Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Where, oh where, is Runnicles?


But the danger was past, they hand landed at last

With their boxes, portmanteaus and bags


It's P-Day. Or, rather, it has been. Today has been that day of days, hour of hours, the day of the release of the Edinburgh International Festival programme (download here). A nice simple day, were it not for the fact that my family has decided just at this moment to be spread across four locations, in three countries and two continents and time zones and booking must be co-ordinated between them all, and done as soon as possible. So, it fell to your author to take his day off to do so. And now, at last, it is done, we have landed at last.

I didn't quote the next two lines from Carol's Hunting of the Snark because it would have been a little harsh, the view does not consist of "chasms and crags" and the crew is perfectly happy with the view. Certainly this does not appear to be a vintage year in the mode of 2006 or 2003, but it seems that the longer lead time and sounder financial footing has enabled Mills to put together a stronger programme for 2008. Last year there were two glaring omissions: Mackerras and Runnicles and today (or rather during the months of planing leading up to today) was his chance to correct these errors. Sadly he scores only 50%.

But I don't want to start with the negatives, so we'll lead off with praising the return of one of the world's great conductors: Sir Charles Mackerras. He comes back in partnership with the SCO and pianist Alfred Brendel as he continues his tour prior to retiring. I had hoped we might get the 9th Mozart piano concerto, with which he is ending his career in Vienna this December (again with Mackerras), as well as playing with the Philharmonia in October. We are getting the 24th instead. It's a fine work, but not one of my favourites. We also get Mozart's 40th symphony and Dvorak's 8th. These tickets will go fast. As will Brendel's solo recital the next day, August 20th, which includes Schubert's D960 sonata. I can testify to the brilliance of this concert, indeed I could right a review right now, as I heard Brendel play the exact same programme in February (the review will be posted here at some point).

The opera looks stronger too. There is a visit with two productions from Gergiev and the Mariinsky Opera. They are bringing both Szymanowski's King Roger and Shchedrin's The Enchanted Wanderer as well as a concert performance of Rachmaninov's Aleko and Act III of Prokofiev's Semyon Kotko. There is also the opening concert: Kurt Weill's The City of Mahagonny and after its absence last year, Scottish Opera returns with Smetana's The Two Widows (though given their current state, it's an open question how fine it will be). Indeed, this could be said to be the Gergiev international festival since we are also getting three concerts with the LSO where he conducts all seven of Prokofiev's symphonies.

Organist Naji Hakim comes to play some Messiaen and some of his own compositions in St Giles Cathedral, while the composer's anniversary is also celebrated by Volkov and the BBC Scottish with his final work Eclairs sur l'au-dela as well as Thomas Ades' recent composition Tevot. Not bad, but not a patch on the celebration of composer taking place at the South Bank Centre presently.

For my money, the first real orchestral highlight comes on August 14th. After his blistering performance of Bruckner's first symphony two years ago, I have no intention of missing Sakari Oramo's return with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, which will include some Janacek and Sibelius's first symphony. John Eliot Gardiner brings his Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique for some Brahms (including the German Requiem), though my brother's reports indicate that his work with the composer is so dull as to not be very worth hearing.

Gustav Dudamel (who hasn't impressed me nearly as much as he has others) returns but with the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, so it will be interested to see how he fairs without his gimmick. Similarly, the Budapest Festival Orchestra return for a residence of about the same size as their rather disappointing one in 2006. I wonder if I'm alone in finding their partnership with Fischer to be massively overrated? Certainly I almost choked on my wine as Mills gave an effusive eulogy to them during the programme launch (at the same time as mentioning neither Mackerras, Brendel nor Runnicles).

Emmanuelle Haim joins the SCO for Handel's Israel in Egypt but my brother reports she has insufficient oomph with the composer. More promisingly, after his stunning efforts with Poulenc last year, Stephane Deneve returns with the RSNO for Honegger's Le Roi David. The excellent Dresden Staatskapelle are coming, though with conductor Fabio Luisi, or whom I've never heard, and with rather more Strauss than I would prefer.

It's worth noting that there is not much Beethoven and not the ghost of a Mahler symphony, though you could argue that this is simply a reflection that areas over visited by McMaster are being put into the shade for a while. And while, for me, that means an absence of some favourites, I am compelled to admit that it is really no bad thing.

The morning Queen's Hall chamber series looks a little below its usual standard for the second year running - might this have something to do with the fact that they seem, carelessly, to have lost the Bank of Scotland's sponsorship? The Belcea Quartet is coming to play all Bartok's quarters (though I think I might prefer a more varied programme and their recent recording of the works was much less compelling than they have been in other repertoire). There is also an appearance by the Beaux Arts Trio and another by Mischa Maisky.

What of the drama. Well, I'm not really qualified to comment, though some of it looked quite interesting from the video Mills showed. It seems to be the area where his post Berlin Wall theme of Artists Without Borders resonates most strongly. There are productions from Palestine, the former Yugoslavia and all manner of other locations requiring supertitles. There is also David Harrower's 365: One Night to Learn a Lifetime whose challenging play Blackbird was a great success a couple of years ago. There is some interesting looking ballet and dance, but once more far outside my field of expertise. The Steve Reich evening looks particularly noteworthy.

But, I started this post, in its very title, with a complaint, and I have yet to make it. When we first established this blog the name was selected, in part for poetic reasons, somehow Where's Runnicles sounds better than Where's Gardiner, partly because he's a local, but in large part because we wanted to make a tongue in cheek dig at his omission. Not least because last year was at short notice, hampered by unbalance books and it has since been announced that he will take over at the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, an orchestra from whom he gets a finer sound than anyone, I had hoped that Mills would correct this oversight and our name would become an anachronism. That he has not done so is puzzling to say the least. On the off chance that he's reading this: GET RUNNICLES BACK NEXT YEAR. It's really quite simple. The rest of us will just have to hope he appears at the Proms and that the date is doable.

I don't want to seem overly negative, though. Overall, I feel very positive about this year's festival and the event's future.

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