Edinburgh’s Music Across Borders

One thing I didn’t expect when I came to live in Edinburgh in 1999, was that I would start learning music from the other side of the world which would some years later lead to a Masters in ethnomusicology. Yet soon after I moved in, I saw a notice in a local shop about an African drumming and dance class. I thought it sounded fun, went along and so began a metaphorical journey, letting music and dance take me around the globe. Since then I have joined in Brazilian samba drumming and dance, Indian sitar and tabla classes, a Chinese orchestra, a Kunqu class and an Indonesian gamelan – a small sample of the music and dance happening here in Scotland.

Last year, many of these diverse groups took part in a series of concerts in Edinburgh’s St Cecilia’s Hall. The series ‘Music Across Borders’ was devised and organised by Alec Cooper and Chen Qinhan with the aim of bringing together music-making from different countries, enabling musicians and audiences to meet and exchange ideas. There was music from Morocco, India, China, Spain, Japan, Brazil, West Africa, the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean. The fourth concert was planned to feature collaborations between musicians from each of the groups but unfortunately it had to be cancelled because of Covid-19. Instead there was an informal gathering of musicians outdoors playing together some of the music they had been preparing before lockdown.

To find out about this project which will resume once it is safe to rehearse together, have a look at the website:

https://www.musicacrossborders.uk

and the following short documentary filmed by Adam Howells.

Anne-Isabel Meyer plays Bach at Edinburgh’s Fringe

For three weeks every summer, you can feel Edinburgh buzzing as the International Festival and the Fringe take over the city. Just yards from the noise and bustle of the street, I found a gem of serenity in St Cuthbert’s Church, at the West End: a recital of all six of Bach’s Suites for Unaccompanied Cello performed by Anne-Isabel Meyer, over three consecutive days.

Despite the grandeur of its ornate decoration, St Cuthbert’s feels like an intimate setting for unaccompanied cello. Its acoustic is resonant but clear and Anna-Isabel Meyer obviously loves playing here. This London-based cellist has a calm demeanour and she played with a warm tone. Each day, I felt even more privileged to hear how she allowed Bach’s music to speak with precision and clarity – no adornment or over interpretation here. Throughout the performance, the intricate melodic patterns of the preludes flowed freely, as did the dance-like quality of the allemandes, sarabandes, minuets and gigues. The famous bourrées of the third Suite just danced for joy.

Her performance of the Sarabande of Suite 5, for me, epitomised her sensitivity to Bach’s score. The music of this movement is apparently simple, no chords, no accompanying figures, trills or dotted rhythms. Meyer simply let the natural rise and fall of the phrases create their own meaning, allowing us to make what we would, of Bach’s perfectly crafted melody. I found it profoundly moving.

The sixth suite, written for a five stringed cello, truly tests the cellist. Playing this on a four-stringed cello, you have to create the higher sounds using the thumb in place of the extra string. She explained to the audience how at first this is painful and can lead to a blister on the thumb – I’ve had that blister too! Watching closely from the front row, I observed her meticulous technique, as she created the chords and inner harmonies and allowed the melodies to dance above them.

“Playing Bach’s cello suites is like going on a journey” Anne-Isabel Meyer tells us, “and next time it may be completely different.”

Here is a cellist with a deeply musical sensitivity. I look forward to joining her next year when she returns to St. Cuthbert’s to make that journey with the Bach Suites once again.

Peter Hudler – ‘Cello on Fire’

When Peter Hudler plays his cello, “it almost sets on fire” he says, “it’s a question of cost!” The pizazz of his playing, strikes you from the moment his bow lands dramatically on the lower strings at the beginning of his opening piece, Stonehenge by Peter Pejtsik. It’s clear we are in for an exciting show.

His repertoire spans from the 18th century, with a piece by Giuseppe Dall’Abaco, (in Hudler’s opinion a ‘more sensual’ Bach) to the present day, with a contemporary jazz piece by John Zorn. Hudler’s cello becomes a flamenco-style guitar in one piece and bluegrass fiddle in another. The next moment it takes on a flute-like quality for Debussy’s Syrinx. Hudler’s choice of programme highlights the cello’s expressive range. His virtuoso skill and his sheer enjoyment are on display, as his bow bounces or rocks across the strings with ease and rapidity, his fingers whizzing along the length of the fingerboard. His tone ranges from warm and velvety to whisperingly soft. Special effects come from flutey sounding harmonics, percussive bowing, percussive finger-tapping, and detuning a string in some pieces to create chords with powerful pedal-notes.

His enthusiasm and warm personality shine through the whole performance and he even invites us to meet him after the show if we have any questions. There was just time for an encore, Song of the Birds (based on a Catalan song arranged for cello by Casals) a simple melody, alternating with trilling bird sounds.

Cello on Fire at Edinburgh Fringe at the Space Triplex, 18.15 until 24 August.