IN TWO weeks’ time, Glasgow’s Bohemian quarter will be buzzing again as the annual West End Festival gets underway. And once more, one of the most ambitious components of the event is a continuous two-week festival of chamber music at Cottiers, the former Dowanhill Church which is now a thriving combination venue of pub and performance space.
Perhaps its most unique selling point is its offer of free tickets to anyone showing up with an authentic “beard like Brahms” which, to anyone familiar with the German composer’s bushy appearance, will be quite a challenge if they haven’t already started growing sufficient facial hair, or happen to be female.
The man behind this curiously sexist approach to concessionary ticketing, and behind the entire Cottier Chamber Project, is horn player Andy Saunders, who has again put his mischievous mind to formulating a daily series of mainly teatime concerts that speak to just about every audience demographic for classical music: mainstream chamber repertoire to modern and, in some cases, spanking-new music; family entertainment; folk music from the Alastair Savage Trio and (with a touch of klezmer) Moishe’s Bagel; baroque favourites from the specialist Dunedin Consort; and even the world premiere of a work written in honour of the two pandas now living at Edinburgh Zoo.
Why the beard fixation? Saunders own ensemble, which forms the nucleus of the Cottiers’ programming, is called Daniel’s Beard after Daniel Cottier, the Glasgow designer who was responsible for the original interior designs of the former church in the West End.
“He had such a magnificent beard, which makes him look like Brahms, that we thought it might be amusing to offer an incentive to anyone brave enough to show up with a similar chinful,” Saunders says.
The ruse was tried out last year, but as well as rewarding the genuine article with obligatory free entry, Saunders’ doormen found themselves policing attempted fraud, as ambitious punters turned up with dubious-looking shaggy fakes.
“We’ve been very careful this year, and have set up a page in our website to show exactly what will and will not be accepted,” he says. Anyone looking to measure up can view the criteria on www.cottierchamberproject.com.
Gimmicks aside, there’s so much in the Cottiers programme worth paying the money for. The aforementioned Panda Suite – specially written by Scots composer and long-time member of the Whistlebinkies folk group, Eddie McGuire – forms part of a family concert, Shake, Rattle and Roll (two afternoon performances on Saturday 2 June), presented in association with the hugely popular Children’s Classics Concerts and featuring its tireless frontmen, percussionists Owen and Olly.
Other Children’s Classics concerts include a performance by Daniel’s Beard of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf on Saturday 16 June with Jamie MacDougall as narrator. Like last year it will be presented in Robert Ostermeyer’s scaled-down ensemble version, with the added twist this time of Liz Lochhead’s Glaswegian translation of the original text.
That concert also contains The Owl and the Pussycat, a new work by Lenny Sayers, and marks the culmination of Drumchapel Sound Box, a ten-month education project in which Jennifer Martin worked with young people in the Drumchapel housing estate who have learning difficulties, helping them explore and develop compositional skills. Using the material they produced, she has created a piece called The Sound of Me.
But the series opens on a more conventional note – a programme by Daniel’s Beard on Friday 1 June that pairs James MacMillan’s Horn Quintet with Beethoven’s Septet, Opus 20. The same ensemble closes the series on 22 June with a performance of Schubert’s glorious Octet.
In between, other contributions from the group range from the stylistic plurality of Franz Schrecker’s Der Wind, to a central European programme that includes Janácek’s Concertino (in which Saunders does a musical impression of a hedgehog), to Vaughan Williams’s Quintet, written while he was a student. “The Vaughan Williams is an absolutely cracking work,” promises Saunders.
He is equally excited about the artists who will share the heavy burden of this major daily series – a programme featuring: (on 2 June) Steven Osborne and a Scottish Chamber Orchestra string trio in Fauré’s Piano Quartet; music by Purcell and Corelli from the Dunedin Consort and Players (9 June); Kurtag, Maxwell Davies and Schubert from the Hebrides Ensemble (14 June); pianist Alasdair Beatson and the SCO Wind Ensemble in the piano and wind quintets of Beethoven and Mozart (11 June); hard-edged modernity from the inspirational Red Note Ensemble (18 June); the Scottish Ensemble and Catrin Finch in Savourna Stevenson’s Concerto for Pedal Harp 10 June); and several return visits from last year by the likes of the Da Vinci Trio, Sax Ecosse, the Fejes Quartet and Arctic Winds.
Another perennial is the annual composition competition, won this year by Royal Conservatoire of Scotland student Claire McCue. Her brass quintet will form part of Alba Brass’s Hour of Creative Scotland programme, which also includes the premiere of Christopher Gough’s Bagatelle Suite, the Scottish premiere of Edward McGuire’s Auriga, and MacMillan’s Adam’s Rib.
All in all, there are 28 concerts in this year’s chamber series, five more than last year, which is as much down to Saunders’ pugnacious determination as the undoubted musical successes of last year’s embryonic programme.
“Things took a while to catch on last year, but once word got around, the audiences got bigger and bigger.”
“We hit a few snags,” he admits, with reference to one particular concert that had to be stopped mid-flow because the cast of that evening’s ensuing play were insisting on warming up on stage. “That won’t happen again.”
In fact, additional support is coming from unexpected corners.
Saunders explains: “One West End resident called me to say that the new discussion events we have instigated this year were so important to an event like this that he wanted to subsidise every ticket by £2.”
Unless, of course, you have a beard like Brahms.
• West End Festival’s Cottier Chamber Project runs from 1-22 June. Full information visit www.cottierchamberproject.com.
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Monday 20 May 2013
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