• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

St Andrews has found its voice

It is a bold claim in a country not short of classical music festivals but, according to the organisers of Scotland's newest one, which begins tomorrow: "St Andrews is crying out for a top-class music festival." With Edinburgh, Lammermuir, St Magnus, East Neuk, Sound, Cottiers, Mendelssohn on Mull and others already up and running, the classical f-word is a regular feature of the cultural calendar.

Is there an appetite for more?

There certainly is, according to Michael Downes, director of music at St Andrews University and St Andrews Voices co-director, who emphasises locality. This is not just another festival for Scotland. It is an overdue first festival for St Andrews.

"It's a beautiful setting," he says. "It's easily navigable on foot. It has an excellent infrastructure of shops, hotels and restaurants. And the local population has a huge appetite for music."

Before moving to Scotland, Downes lived in Suffolk, close to Aldeburgh and Brighton. He says these two festival venues – scenic seaside locations with a number of stages – provided easy models.

Of course, there is a precedent closer to home. The East Neuk Festival uses locations around Fife, including St Andrews, for its highly subscribed summer series.

"We didn't want to compete with East Neuk," says Downes. "We do hope to attract a similar audience, and want to offer complementary programming." That was one reason behind the focus of St Andrews Voices, which, unlike any of Scotland's other festivals, will be exclusively on vocal music.

Not just one strand of vocal music, either. There's large-scale choral music in the shape of Handel's oratorio The Triumph of Time and Truth, performed by Edinburgh-based Ludus Baroque. There's solo repertoire: the Scottish Ensemble's programme with mezzo-soprano Sophie Harmsen includes Britten's late dramatic cantata, Phaedra. There's Berlin-style cabaret from Cabaret Chordelia and Britten cabaret songs from a quirky new ensemble, Counterpoise, beatboxing from London's all-female a cappella outfit, The Boxettes, and musical storytelling from Mairi Campbell (fiddle and voice), and David Francis (guitar), while opera gets a token nod with Mozart, Puccini and Rossini from young Scottish Opera artists.

To open the festival, tenor Ian Bostridge will sing Schubert's Winterreise with pianist Julius Drake. Bostridge is an honorary graduate of St Andrews University and one of the festival's patrons.

The other is conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, and if that seems an unlikely pairing, there is an easy explanation: Sonia Stevenson, Downes's festival co-director, once worked as Salonen's PA. Stevenson is now a publicist at the music division of publisher Faber & Faber.

"Putting this programme together was a mixture of her contacts in London and my local engagement," says Downes.

His post at St Andrews is designed to co-ordinate extra-curricular music making in a university that has no actual music department (students can take music courses through the anthropology department, but not a full degree). Since being appointed in 2008 he has founded an opera group, which will stage Handel's Acis and Galatea in the spring, and conducts the local community chorus. "There is a historic enthusiasm for voices in this town," he says, pointing out that St Andrews is known as "the singing university".

"The jewel in the crown is our chapel choir. At Oxford or Cambridge, vocal talent is spread between dozens of chapel choirs. We have only one, and it's extremely good." That choir, St Salvator's, will perform a festival service on Sunday morning including music by Monteverdi and MacMillan.

Funding for the festival has come from Fife Council, Event Scotland, Creative Scotland, Arts & Business Scotland, local hoteliers, trusts and private donors. In the future, Downes hopes the festival will be able to import international artists, present fully staged opera and run an educational strand. For now, this four-day line-up is a solid start and a fine addition to the festive calendar.

St Andrews Voices runs from tomorrow until Sunday. Visit www.standrewsvoices.com.

Contextual targeting label: 
Arts and Entertainment

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

120656