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Classical music rocks my world

Fully immersed in a summer that is veritably groaning with festivals across the country, we certainly have grounds to celebrate.

Opening ceremony aside, the cultural programme that accompanied the Commonwealth Games has offered up a dazzling array of exemplary and outstanding shows in the host city of Glasgow, mostly for free, while the rest of the country carries on serving up weekly events to hungry audiences.

From music to literature, dance to comedy, the hills, fields, streets and venues are alive with the sound of people having fun and sharing ideas.

Within this non-stop frenzy of activity, as we leaf through our diaries and find time for yet another world-class happening on our own doorstep, it's easy to become blasé and overlook the stalwarts of our annual cultural diet.

The Edinburgh International Festival, inaugurated in 1947, is still as crucial as ever in its role of bringing extraordinary art to Scotland every August.

Although I'm known primarily as an indie/alternative broadcaster and champion of new music, my tastes run extremely far and wide, through all manner of folk, jazz, electronic, 'world' and, yes, classical music.

I'm obviously delighted to see many contemporary styles of pop and rock music afforded the respect and esteem they deserve, but keen to see the so-called highbrow and avant-garde worlds cherished too. I wouldn't want to see sweaty gig venues solely favoured above ornate concert halls.

My father is a musician, having attended the Royal College of Music to study violin, and so when I was growing up I was surrounded by the music of Bach, Brahms, Beethoven, Mendelsohn and Mozart.

As long as I live, I will never forget my father helping my younger brother battle through an extremely rickety version of the Bach Double Violin Concierto. The wonky sound they made together was strangely satisfying and, despite the memories of screeching and scratching, I still love that piece.

A typical entry point into classical music for myself and other children was through orchestral film and television soundtracks. Men and women of a certain age will instinctively know the themes and codas in Star Wars, Superman and Raiders Of The Lost Ark, and subsequently the work of John Williams. As a highly treasured and admired composer, his and other well-known film soundtracks are iconic, as well as extremely catchy. Williams may actually be the most recognised living composer of all.

As a typically grumpy and obstinate teenager I rebelled and carved out my own musical path by listening to noisy iconoclasts such as Sex Pistols, Damned and Jesus & Mary Chain. But my mind had been duly opened, and I always recognised the value and worth of other music.

Following in family footsteps, I am musical and, even without studying the genre, understand harmony, dissonance and the inherent complexity of composition.

Although my busy work schedule makes it difficult, I do manage to satisfy the occasional craving for classical music and opera, most recently enjoying dramatic, powerful performances of Bizet's Carmen and Janacek's Jenufa in the exceptional environs of Prague's Narodni Divadlo - emotive music in stunning surroundings.

What also intrigues me is the way traditional folk, jazz and, increasingly, pop music impacts on the classical world, and vice-versa. Again I have my family to thank for introducing me to the indigenous music of different European, African and South American countries. Other childhood memories are of my father mowing the lawn in our modest East Neuk garden while Greek bouzouki music rang playfully through the window from our living-room stereo, and my aunt playing me Argentinian tango for the first time when visiting on holiday.

Some of my favourite music from anywhere was made by the choir of female voices known as Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares, recorded in communist Bulgaria for state television. These peculiar recordings of traditional folk songs and diaphanous modal singing recall, for me, the music of composers such as Debussy or Ravel. Seeing them perform in Edinburgh's Festival Theatre was a real highpoint, pushing me towards the realisation that all music is related.

Casting my eye across this year's Edinburgh International Festival programme there is the customary range of exceptional dance, theatre, opera and music, and I sincerely hope I can attend a concert or two among BBC shows and Book Festival events this month.

Whether it be the Kronos Quartet playing the film music of Clint Mansell, the fabulous harmonies of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Lebanon-born Sister Marie Keyrouz singing Eastern Canticles, the Collegium Vocale Gent's performance of Bach's Mass in B-Minor, or the Hebrides Ensemble taking on Schoenberg and Stravinsky, we are spoiled for choice yet again.

Contemporary and ancient works will be lavished upon us by some of the best musicians and conductors in the world. And once again I'll discover that a top-class classical concert is every bit as thrilling, visceral and emotional as anything I've seen in the rock or pop worlds. Often more so.

Vic Galloway presents on BBC Radio Scotland at 8.05pm on Mondays; tomorrow St Vincent reveals some of the most inspirational tracks in her record collection. He will host a music and spoken word Jura Unbound night at the Edinburgh International Book Festival at 9pm on August 13; see www.edbookfest.co.uk for line-up. Contact Vic at www.twitter.com/vicgalloway

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