The real test of a festival is not so much the success of its inaugural event, as the ability to make it work again and again. On the evidence of past few days, Sir James MacMillan’s second Cumnock Tryst, which ended its 4-day run yesterday, was a worthy successor to last year’s launch event.
There are certain characteristics forming, such as the inevitable positioning of new work.
It was interesting, for instance, to see MacMillan champion, for the second year running, young New Cumnock composer Jay Capperauld, whose “An Ignorant Prelude to Cosmic Consciousness” was premiered by the captivating cello-piano duo, Laura van der Heijden and Tom Poster in Saturday afternoon's recital.
The bewildering title aside - it boils down to that universal question asked by artists: “why are we here”? - it’s a piece full of energy and bubbling enthusiasm. Almost too much at times, as if Capperauld wants to squeeze every morsel out of his fresh and imaginative material in one fell swoop.
I loved the ringing mystical thrill of the opening piano chords, that act as a functional springboard for the volatile cello response, which van der Heidjen and Poster brought excitedly to life. But I missed moments where the composer might have given us space for his sound world to settle in our minds - more space for reflection. It will be very interesting to see if the expanded version of this piece, mostly written, addresses that.
The rest of this programme combined the idiosyncratic archaism of Schnittke’s “Suite in the Old Style”, and an uninterrupted coupling of MacMillan’s “Kiss on Wood” and Rachmaninov’s expansive “Sonata in G minor that allowed the surging intensity of the latter to feed off the mystical serenity of the former.
Saturday evening saw the launch of the new Cumnock Festival Chorus, working under conductor Eamonn Dougan, and bolstered by the trained voices of Genesis Sixteen and instrumentalists of the Hebrides Ensemble and NYOS Camerata.
The theme was "honouring the dead", but the entire programme was alive and kicking, and a musical continuum centring around the note D. That note was the final resting place of MacMillan’s “When You See the Millions of the Mouthless Dead”, a simple and effective setting of Charles Sorley and a perfect vehicle to segue into Bach’s “Partita in D”, exquisitely performed by violinist Zoë Beyers with interspersing sung chorales.
The main showcase, Fauré’s “Requiem”, inspired a performance that was confident, stirringly homogenous and performed in a logistically-determined huddle that added a chaotic intimacy to the aural beauty.
The final promenade event yesterday was effectively a mini musical tour of Dumfries House, again featuring component parts of the Hebrides Ensemble. In the elegant Tapestry Room, solo harpist Gabriella Dall'Olio presented the frenetic virtuosity of Donatoni's "Marches" and ghostly hues of MacMillan's "Knockroon Waltz" alongside Faurė; Alec Frank-Gemmill filled the Entrance Hall with evocative solo horn works by Kalevi Aho and MacMillan; and the sequence ended with a string trio combining Bach and Kurtag in an intoxicating fusion of styles.