Hugo Ticcitati on embracing improvisation

Hugo Ticciati is taking part in the Time Travellers seires at East Neuk Festival. Picture:  Marco Borggreve
Hugo Ticciati is taking part in the Time Travellers seires at East Neuk Festival. Picture: Marco Borggreve
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IT’s fascinating to watch any festival emerge and grow, but it’s been particularly exciting to witness the constantly expanding success of Fife’s East Neuk Festival

Now in it’s 11th year, it looks a bit like a conglomerate – the add-on opening of the literary mini-festival Littoral, a side-helping of jazz and folk, and for the first time this year an East Neuk Retreat for bright upcoming musicians, have extended the duration without losing the core classical programme that finally gets going on Monday. There are also neat little themes and adventures weaving all the way through that give cogency, character and plenty of variety to the programme.

I just stand there and impart what I’m feeling”

Hugo Ticciati

One of these is Time Travellers, a series of five concerts from Monday to Saturday that will throw together music from very different periods, much of it by Bach, in a way you won’t expect, sometimes with the edges so blurred you won’t know whether you’re coming or going.

One of the key figures behind this is the violinist Hugo Ticciati. A familiar surname? Sure enough, he’s the brother of Robin Ticciati, principal conductor of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. And there are instant similarities. Like Robin, Hugo sees music as a spiritual adventure, and expresses himself with much the same decorative blue-sky optimism.

Formerly a soloist of the traditional classical mould, his trademark these days is more about experimentation and improvisation, which is a feature of the radical O/Modernt Festival he directs in Sweden. Not surprisingly, improvisation will play a central role in his East Neuk performances.

He opens on Monday in the diminutive architectural simplicity of Dunino Church with a solo performance that mixes Bach’s solo violin music with Karin Rehnqvist’s atmospheric Klockrent, a work that features the sound of ancient bells from Gotland in the Baltic Sea. But it’s the way Ticciati will combine them that is most intriguing.

“I normally stand on stage and simply start improvising before arriving at a point where I feel I might start the Bach,” he explains. “It’s different every time. Nothing is pre-determined. I just stand there and impart what I’m feeling.

That sounds quite a frightening prospect, but Ticciati says that ideas always come to him. In fact, it’s the uncertainty of the process that excites him. “It’s about embracing the vulnerability, the fact it can go wrong. But improvising is not about presenting something in a perfect shape; it’s about discovery.”

The exciting thing for us is that we get to be part of that journey into the unknown. And if it all seems like a precarious enough approach for a single performer, think what’s likely to happen when Ticciati teams up with the SCO in the second of his appearances on Wednesday (Cambo Barn), which will juxtapose Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons with those of the modern Argentine composer, Astor Piazzolla, plus a few more additions on the spot from Ticciati.

“It will just be selections from both works, which we’ll weave together with short improvisations,” he says. “We’ll work out how to transition between them when I meet the players at rehearsal.”

So does he expect the SCO to improvise with him? “That’s something I’ll play very much by ear once I’ve met them. I’ve never worked with them before. Whether it’s something they will embrace, or something they’d prefer to do with more formal guidelines, we’ll just have to wait and see.” Inside information – 
ie. Hugo’s brother – suggests they might just be up for it. “I do feel I already know them a bit.”

Combined with appearances by Scots fiddler Duncan Chisholm and classical cellist Philip Hingham, accordionist Andreas Borregaard, and finally the mouthwatering duo of violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky and violist Maxim Rysanov, all five concerts in the Time Travellers mini-series look like being a defining factor in this year’s ENF.

Away from that, there’s more Bach from the Dunedin Consort in Cambo Barn on 4 July under its charismatic director John Butt, who appears solo in the Festival’s first ever organ recital on the Harrison & Harrison organ in Crail Church. Having eyed its striking casework over recent years, I’ve often wondered what the instrument might sound like. We’re about to find out.

Around the usual small church venues will be recitals by the Brentano Quartet, the Calidore Quartet, and the less conventional Routes String Quartet, whose players come from the folk tradition.

The Festival ends on 5 July with a new outdoor commission by John Luther Adams, whose Inuksuit for 30 percussionists was a spellbinding hit in 2013. This year he’s written From a Distance, featuring horns aplenty scattered around Cambo’s magical woodlands. Add some east coast sunshine, and we’ll all be smiling.

The East Neuk Festival runs from today until 5 July. Full details on