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Kate Molleson's review of the year

All in all it's been another rich and far-reaching year for classical music in Scotland, from festivals of experimentalism in Glasgow to drumming in the wild spaces of Fife to the mightiest European orchestras in Edinburgh.

WACKY WEEKEND: Ilan Volkov launched experimental music which led on to sci-fi fantasy tunes and even included some spectral acousmatics.
WACKY WEEKEND: Ilan Volkov launched experimental music which led on to sci-fi fantasy tunes and even included some spectral acousmatics.

Here's a happy trot through the best of a busy 12 months.

Happy birthday, Lutoslawski

2013 was headlined by the hefty centenary celebrations for Benjamin Britten, but cast your minds back to the (more modest) 100th birthday of Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski. The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Ilan Volkov paid excellent tribute with a stormy Fourth Symphony and an earthy Concerto for Orchestra.

Anderszewski and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra

The intensely charismatic pianist Piotr Anderszewski is a regular visitor to the SCO and tends to bring out the boisterous best in them. In February he and violinist Alexander Janiczek co-directed a programme of Schubert, Mozart, Beethoven: the result was a wild mix of tenderness and sparky to-and-fros.

Brotzmann at Counterflows

The second Counterflows festival closed with an unforgettable blast of ferocious free improv from legendary German saxophonist Peter Brotzmann. His sparring partner was Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love; a packed Glad Cafe provided the perfect sweaty, intimate arena.

Kuusisto and Mustonen in Perth

A laid-back and daring recital from this lovably eccentric pair of Fins. Their Beethoven was spontaneous and fresh; their Ravel and Stravinsky were otherworldly and brilliantly deadpan. Oli Mustonen's own new Sonata was a bravely uncluttered piece of writing whose searching, angular lines sounded timeless in Pekka Kuusisto's hands.

Tristan and Isolde finally snuffed it

The BBC SSO and Donald Runnicles reached the end of their epic Tristan und Isolde six months after Act I (a long haul even by Wagnerian standards). There was some stunning and some not-so-stunning singing along the way, but what bound the performance together was the orchestra itself: they surged and swept and swooned through Act III with a vast sound and thrilling climaxes.

Boesch's wintry Winterreise

Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau delved to the troubled heart of Schubert's song cycle in their City Halls performance. Boesch's protagonist flitted through bravado and snide swagger, menacing anger and sneering cynicism, but by the end a resignation and self-loathing set in, to devastating effect.

Osborne's Beethoven

Steven Osborne's cycle of Beethoven piano concertos with the BBC SSO has been a tremendous journey thus far. In May they reached The Emperor; with Osborne's usual care, subtlety and searching flux plus the orchestra's bright personality it was a fresh, shimmering performance.

Lucier and his singing teapot

Ilan Volkov launched his Icelandic experimental music festival Tectonics in Glasgow, and a suitably wacky weekend we had of it. The programme opened with dangly ping pong balls and an amplified sine wave; it closed with sci-fi fantasy tunes and spectral acousmatics. Meanwhile the unflappable BBC SSO were joined by 82-year-old Alvin Lucier, who did memorable things with wave oscillators and an amplified teapot.

Podger at Cottiers

Highlight of the third annual Cottiers Chamber Project was baroque violinist Rachel Podger in concert with Concerto Caledonia. They played an infectiously spirited set of music by Purcell, Matthew Locke and Nicola Matteis, whose Bizarrie all'Umor Scozzese ('Round After Scots Humour') had Podger reeling off blithe pyrotechnics.

JLA's Inuksuit

The UK premiere of Inuksuit by John Luther Adams was staged among the roses and lupins of the Victorian walled garden at Cambo House as a highlight of East Neuk Festival 2013. Steven Schick led around 30 percussionists in this masterpiece of sonic environmentalism; under a hot summer sun (honest!) the audience wandered the garden taking in JLA's wild, Arctic energy.


The usual heady, sleep-deprived August madness. Highlights of the International Festival included Mariss Jansons and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (exquisite Beethoven with Mitsuko Uchida and a powerhouse Mahler Two); French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard in residency with an astounding range of Debussy, Kurtag, Stockhausen and Ligeti; Nikolai Lugansky's Queen's Hall recital and a magical account of Janacek's In the Mists; the Chiaroscuro Quartet with dazzling period-instrument Schubert; Christophe Rousset and his wide-eyed exploration of the Russell Collection's weird and wonderful harpsichords; Daniele Gatti and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra with a sumptuous Mahler Nine.

Francois Leleux at Lammermuir

The audience let out a hearty cheer at the end of the concert by oboist François Leleux and the Hebrides Ensemble: they'd just learned that Leleux is to be artist-in-residence of Lammermuir Festival 2014. His sound is downright seductive and his musical personality is endlessly inventive - here he did gorgeous things with Mozart's Oboe Quartet and Britten's Six Metamorphoses after Ovid.

Sondergard's Brahms

Thomas Sondergard kicked off his second season as the Royal Scottish National Orchestra's principal guest conductor with a glowing, gracious performance of Haydn's 99th Symphony and a stirring Brahms Four. The Dane inspires superb playing from the orchestra: their Haydn was spacious, crisp and refined, their Brahms was bold and unguarded.

The Ehnes ovation!

Finally to an occurrence earlier this month, when Canadian violinist James Ehnes prompted a rare standing ovation from the City Halls crowd. And rightly so: his performance of Shostakovich's First Violin Concerto with Runnicles and the BBC SSO was a triumph of soulful, eloquent musicality. The cadenza alone was enough to send you home emotionally ravaged.

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