WHEN the centenary of the Armistice at the end of the First World War is marked on beaches around the British Isles, including six in Scotland, a week tomorrow, it will be the culmination of a quite remarkable series of cultural events. Organisers 14-18-NOW describes itself as “a programme of extraordinary arts experiences connecting people with the First World War”, and that is no idle boast. Filmmaker Danny Boyle’s contribution is called Pages of the Sea and is, in its community spirit, related to his much-admired contribution to the opening of the London Olympics in 2012, with the bonus that we can all take part in its blend of sand sculpture, poetry and other activities. Visit pagesofthesea.org.uk to learn more.

Before that, at Paisley Arts Centre tomorrow, one of the international contributions to the centenary art commissions has its sole Scottish performance. The Harlem Hellfighters tells the story of the band led by James Reese Europe which came from the US in the last year of the war and fought and played with equal distinction in France, the bravery of the soldiers being recognised by posthumous Croix de Guerre, Purple Heart and Medal of Honour and their musicianship introducing an enraptured Paris to jazz. Texan pianist Jason Moran teams his own seasoned musicians with half a dozen young British horn players for a suite of music, accompanied by specially-commissioned film for a performance co-commissioned with the John F Kennedy Center for Performing Arts that is in Berlin tonight following shows in London and Cardiff.

If that is emblematic of the international reach of events under the 14-18-NOW banner, the initiative has also turned up on the doorstep of people everywhere. When I spoke to its director Jenny Waldman earlier this week, she was happy to agree that Scotland had embraced the opportunities presented by collaborating with the centenary commissions in exemplary fashion. The first work that made most people aware of the programme was the stunning Poppies installation at the Tower of London. With philanthropic support from two foundations, 14-18-NOW was able to tour artist Paul Cummins and theatre designer Tom Piper’s work across the country, St Magnus Cathedral on Orkney and the Black Watch Museum in Perthshire being two of the memorable installations.

The ethos of collaboration that Waldman’s organisation embraced, inviting applications from original ideas related to the centenary or approaching artists to extend their practice into new areas, and building partnerships on the ground in communities across the UK, all with the aim of revealing shared heritage to young people in particular, has been a model of arts commissioning. The legacy of 14-18-NOW will, Waldman hopes, be in the thriving continuation of those partnerships.

The National Theatre of Scotland is currently working with young people who will participate in Pages of the Sea next weekend, and was on board for Jeremy Deller’s We’re Here Because We’re Here two years ago, when performers in authentic First World War uniform appeared in public spaces across the country to mark the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. It also found backing from 14-18-NOW for Oliver Emmanuel and Gareth Williams’s remarkable trilogy of music-theatre works The 306 Dawn/Day/Dusk.

The Edinburgh International Festival this year saw and heard Five Telegrams by 59 Productions and composer Anna Meredith, and dancer and choreographer Akram Khan presented Xenos and Kadamati, two works that explored the Anglo-Indian involvement in the conflict as Moran’s does that of African-Americans. Iain Morrison’s composition commemorating the loss of the Iolaire in the Western Isles has just been premiered at An Lanntair in Stornoway, and James MacMillan’s All the Hills and Vales Along is in concert at the Barbican tomorrow in its orchestral version after its premiere at the Cumnock Tryst a month ago.

And those are just handful of a huge number of concerts, performances and events in what has been an unforgettable festival of remembrance.


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