LAST night’s Usher Hall concert in celebration of the Qatar UK 2013 Year of Culture was quite an occasion.
Ten minutes of opening speeches from the Scottish Government culture minister and the Qatari ambassador to the UK, followed by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, choir of St Mary’s Cathedral and no less than five Scottish premieres made for an impressive combination.
Sandwiching the new music between two stalwarts of the repertoire gave a robust framework for the very different voices of Qatari composer Wael Binali and Edinburgh-based David Heath to be heard. Although the Coronation anthem Zadok the Priest was a bit underwhelming in conductor Paul Goodwin’s take on Handel, it paved the way surprisingly suitably for experiencing Binali’s music for the first time. In all three of his pieces, it was instantly evident why he meets with success as a film composer. Easy listening, with Little House on the Prairie-like countryside nostalgia, the orchestral textures and colours are often pure escapism, complete with dramatic drum rolls and extravagant harp glissandi.
David Heath’s musical language is contrastingly much deeper. Hope Springs Eternal, for orchestra and chorus and dedicated to John Coltrane, was darkly atmospheric in its eerie sounds, with the choir now sounding much more convincing in its dedicatee’s words.
Eternally hopeful is the uplifting wonder of Elgar’s Cello Concerto, performed with exquisite and authoritative lyricism by Guy Johnston. The orchestra, sounding more at ease in familiar musical territory, matched Johnston’s controlled approach.