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Moving on From a Lifetime of Bach

Paxton Music Festival 2008


Almost 40 years of playing Bach has led to cellist David Watkin performing nothing but Bach this year.  He is to perform the composer’s work at the  annual Chamber music festival held at Paxton House between the 19-28th of July. The festival is set to host a number of successful musicians. Watkin who is also working on an album, is principle cello of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.

Edinburgh-based Watkin, 42, studied music at Cambridge before going on to become principal in many leading ensembles all over the world. He is due to perform three of the six suites for Unnacomapanied Cello on the 24th of July at 7.30pm. The Beautiful setting and grandeur of Paxton House, in the borders, should provide and appropriate backdrop. He explains his musical journey, the importance of music in communication, his affinity with Bach, and why he is moving on from playing.

Speaking on the phone from the local pool, whilst with his two children and  accompanied by their shrieking, Watkin said he is “excited” about playing the festival.  He is also looking forward to meeting new people at the event for which he was first approached two years ago. He said:- “I’m recording all six of the Bach suites this year […] they will be released early next year. I’ve been on a journey with these pieces for 38 years. It’s a life’s journey to record them; it feels like a summation of all that work.”

Watkin is drawn to Bach for many reasons: “I definitely feel a connection with him” he says. He admires Bach’s vast output of composition and quotes from the master: “anybody can do what I did with hard work and the grace of God”. This has been inspirational during his work as a musician. However Watkin feels he is far removed from Bach in terms of belief and lifestyle, for Bach was a Lutheran Christian chamber musician, dedicated to the church, and not well travelled, although he said: “his dedication to communicating with people is something I would aspire to”.

Ultimately, his  aim with regards to the Bach performances is communication, and because the experience of playing solo Bach he said:- “can be very lonely; you’ve won if you can draw the audience in”.

Music, he feels communicates through narrative, one which tells a different story to each listener. He view is, he said:- “you have to persuade the listener, you have to engage in it, you’re telling the story, you can stop and pause for dramatic effect.” He presents the example of playing  a piece at his son’s primary school . Here all the children rushed to point out what it meant to them as a narrative, and that onechild’s idea of a waterfall “was perfect for that piece”. The audience he said:- “is drawn into the world you’re creating” because “there’s a powerful communication going on.” He equates music with the traditional Shakespearean recitals, and how these communicate ideas and character.

He explains that life experiences are important to tap into during musical performance, the same technique that actors use, in order to create meaningful representation. An experience that has stayed with him whenever he plays one of the suites, are the emotions felt while playing the piece at his grandmother’s funeral. In this respect, he said:- “the birth of a child can also be very touching, and in terms of music, it becomes very powerful because of it.”

As Baroque revivalist Watkin believes it is important to rediscover what music meant to people and how it was played. This is fundamental he suggests, as traditions change, which have led to the current  period of Modernism. For instance he explains that WWI had an important impact on culture due to its cavalry and killings.

Watkin’s announcement that he would be playing nothing but Bach this year demonstrates his passion for the composer, and the project was, he says, met with a gratifyingly favourable response. He said:- ”I announced I was playing only Bach this year and I found lots of opportunities.”

Among these are conducting  a Bach concert at Guildhall, London as well as playing and talking about the composer at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

As for the future, Watkin having decided he needs to move on from the lifetime of playing, and from which he needs a break, has moved into conducting. “It’s a natural development for me”.

Edinburgh musician will celebrate the 25th anniversary of Mendelssohn on Mull

June 14, 2013 by Sam Khan-McIntyre in Edinburgh Reporter.

link: http://www.theedinburghreporter.co.uk/category/culture/festivals/

Jessica Hall, Mendellssohn on Mull


The Mendelssohn on Mull Festival will be celebrating 25 years of   musical performance this year. This free festival of chamber music takes place between 1-6  July 2013 on the island of Mull and offers an opportunity for the young musicians taking part and music lovers alike.

The musicians are invited by artistic director Levon Chilingiran, a professor at the Royal College of Music, in London. They perform in various venues, such as the tiny Creich Church seating 50 or the grandeur of Duart Castle’s Great Hall. For the young professionals, who this year will include some from Edinburgh, it is an important way to gain performance experience and hone skills with the mentorship of experienced chamber musicians, in a beautiful setting.

Participant and freelance musician, Jessica Hall, 23, from Edinburgh who plays violin, viola, clarinet and piano said: – “Living in Edinburgh was a fantastic place to enter the music profession. I was lucky enough to attend St Mary’s Music School. The city was inspiring for me musically due to its festivals. Edinburgh also hosts an international festival of the arts every Easter where people will come from all over to compete. This was a very motivating thing to look forward to and work towards.” She also cites the witnessing of music from all over the world, in all types of venues, including bars and street performances during the Edinburgh International Festival as important to her.

Jessica has won numerous awards and prizes in her home city, such as the Winifred Gavine Medal for solo violin playing, the Edinburgh Quartet Prize, in the Advanced Duet Class and was finalist in the Edinburgh Concerto Competition.

The idea of the Mull festival is to bring a new generation of musicians into contact with seasoned professional mentors in relaxed and stunning surroundings, away from the treadmill and stresses of the professional music circuit. In this regard, Jessica said :-”The festival is my number one commitment giving me the opportunity to play chamber music with wonderful mentors in such a peaceful place.”

Of the relevance these days of such a festival, she said: – “Classical music is sadly something that a lot of young people aren’t interested in – it is viewed as dated and ‘un-cool’. I hope that the festival reaches people of a younger age and shows them how varied the world of classical music can be.”

She added:-”We did get a fair amount of younger audience last year and I think the fact that the   musicians are made up of young people who are obviously passionate about music and having a fantastic time performing shows them a different side to classical music that they wouldn’t have previously experienced.”

As to who might enjoy attending the festival, Jessica said: – “I couldn’t recommend this festival enough. There is something for everyone. I strongly believe that even if you are not passionate about classical music witnessing such enjoyable concerts from such young players is an experience in itself. The location of the festival is incredible. The festival grows in size every year as people come and love it and recommend it to everyone they know.”

In conclusion she said: – ”If you want a fantastic introduction to the world of classical music it’s perfect, and if you are somebody who already loves classical music then it’s the ideal venue to come and enjoy some performances of the highest quality.”

The festival is based on the island because the young composer Felix Mendelssohn made a life changing trip through Scotland to Mull, which inspired him to write ‘The Hebrides Overture, Fingal’s Cave’- one of his most famous pieces.

The young professionals are divided into three groups which workshop repertoire with experienced mentors. Jessica is in group 2.
This year’s mentors are Levon Chilingirian, Gaby Lester, Susie Mészáros, Marcia Crayford, and Stephen Orton.

Due to the popularity of some venues, start times have been staggered to allow travel to another venue if capacity is reached. Concert goers at Glengorm and Duart Castles should arrive at least 30 minutes before the start of the performances. All concerts are free of charge but an entrance fee is charged for access to Iona Abbey.
For further information about the festival, the venues and the participating musicians, visit: www.mendelssohnonmull.com



Workshop and Concert Diary 2013
Monday 1st July 2013 19.30 TOBERMORY PARISH CHURCH – All Groups
Tuesday 2nd July 2013 14.00 DERVAIG HALL – Group 3

19.30 SALEN CHURCH – Group 1

20.00 CRAIGNURE HALL – Group 2
Wednesday 3rd July 2013 19.30 SALEN CHURCH – Group 2

19.30 GLENGORM CASTLE – Group 1

20.15 MULL THEATRE – Group 3

Thursday 4th July 2013 11.30 IONA ABBEY – All Groups (This concert will include a performance of the Barber Adagio for Strings. Please note visitors must purchase a ticket to the Abbey.  Entrance to the concert is free.) 19.00 CREICH CHURCH – Group 1 19.00 BUNESSAN BAPTIST CHURCH – Group 3 20.00 DUART CASTLE – Group 2
Friday 5th July 2013 15.00 AROS HALL – Mendelssohn on Mull Music Makers 19.30 SALEN CHURCH – Classical Ceillidh – This concert will include a performance of the Mendelssohn Octet, to celebrate the Mendelssohn on Mull Festival’s 25th anniversary.   Saturday 6th July 2013 19.30 ST JOHN’S CATHEDRAL, OBAN – This concert will include performances from all groups.

2013 Repertoire

Group 1 – Mentor: Levon Chilingirian  Haydn Op55 No2;  Shostakovich 8; Mendelssohn Op18
Group 2 – Mentors: Gaby Lester and Susie Mészáros Schubert  Quartettsatz in c minor ( D7030); Mozart  K593; Brahms  Op111
Group 3 – Marcia Crayford and Stephen Orton Mozart K575; Boccherini a cello quintet; Brahms Op18

Forthcoming Album by Edinburgh Youth Gaitherin’

Published in Edinburgh Reporter, June 1, 2013 by Sam Khan-McIntyre
link: https://www.theedinburghreporter.co.uk/2013/06/forthcoming-album-by-edinburgh-youth-gaitherin/


Padraig at the archives

Young musicians have been spending a year investigating and responding creatively to recordings and photos found in the School of Scottish Studies Archives at the University of Edinburgh. The seven participants are now raising money to record an album of the music they have developed.

This archive project is a collaboration between the School and Edinburgh Youth Gaitherin, and is supported by Creative Scotland. The aim is to inspire new people to use the Archives and break down barriers young people and the wider community might have with visiting or using them.

The School of Scottish Studies, established in 1951, houses a treasure trove of fieldwork recordings including traditional songs, music, folklore and stories. The resource is an important asset to Scottish heritage.

Cathlin Macaulay, Archives curator at the School of Scottish Studies said:-“We are keen to bring new users into the Archives, especially young people, and welcome the opportunity to collaborate with Edinburgh Youth Gaitherin.”

Whilst taking part in the project, the participants have been learning about what is involved in being musicians: developing skills such as writing music; playing in a group; teaching; promotion; recording and learning how distribution works. They have also been seeking to take an innovative approach to heritage, whilst also developing a meaningful understanding of the content of the Archives and the context of the recordings.

This approach has taken several diverse forms from creating big arrangements for younger musicians to play; writing songs inspired by anecdotes and recollections of the way people used to live; to experimenting with traditional singing styles and writing new versions of these using words from Gaelic stories.

padraig at the archives 2

Participant Paduig Morrison, 16, who studies at St Mary’s Music School in Edinburgh, and plays accordion and piano said:- “I have been playing a lot of traditional music and was very interested in learning lots of older stuff as well as newer stuff, and this project gave me the ability to access it”.

He added: “This project is inspiring as younger musicians understand where our music and traditional music comes from and [because] the oral tradition doesn’t exist to the same extent […] and it’s important as these were related to the songs of our forefathers”.

He believes the project is an excellent way of passing on the traditions. That through composing new material which is inspired by the old stories, melodies and recordings, ensures it evolves, keeps it and alive, and promotes an understanding of culture.

As traditional music is all about transmission, part of this project has involved transmitting music discovered in the Archives. This has been achieved by teaching it to younger musicians, EYG’s Big Band. The album being recorded will involve a track performed by the Big Band.

As part of the transmission process the participants have also been keeping a blog about what they have been doing. They hope their journey will inspire others.
The album is being recorded in collaboration with acclaimed musicians and producers Mike Vass and Matheu Watson. They still have money to raise in order to bring quality of recording to the album they feel it deserves. Therefore they have embarked upon a crowdfunding campaign, offering pre-orders of the album .

The album will be launched at the new arts complex at Summerhall on 29th September of this year. Tickets can be bought through their box office or online. Visit: http://www.summerhall.co.uk/2013/album-launch-the-archive-project/

Tradfest: Songs of Peace and Protest: Hope’s Beautiful Daughters

May 9, 2013 by Sam Khan-McIntyre for Edinburgh Reporter

Link: http://www.theedinburghreporter.co.uk/category/culture/festivals/


Tradfest, the festival of traditional arts which finished at the weekend, put on a day of musical events based on campaigning and social justice as part of its programme which incorporated ‘Songs of Peace and Protest’, a singing workshop. They also staged a concert entitled ‘Hope’s Beautiful Daughters’ which celebrated music relating tales of struggle and peace.

Donald Smith, organiser of Tradfest, spoke to The Edinburgh Reporter about the festival’s sucess and its significance. We met him at Teviot Row House, part of Edinburgh University, in the imposing wood -panelled debating chamber.

Penny Stone, a singing tutor, ran the workshop. The two and a half hour long evening concert consisted of 6 sets of performers: Karine Polwart, Isla Ratcliffe, Katarina Juvancic with guitarist Dejan Lapanga, Brian Miller and Charlie Sloane and Star Band. The show was curated by Karine Polwart and Arthur Johnstone.

The singing workshop Songs of Peace and Protest was intimate and informal. Seven of us gathered round in a circle with Penny, who had picked the huge high-ceilinged chamber as the venue due to its excellent acoustics,  and soon it was filled with beautiful music. After the introductions, Penny started off with some stretching exercises to loosen the muscles, followed by much humming. She then got the group to warm up their vocals by joining in with a song, the different parts singing responses to her part. This she said represented a call and answer. The type of song was excellent during protests because you can get an answer out of people without them even knowing the lyrics. She then proceeded to teach the well-known song ‘We Shall Overcome.’ The anthem for the American civil rights movement in the 1960s, she explained, is still used today by different protest groups.  Penny taught the technique of harmonising through this piece, with different sections of the group taking the melody and the harmony. The group harmonising began with singing the harmony in one note, and then changing to another note.

Hopes Beautiful Daughters included songs of social and political intent. An audience of around 35 attended  the event in the Debating Hall at Teviot Row. Polwart explained that the intention was to make it feel like someone’s front room. Her beautiful voice with a strong Scots lilt took over the chamber with the first song ‘It’s Not What You’re Born With’.

This song expressed on the idea of making a difference to society through one’s talents. Her next song called ‘Better Things’ was written for a CND event, and discusses how the money that went to the Trident nuclear base could have been used for better things.

Most of the audience would not be described as young. Polwart explained that young people tend not to be actively political as the current generation is not as politicised as people once were.

However, the next musician on stage was 16- year old Isla Ratcliffe from Edinburgh Music School with her song ‘Death Row’. Isla, who wore a black T-shirt emblazoned with the words Troy Davis, has just won a national Amnesty International competition with the song. It is a moving account of death row inmate Troy Davis, who vehemently protested his innocence until the very last. The piece represents miscarriages within the justice system.

Third under the stage lights was Katarina Juvancic, a young alternative and folk artiste from Slovenia. With pixie-like looks, and a long black and white figure-hugging dress, she made an impact with her strong voice and powerful themes to her songs. These drew on various aspects of herself as well as on anthropology and collecting people’s stories.

She discussed the protest movement she is a part of in Slovenia, and how the artistic community rose to meet the challenge of the problems caused by economic crisis and injustices which resulted from it.  Juvancic performed five songs, some in Slovenian and others in English. Many of these were based on strong women’s voices.

She said: – “They are not heard enough and I want to empower these women, as well as myself, and I want the world to see them as empowered, because they’re struggling with hardships. Society sees them as victims but they’re not, they are survivors and I want to pay tribute to their courage.” She feels the role of activists is to ‘transform the pain of society into something beautiful’.

The festival was organised by Donald Smith who is also a director of the Storytelling Centre. When asked about the success of the festival, he said: – “I think it’s a good time because the weather is beginning to improve, and the old idea of Mayday and Beltane fits in with the performances in the open air. It’s not just a music festival. The idea was to involve all the arts inspired by tradition. The timing and variety of arts were the crucial difference from the festival’s predecessors, the Edinburgh Folk Festival and Ceilidhculture. People really like the variety and mix of things.”

On the festival’s significance, he said:- ”This is marvellous. It is all about the artistic values of being a community and supporting each other, and we need that now more than ever, the way the world is now. In traditional culture people celebrate community, humanity, and the wisdom in that. It is also politically important and we stand up as a community for the most victimised people.”

Smith concluded:- “Traditional arts aspire so that people are more fulfilled when they work together in a community, despite class divisions. They make everybody feel a part, and traditional culture celebrates song/society, and that is shared. There is a great sense of joy in the traditional arts, a celebration of life, the world and nature, compassion and friendliness. And we’re celebrating the beginning of spring.”