The Scotsman Sessions #89: John Butt

Welcome to The Scotsman Sessions. With the performing arts world shutting down for the foreseeable future, we are commissioning a series of short video performances from artists all around the country and releasing them on scotsman.com, with introductions from our critics. Here, John Butt, music director of the Dunedin Consort, performs the Prelude and Fugue from the second book of the Well-Tempered Clavier by JS Bach

While the Scotsman Sessions’ founding ambition was to provide an online platform for artists while live performances were impossible, for John Butt – and the Edinburgh-based Dunedin Consort, where he’s Music Director – live concerts have already restarted. The group made a mad dash to perform at the Heures Musicales de l’Abbaye de Lessay festival in Normandy – then an even madder dash back that involved hiring a fishing boat from Cherbourg to Hayling Island, arriving just ten minutes before the 4am deadline on 15 August that would have seen them quarantined for two weeks. “It was a fairly hectic time,” admits Butt. “The audience was very enthusiastic, but we actually left before the applause had even finished. It was a nail-biting experience at times, but on the whole it worked out pretty well.”

"One reason for the urgent return (apart for the pressing need to record a Scotsman Session, obviously) was to record a concert for the Edinburgh International Festival’s Chamber Music Soundscapes series. Then there’s a full season planned and announced for 2020-21 – though, as Butt admits, “you could say it’s aspirational, but our Chief Executive Jo Buckley has designed it so that even if we have to cancel a concert, we have the option of doing something for a smaller audience or for online streaming, or we could even record the repertoire instead.”

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For his Scotsman Session, Butt has chosen music by a composer close to his heart: JS Bach. “It’s the first Prelude and Fugue from the second book of the Well-Tempered Clavier, and it’s one of the pieces I try and play on a regular basis, and have been doing all the way through lockdown. They’re wonderful pieces, both in terms of keeping your musical thinking going, and also for technique: Bach seems to design them to massage and exercise different muscles, so it’s been very useful from that point of view, too. You could say it’s quite representative of what domestic music making has been like – which is also very much what would have been in Bach’s mind when he was writing the pieces.”

John Butt

For more information on the Dunedin Consort, visit https://www.dunedin-consort.org.uk/

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