Hebrides Ensemble at The Queen’s Hall launched the Edinburgh International Festival’s day-long celebrations of the life and music of Leonard Bernstein centenary celebrations, on what would have been his 100th birthday itself (b 25 August 1918) with a well selected programme that also included work by his mentor Aaron Copland; two giants of 20th century American music in the same show that effortlessly shows why Hebrides Ensemble are one of Scotland’s greatest chamber ensembles.
Our programme for this performance included the works below, and gave a small insight into the wide scope of music that both composers created during their lifetimes.
Bernstein Piano Trio
Copland Appalachian Spring
Copland Piano Variations
Bernstein Arias and Barcarolles
Leonard Bernstein is of course to many people immortalised for his work on “West Side Story”, but that work is only one of many major achievements (both before and after the musical) in his lifetime, and Bernstein’s mastery of technique, tone and moods were brought into life by Philip Moore on Bernstein’s Piano Trio
Closing our performance was Arias and Barcarolles, musically wonderful in its playfulness and brought vocally to life by J'Nai Bridges (mezzo-soprano) and Alex Otterburn (baritone) in individually powerful performances. I have to admit that for me, J'Nai Bridges’ commanding stage presence and often understated, but impressive, vocals stole much of the second half of this performance for me.
It is Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birthday celebration, but the music of Aaron Copland has intrigued and delighted me for many years, and “Appalachian Spring” is a sublime masterpiece by anyone’s standards. Interesting always to me too is the fact that the “Spring” we are referring to is not a season, but a phrase from a Hart Crane poem. If there is a divine inspiration out there somewhere, then Aaron Copland certainly found it in the creation of this work. One piece from this ballet in particular is known to many people worldwide, “Simple Gifts”, a favourite of the Shaker sect dating from 1848, but later having new words put to the melody by Sydney Carter in 1963 and titled “Lord Of The Dance”.
In sharp contrast to “Appalachian Spring”, we also have Piano Variations, and this work of many different musical voices and explorations was performed by James Baillieu.
I have only mentioned our pianist here, but individually and collectively, the musicians of Hebrides Ensemble (under the direction of William Conway) more than earned their well deserved applause at the end of these performances today.
Review by Tom King
The Queen's Hall