Sunday 20 August 2017

EIF 2017 – Had We Never at the Portrait Gallery, or, It Will Be Long Ere I Forget His Face

After a couple of disappointing EIF late nighters it's a pleasure to be able to report that this was 50 minutes powerfully spent at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in the company of the poet Jackie Kay, members of the Scottish Ensemble, David James (counter tenor), Brian Bannatyne-Scott (bass) and Ghetto Priest (reggae singer).

The programme was a mix of Jackie Kay's poems and settings of Robert Burns by the poet himself, Shostakovich, Part and at the centre a newly commissioned version of The Slave's Lament performed by Ghetto Priest and the Scottish Ensemble (with the assistance of an uncredited technician).

It was refreshing to be at a performance concerned with Scottish identity prepared to ask questions. I felt a greater appreciation for Burns's poetic and melodic gifts than had previously been the case – in the small space the music had an enhanced impact, and there was also a power conveyed by the presence of the statue of Burns staring out at us. The conclusion of the entire company performing Burns's A Man's A Man had a real resonance in the context of the events of the last few days beyond Edinburgh.

But at the heart of the show was Ghetto Priest's performance of Beamish's setting. The setting itself is beautifully done with lovely writing for the violin, cello and bass, mixed with electronic rhythms. But the central emotional punch comes from watching Ghetto Priest as he sings. Sitting in the front row, his eyes raking across us, the rebuke of the piece was searing. I was reminded of the experience of walking through Exhibit B in the Playfair Library a few Festivals back and being confronted by similar pairs of eyes.

A true Festival special. Run ended much too soon.

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