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Synchronicity plays out at Cottier Chamber concert

A week past Thursday, as part of our coverage of the Cottier Chamber Project, I reviewed a performance of the Piano Trio written by the late Thomas Wilson, one of Scotland's most revered composers, who lived just round the corner from Cottier's.

Tom was one of the wise men of the Scottish music scene. He was, equally, a philosophical man and a pragmatist. Interviews with him, always in his home, were revelatory and somehow calming. He knew so much, yet was one of the most modest of composers, always serious about music, never inflating his ideas about what he might have considered his own music was worth. It was worth a great deal; and Tom's music had staunch champions, including Sir Alexander Gibson and the volatile Pole, Jerzy Maksymiuk, then principal conductor of the BBC SSO, who was so beside himself with grief at the news of Tom's death he almost crushed me with a bear hug while weeping uncontrollably in the old City Hall at the loss of his friend. And, of course, Tom was championed too by the late violinist and founder of the Scottish Baroque Ensemble, Leonard Friedman, for whom Tom had written a masterpiece, the St Kentigern Suite, at one time in the repertoire of all of Scotland's major music companies.

Anyway, on Thursday, Tom's widow Margaret, now 83, turned up for the fine performance of the Trio by the young Sarah Ayoub Trio. Before the show, we sat together and chatted about Tom's younger years, his studies for the priesthood, the stronger call of composition, the interruption of everything by the requirement to do National Service, and so on. In fact, that was the second time within a week that I had met Margaret. The first, at an earlier Cottier concert, was more personal. We hadn't seen each other for years, so we sat together and caught up, swapping tales of our various ailments and illnesses. Hers remain private, of course; but she got the full Tumelty from me: brain tumour, cellulitis, severe arthritis everywhere, etc. And I think she enjoyed the tale of the last-ditch attempt to save my life by my great surgeon, one Professor Roy Rampling, who chose Easter Sunday as the "make or break" attempt to bar the gates of Hades from claiming Tumelty.

So there we sat last Thursday in Cottier's and, just before the concert began, Margaret, very subdued, dropped on me the fact that June 12, that very day, was the 13th anniversary of Tom's death. I was shell-shocked. Nobody knew. The next morning I emailed Andy Saunders, artistic director of the Cottier Project, who revealed that he had only been told after the concert, and was concerned that it might have been perceived as insensitive; and, had he known of the sad anniversary, he might have shifted the concert to a different day.

At the end of the concert, Margaret said to me quietly: "I'm away home now, Michael; I'm sure you understand." And she was gone.

But that's not quite the end. Before I left to get the review written, I stayed on to chat with some musicians and Eddie McGuire, another featured composer in this year's project.

Suddenly, a vaguely familiar face with a familiar smile appeared in front of me: "Do you remember me?" I stared for a moment, then glared with the concentrated stare of the partially-sighted; then (rather impolitely) I gasped, almost reeling with shock: "Rampling? Professor Rampling?"

I literally couldn't believe all this was happening in one night. It was indeed my life-saver of 10 years ago, now retired. How's all that for a coincidence?

In my review of that concert in Monday's Herald, I used, in some wonder, the word "synchronicity". You see why? Roy Rampling and I swapped a few hole-in-the-head stories, and then we all had to go. I went off to write with my head full of Tom Wilson, Margaret Wilson, Roy Rampling and his former team at the Southern General, and that Piano Trio of Tom's, a composition new to me, but suddenly emblematic of everything that happened that week.

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