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Exploring Musical Possibilities 6

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his year’s Edinburgh International Festival brochure boasts a new section of defined programming labelled ‘Contemporary Music’, and signals that Festival 2013 offers an unmissable opportunity to hear how composition and performance in the second half of the last century led us to the present-day melting pot where artists cross boundaries that were previously rigid barriers. From rarely-heard classics of the 20th century to music being created specially for this year’s event, approach with ears open… Keith Bruce, Arts Editor of The Herald


Contents 3 Tod Machover’s Festival City 4 Philip Glass reimagines La Belle et la Bête 6 Ilan Volkov contrasts two musical pioneers 7 Cyber sounds from Pierre-Laurent Aimard & Marco Stroppa 8 Bang on a Can All-Stars 10 Sounds of the City 12 Patti Smith and Philip Glass on Allen Ginsberg 14 The music of Frank Zappa

Images: Raymond Meier, Wikipedia, Stephanie Berger, Peter Brooker / Rex Features, Janus Films, Eoin Carey, Stewart Cohen, Simon Butterworth, Stockhausen Foundation for Music, Marco Borggreve, Superstock, Michiel Hendryckx, Rob McDougall


A collaborative composition Composer Tod Machover’s latest project, writes Keith Bruce, Arts Editor of The Herald, is inspired by the sounds of the Festival city.


omposer Tod Machover works at the cutting edge of contemporary composition. Based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab in Boston, his work includes the interactive games technology behind Guitar Hero. He has developed a whole series of new ways to create music that have been used by everyone from Prince to Peter Gabriel. Machover visited the city in May in one of a series of field trips that will result in the creation of Festival City, an entirely new composition that will be played by the RSNO at the Usher Hall on 27 August. It is being written with the assistance of people from around the world, whose input Machover has solicited via online invitation and a series of software apps.

On that trip, he was as enthused by the Gaelic singing of the choir from Tollcross Primary School and the young pipers from James Gillespie’s High School. They might feature in the new Festival commission, but so may any sound that you have submitted. The piece that will end up in front of the players of the RSNO will be the work of Machover – and everyone who has chosen to engage in this widest of Festival community engagement projects. City Noir

Sponsored by

Royal Scottish National Orchestra Tuesday 27 August 8.00pm Usher Hall £12-£42 Visit and start creating your own scores for Festival City with the Constellation and Cauldron apps.


Once upon a time… Keith Bruce, Arts Editor of The Herald, looks at Philip Glass’s magical reimagining of the score to Jean Cocteau’s classic film of Beauty and the Beast


he early 1990s can be identified as a particularly prolific period for Glass. Bringing forth popular works like the symphonies that drew on themes from the Bowie/ Eno albums Low and Heroes, it also saw a trilogy of pieces inspired by the work of Jean Cocteau. La Belle et la Bête is the central one of these (following Orphee and preceding Les Enfants Terribles), and is designed to be played as an alternative soundtrack to the Cocteau film, replacing both the dialogue from the 1946 film and George Auric’s score. Although not intended to accompany a staged performance, Glass has spoken of it as ‘operatic’ and in some sense a sequel to the Gluck-inspired Orphee – and it will be performed as he originally conceived it at The Edinburgh Playhouse this year. For a generation more accustomed to hearing Glass’s music as the Oscar-winning soundtrack to movies like The Hours and Notes on a Scandal, it can be seen as an important pre-cursor to those more ‘commercial’ projects. La Belle et la Bête is also part of the BFI Gothic season. Find out more at

La Belle et la Bête (Beauty and the Beast) Saturday 10 & Sunday 11 August 8.00pm The Edinburgh Playhouse £12-£35 Supported by Ewan and Christine Brown



20th Century Classics Conductor Ilan Volkov contrasts two pioneers of the avant-garde in his Festival concert with the BBC SSO


dgard Varèse still stands as a pioneer and true original of the 20th century. Even though he has so few works that are available (many early works are lost), each piece is unique and like nothing else in the repertoire. It is a dream come true to at last conduct Ameriques, which is the only piece that continued Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in a clear way. Berio’s Sinfonia is one of those early avant-garde works that will remain a classic in years to come. The combination of a symphony orchestra and solo voices in this piece is stunning and grabs the audience by their throats. All those quotes and styles in the music feel natural and part of a powerful whole. Actually a very good contrast to Varèse and his hard edged sounds, Berio is such a skilled orchestrator and gets so many warm and fantastic sounds from the orchestra. I am really looking forward to conducting these works with my main collaborators for the last 10 years, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.’

20th Century Classics BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra Saturday 10 August 8.00pm Usher Hall £12-£42 Sponsored by



Cyber Sounds Music critic Kate Molleson looks at two concerts where digital technology and music collide


ow should 21st-century composers respond to the virtual world? How can computer-generated media extend the sonic potential of acoustic instruments? Does the digital age threaten music’s core human integrity? These kind of questions aren’t new but they seem more pertinent today than ever. Pierre-Laurent Aimard, one of the most thoughtful pianists of our age and a long-time champion of new music, offers two programmes exploring piano and electronics. In both he pairs masters of pianistic colour (Kurtag and Messiaen) with explorers of extended sound: Marco Stroppa’s Traiettoria is a concerto for piano and computer-generated textures – a kind of sonic laboratory in which Stroppa mixes up art and science – while Stockhausen’s early Kontakte bristles with pioneering electronic counterpoint and total serialism.

Pierre-Laurent Aimard & Marco Stroppa Sunday 18 August 10.00pm The Hub £15 Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Marco Stroppa & Samuel Favre Wednesday 21 August 10.00pm The Hub £15


A spirit of convivial fusion Determined to break down counter cultural barriers, writes Kate Molleson, three Yale graduates looked to create a genre-defying collaboration



t started with three composers, 12 hours and a SoHo art gallery. David Lang, Michael Gordon and Julia Wolfe were baffled by the various snobberies and counter-snobberies that carved up Manhattan’s music scenes: uptown was formal and stuffy, downtown was gritty and experimental, and rarely the twain did meet. So they began staging raucous, all-embracing marathon concerts to blast through those barriers. The name happened almost by accident: ‘we’re just a bunch of composers sitting around banging on cans’, Wolfe said off-thecuff one day, and it stuck.

A quarter of a century later and Bang on a Can has become New York’s most celebrated contemporary music outfit. In the early 1990s its founders realised they needed some kind of regular band to play their works, and the Bang on a Can All-Stars were born – a boisterous, roaming collective playing (mostly) post-minimalist, crossgenre new music. The All-Stars visit Edinburgh this Festival with a new project called Field Recordings, in which BoaC friends old and new work with a range of sound and image recordings. Some will be technically complex, some nostalgic, and all will no doubt be executed with the spirit of convivial fusion that sets Bang on a Can apart.

Bang on a Can All-Stars Field Recordings Friday 23 August 8.00pm Usher Hall £12-£34



The Sounds of the City The Royal Scottish National Orchestra’s Festival concert features works exploring the atmosphere and sounds of three very different cities, writes music critic David Kettle


t’s the urban glamour and grime of the city that take centre stage in the Royal Scottish National Orchestra’s forwardlooking Festival concert on 27 August. First up is Edinburgh itself in technology guru Tod Machover’s Festival City, based on sounds donated online by one and all. But the final event transports us to sultry, gritty Los Angeles in the 1940s and 50s, the inspiration for US postminimalist John Adams’s recent City Noir. Drawing influences from sources such as big-band jazz and the films of David Lynch, Adams’s semi-symphony is a dazzling showpiece that blends a sweeping cinematic lyricism with a powerful sense of drama. ‘My city can be imagined not just as a geographic place but as a source of inexhaustible sensual experience,’ Adams has said. ‘Sometimes it’s languorous and nocturnal, sometimes animal and pulsing, sometimes in-your-face brash and uncouth.’ Talking of brash and uncouth – not to say dark and brooding – Adams’s music is preceded by Christopher Rouse’s energetic whirlwind Infernal Machine, full of stuttering, twittering, grinding sounds and rhythms. ‘I was inspired by the vision of a great self-sufficient machine eternally in motion for no particular purpose’, he’s said. ‘While it’s not specifically satanic, it’s more than a little sinister.’

City Noir Royal Scottish National Orchestra Tuesday 27 August 8.00pm Usher Hall £12-£42 Sponsored by


And the Beat goes on Herald theatre critic Neil Cooper looks forward to a night in the company of three American counter-cultural greats


ithout a couple of chance meetings, a collaboration between poet and chanteuse Patti Smith and composer Philip Glass to pay tribute to Beat poet Allen Ginsberg in words and music at the Festival might never have happened. Ginsberg famously bought Smith a sandwich in 1969, mistaking her for a boy, while Glass and Ginsberg collaborated on a setting of Ginsberg’s poem, Wichita Vortex Sutra, after meeting in a bookshop in 1988. Sixteen years after Ginsberg’s death in 1997 aged 70, The Poet Speaks will unite a holy trinity of America’s counter culture in a unique pan-generational event. Ginsberg, was the author of Howl, one of the seminal texts of the Beat Generation, the much mythologised post-war free-form literary movement which Ginsberg became a figurehead of alongside his friends and collaborators, William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac. Smith took much from the Beats, transforming her own poetry into pre-punk mantras to captivate New York’s downtown scene from her 1975 debut album, Horses, onwards. Glass, meanwhile, is the iconic pianist whose hypnotic and insistent compositions became best known via his scores for Godfrey Reggio’s Qatsi trilogy of films, seen at the Festival in 2011. The compendium of words and music by all three artists should make for a deeply spiritual experience.


The Poet Speaks Homage to Allen Ginsberg Tuesday 13 August 8.30pm The Edinburgh Playhouse £12-£35 Supported by Ewan and Christine Brown


Shrewd Operator Music writer Rob Adams explores the underlying musical influences of one of rock’s most intriguing characters


rank Zappa was one of the shrewdest operators the music industry has ever seen. And in a world where shrewd too often equates to financially astute, although Zappa certainly knew dollars from dimes, he stood out through being artistically shrewd. By his teens he was besotted with Stravinsky, Webern and especially, Edgard Varése, to whom, for his fifteenth birthday, Zappa was granted a long distance telephone call to tell the composer how much he admired his musique concrète. At the same time Zappa was enjoying doo-wop and rhythm ‘n’ blues, and realising that his more seriously inclined compositions were unlikely to gain broad acceptance, he determined to give the people what they wanted. On his terms. If they craved puerile humour, they could have Dinah-Moe Humm in an arrangement that reflected Zappa’s classical percussion studies from the age of twelve. Eventually Zappa’s serious compositions were taken seriously. He now stands alongside Varése and Cage because he learned from them and created work of his own that, like the music that made him a rock star, remains bold, daringly skilful and massively characterful.

Ensemble musikFabrik A tribute to Frank Zappa Wednesday 28 August 8.00pm Usher Hall £12-£34



Fiery Festival Finale! Festival 2013 ends with a spectacular concert. Dazzling fireworks are launched from Edinburgh’s iconic castle as the Scottish Chamber Orchestra plays Musorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition complete with barnstorming brass fanfares. Virgin Money Fireworks Concert Sunday 1 September 9.00pm Sponsored by

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Contemporary Music EIF 2013  

Edinburgh International Festival Contemporary Music Mini-Magazine 2013

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