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Judas Maccabaeus

August 16, 2009

Michael Tumelty’s review in the Herald puts the overall reaction pretty well.    I don’t entirely agree about the text (Shakespeare it is not, but it represents the story and gives the opportunity for music, which is which a text should do) but he is right about the performance.  It was spellbinding and on occasions grandly overwhelming.

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Under starters orders…

August 14, 2009

Last night the Creative Scotland reception (the first badged event that body has ever held, and hosted in the splendid new Edinburgh University  Infomatics buildingimages) was my opportunity to fit my feet into the blocks and get myself under starters orders for the Edinburgh Festivals.   Starting this Festival blog is another preparatory act – I hope to keep a record of what I see and do, and share it with those who can’t  be here, or who are here but are interested in other perspectives.

Admittedly the Fringe started last weekend, and the Jazz Festival and the Mela have come and gone, but since I came back from holiday I was first of all at the Gathering, and then at Cabinets in Melrose and the Western Isles – with concommitent touring to take some of the great things happening in those parts (and most parts) of Scotland this summer.

So only yesterday did I get back to the capital for the duration, so to speak (though I am in Aberdeen at the start of next week and in Inverness for a day the week after).

What lies ahead looks fascinating if a little daunting.     At lunchtime today there is a small reception at Bute House to thank many of those who are working on the Festivals and then tonight the opening concert of the EIFF (now 62 years old) , which is a performance of Judas Maccabaeus.

Like many things in the Festival, this is not without controversy (as the BBC website today illustrates).

I can understand the sensitivity of course.    Awful things were done and Culloden and its aftermath were a brutal exercise in  cultural genocide.   Not only dreadful in themselves, they also in part lead  to the Clearances and to profound human suffering – as was brought home to me very dramatically last year when I went to Winnipeg to unveil a memorial to the Selkirk Settlers,images-1 and heard living folk tales of the dreadful suffering of those who were thrown out of this country to make do as they could in a hostile environment.

Yet on balance   I think Jonathan Mills, in commemoration  of  the 250 th Anniversary of Handel’s death , was right to include the work with the closest connection with Scotland, as well as one which is arguably at the very summit of his achievement.    He is also right to say that Scotland , even (perhaps especially) in its year of Homecoming needs to challenge and understand its entire past, difficult as that is.

This sort of issue is why  I have often argued that we need more  than a touch of “post grievance nationalism” in our national  make up, ready to understand and accept , forgive and overcome the wrongs done.   “The Gathering”, as the First Minister very clearly said at the time,  demonstrated that well, in terms of reconciling some of the tensions of our Highland  past.    Perhaps tonight at the Usher Hall we will be taking another small step along the same road.   And doing so  to magnificent music.