WITH the unveiling of the programme for its 46th event this past week, Perth Festival of the Arts has taken another step towards pre-eminence as Scotland’s most comprehensive single pan-genre populist cultural event. That may seem a bold claim, but although it is dwarfed in scale by all that happens in Edinburgh, what was originally also a classical-focused event has moved into other music to attract the widest audience. While Fergus Linehan’s “contemporary music” section of the EIF concentrates on a particular strand of that catch-all term, this year’s Perth Festival spectrum of pop and rock runs from The View to Justin Currie, and both are relevant rather than random choices.
The classical side is still very strong – the absence of Harry Christophers’ choir The Sixteen amply covered by a recital of Rachmaninov and other “Russian Treasures” by Tenebrae, the Moscow Philharmonic also playing an all-Russian programme with pianist Freddy Kempf, Nigel Kennedy doing his J S Bach thing, and Nicola Benedetti and pianist Alexei Grynyuk the opening attraction. Long-serving festival administrator Sandra Ralston said that the 2017 programme had been a difficult one to pull together, but that effort has been well worth it. Kyle Falconer and his cohorts in The View may be a hard-gigging outfit, but the wild Dundonians haven’t played douce Perth in an age.
Del Amitri frontman Justin Currie’s connection is through his father, who directed Perth Festival Opera from 30 years ago to the start of the millennium, when it became clear that mounting its own productions was beyond the festival’s budget. Yet in a year when Linehan has pushed the boat out on opera in Edinburgh, Perth’s perennial commitment to the art-form should be noted.
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Scottish Opera provided its earliest productions before the man whose John Currie Singers had filled the slot Tenebrae will occupy this year stepped up with a Cosi fan tutte in 1988. ScotOp is back on board with its Pop-Up trailer venue and some bite-size Boheme and Pirates of Penzance, but the main stage slot has become a rare chance to see the excellent English Touring Opera, who are bringing Puccini’s Tosca to Perth Concert Hall this year – a venue where it has pioneered new configurations of its capabilities, in the absence of Perth Theatre, undergoing major refurbishment. If that has meant less theatre in the Perth programme of late, the word is that the 2018 event will remedy that by being based in the newly reopened venue.
Meanwhile, look again at the musical range of this year’s event. Jools Holland returns once more with his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra and vocalists Chris Difford (of Squeeze), Ruby Turner and Beth Rowley.
There is an Ella Fitzgerald centenary celebration by virtuoso guitarist Martin Taylor with singer Alison Burns and a showcase for rising young saxophone star Helena Kay, already a veteran of the National Youth Jazz Orchestra and Tommy Smith’s Youth Jazz Orchestra and winner of the Young Scottish Jazz Musician in 2015, who happens to be from Perth.
If your taste runs more to modern trad-inspired music-making, how about a triple bill of Rachel Sermanni, Adam Holmes and The Embers, and Treacherous Orchestra?
Alternatively there is an all-singing, all-dancing recreation of Harlem’s Cotton Club in the 1920s or a “Come and Sing” staging of Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore with the London Operetta Company.
Marcus Brigstocke, absent from the current Glasgow Comedy Festival, is this year’s stand-up turn, and the visual arts arrives in a tented gallery beside the concert hall, curator Hugh Goring’s annual ArTay exhibition emblematic of the festival as a whole in its eclectic mix of styles, media, and price tags.
In the background to all this is Perth’s bid to be UK City of Culture in 2021. In Scottish cultural circles, the received wisdom seems to be that Paisley is the Caledonian horse to back, pressing its case for using the arts as conduit to regeneration following on from Derry/Londonderry and Hull, and the model created by Glasgow when it was made European City of Culture in 1990.
That argument has it that the Fair City is simply using the bidding process to put the City Halls farrago in the past, creating a cultural use for that site, and win the return of the Stone of Destiny as a tourist-attracting gain along the way. But some bookies are giving Perth the edge, and in both cases – perhaps in all these competitions – the bidding process may well be the most important aspect of the whole deal.