New Edinburgh International Festival director Fergus Linehan was, I confess, a name unknown to me beforehand but I applaud his intention to be “true to the DNA” of the EIF, irrespective of what is happening elsewhere. While recently moving house, I came across two programmes from Usher Hall concerts of the 1959 and 1960 Festivals. In one, Karajan was conducting the Berlin Philharmonic while in the other, Mravinsky drilled his superlative Leningrad forces through Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique. The impact of these concerts on me, and many others I am sure, was immense. These were among life’s unforgettable experiences.
It will come as a shock to Mr Farquharson when I confess to having never heard of Nick Cave, PJ Harvey or King Creosote, although the name of Otis Redding rings a distant bell. I haven’t a clue what’s in the charts because I never listen to pop music. But that does not entitle me to draw unsubstantiated conclusions about those who do and there is more than a touch of irony in Mr Farquharson’s application of the word “patronising” to describe Mr Linehan. I recall one of my lecturers in English Literature at Glasgow University in the 1950s attempting to make out a case for Smoke Gets in Your Eyes being one of the great poems of the 20th century; at the same time, the professor was solemnly assuring us that English poetry ended with Browning! A few years later, some of my self-styled progressive teaching colleagues offered Beatles’ songs to their students preparing for Higher English while I stuck with Keats and, yes, Browning. Everyone to his own taste.
There are plenty of opportunities for people to indulge their tastes for a great variety of different types of music, from Celtic Connexions to T in the Park. Preference for one over another does not confer superiority or roundedness as a person; neither does catholicity of taste.
So, Mr Linehan, stick to your beliefs, keep the EIF to the forefront of Europe’s great cultural events. And Mr Farquharson, when you tire of listening to Mahler and go back to Try a Little Tenderness, please don’t pity those of us who find greater depth of emotion in the songs of Schubert.