caliber of recent seasons proves that he is certainly worthy of his post.


The Hub, Edinburgh Festival Center (Image courtesy www.eif.co.uk)

     The 2013 season proves no less distinguished or anticipated than any other European festival's, and the varied nature of both performers and their repertoire shows that the festival caters to the broadest possible audience in music, at least. From the timeless elegance of the Baroque period of music to the niche popularity of Phillip Glass, any aficionado of classical music can be assured of finding at least a handful of concerts suited to his or her predilections in this art. While my personal preferences are inclined to lean more toward the former than the latter, I outline my what my ticket selections should be if I were blessed to be visiting Scotland within the next month.

Saturday 10 August 2013: Christian Gerhaher Recital: As the Guardian informs us, Gerhaher is one of the supreme lieder artists of the modern age, and this concert is a chance afforded to us in which we may put this praise to the test of our ears. Baritone Gerhaher performs here in a program of Schumann songs, and Gerold Huber joins him at the piano.

Saturday 10 August - Monday 12 August 2013: Beethoven's Fidelio: Soprano Erika Sunnegardh, once destined for high hopes at the Met, portrays Beethoven's fortuitous and determined heroine trying to free her husband from prison. The remainder of the cast is unknown to my ears, but it includes Nikolai Schukoff as Florestan, Michael Eder as Rocco, and Valentina Nafornita as Marzelline. Of further worth mentioning is that this production from Opera de Lyon is a new one by Gary Hill in which the setting is a spacecraft hurtling toward infinity, a concept that is not without merit entirely.

Sunday 11 August 2013: Tchaikovsky's Pathetique and Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4: With the aid of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Dame Mitsuko Uchida plays Beethoven's fourth piano concerto, and conductor Mariss Jansons leads the orchestra in Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6, Pathetique.

Monday 12 August 2013: Mahler's Symphony No. 2: The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra makes another appearance at the festival this season featuring one of Mahler's best loved pieces, his Resurrection Symphony. The soloists are mezzo-soprano Anna Larsson and soprano Genia Kuhmeier.

Tuesday 13 August 2013: Bernarda Fink Recital: Mezzo-soprano Bernarda Fink, heralded the world over for her interpretative gifts, visits Edinburgh to present works from great song literature including settings from Mahler's Des Knaben Wunderhorn. Also performing Debussy and others, she is accompanied by Anthony Spiri at the piano.

Wednesday 14 August: Hannah Stone Recital: The Royal Harpist plays a recital program that includes Bach and Prokofiev. Music from the harp is ever an interesting and delicate matter.

Wednesday 14 August 2013: Les Musiciens du Louvre Grenoble: The exquisite ensemble that accompanied Cecilia Bartoli on her Opera Proibita release journeys to Scotland to deliver a pair of concerts. First among their scheduled programs is Schubert's first, fifth, and seventh symphonies, the last of which is unfinished. Marc Minkowski conducts, which is ever a thrilling sight to witness.

Wednesday 14 August 2013: Nicola Boud: While one might not initially regard a clarinet recital as particularly thrilling, the course of this one is rather interesting to me. Australian clarinetist Nicola Boud takes us on a musical journey playing four different historical clarinets and showing how changes in the instrument's design influenced the music written for it and vice versa. She is joined by soprano Sabine Devieilhe, bassoonist Jane Gower, Sophie Gent on viola, and fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout in a concert program of Mozart, Schubert, Glinka, and Brahms.

Thursday 15 August 2013: Les Musiciens du Louvre Grenoble: Minkowski and his orchestra return to the festival again playing Schubert. This time it is his Symphony No. 3 and Symphony No. 8. This is new territory for my ears with this orchestra, and I am excited to hear these two concerts.

Friday 16 August 2013: Werner Gura: German tenor Werner Gura, a maiden voice to my ears, sings a recital including Beethoven's song cycle An die ferne Geliebte and Schubert's Schlummerliede. His accompanist is pianist Christoph Berner. Since my knowledge of German song is deplorably lacking it appears that this summer may well broaden my experience with it.

Saturday 17 August 2013: Faure Requiem: Baritone Sir Thomas Allen and treble Isaac Waddington perform what is arguably Gabriel Faure's most famous composition. Additionally the program includes works by Debussy, Schoenberg, and Webern. The music of the evening is made by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra under the baton of Robin Ticciati.

Sunday 18 August 2013: Chamber Orchestra of Europe: Under the direction of precocious and daring maestro Yannick Nezet-Seguin, who can make any orchestra into an electrifying ensemble through his rehearsals, the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, culled from the best players across the continent, plays Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat, K364, Beethoven's Symphony No. 7, and Strauss's Duet-Concertino.

Monday 19 August 2013: Dorothea Roschmann Recital: In what is one of the most anticipated recitals to take place at this year's Edinburgh International Festival, at least to my interest, much lauded soprano Dorothea Roschmann, who is skilled in many varied fachs of repertoire, sings Alban Berg's Seven Early Songs, Schumann's Liederkreis, Opus 39, and a selection from Wolf's Moricke Lieder. Accompanying her for this exquisite recital is none other than pianist Malcolm Martineau.

Tuesday 20 August 2013: Nachtmusique: I had a titillating taste of this concept when I heard Rene Jacobs's recording of La Finta Giardineria with the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra for Harmonia Mundi, and I enjoyed it immensely. Nachtmusique, a period instrument ensemble plays a host of works by Mozart for their appearance at the Edinburgh International Festival this year, and this promises to appeal to any devoted admirer of Mozart's splendid music or period ensembles.

Wednesday 21 August 2013: Christophe Rousset and Les Talens Lyriques: Harpsichordist and conductor Christophe Rousset plays a series of concerts for the festival this year, and for his first visit he presents us with a book of short pieces for solo harpsichord by Couperin. Since I am quite enamored with this instrument, this should be an exciting concert to hear, and its performance in Scotland is easily a laudable event.

Thursday 22 August 2013: Ian Bostridge Recital: Tenor Ian Bostridge, who is among the most erudite of performers today, is gifted with a supreme gift for recital and chamber performances. His every nuance is excellently delivered, and the repertoire he has elected for the audience's ears is not to be missed. He performs works by Ives, Brahms, and Schumann, and famed pianist Lars Vogt joins him on the stage.

Friday 30 August 2013: Veronique Gens Recital: One of the most sought after interpreters of Baroque music all of classical vocal music, Veronique Gens has built a solid reputation for herself as an exquisite singer. She brings her talent to songs of the Romantic period by Hahn, Faure, Duparc, Debussy, and Chausson. Her accompanist is Susan Manoff on piano.

Saturday 31 August 2013: Verdi's Requiem: In the 200th anniversary of Giuseppe Verdi's birth, there are no shortages of performances of his very operatic Messa da Requiem, but this is certainly an admirable addition to this specific catalog. Conducted by Scotland's foremost conductor Donald Runnicles, the soloists are soprano Erin Wall, mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill, tenor Bryan Hymel, and bass Eric Owens. The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra provides the music from the ominous score.

     As my listing hopefully well depicts, the 2013 Edinburgh International Festival is certainly not to be missed. It boasts the best in talent for its engagements, and the quality of the artistry excels beyond expectations. Though these artists could easily rest upon their laurels for their concerts and recitals here, they elect to forge new musical paths and to take chances that an audience may or may not enjoy. This, however, is the fiber of what continues to make our beloved classical music appeal to us, and this festival receives every applause from me in this regard.

     Moreover, for those of us who cannot attend this year's cultural celebration in Scotland, BBC Radio 3 is scheduled to broadcast a good many of these recitals and concerts either live or on a future date, which is a marvelous benefaction to many, myself included among them, who shall gladly take the opportunity we are afforded to hear these otherwise hidden gems. In addition to the glittering roster of artists I have mentioned, there are a fair amount of others whom I failed to reveal due to the constraints of time and a certain trial of leniency upon readers who may grow weary of perusing such lengthy lists of concert dates.

     As ever, I proffer my exceptional ingratiation to my loyal audience who continues to maintain some interest in my humble musings, and I do hope that you find these posts of mine informative in some manner. I leave you all to the divine providence of God, and I pray that all of you are and do pleasantly remain blessed. It is a privilege to write for you.

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