MUSIC: Unforgettable but slightly hazy

Edinburgh's Hogmanay Edinburgh
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The Independent Culture
Dating from last year, the idea of supplementing the traditional drunken coursings on the High Street with more organised events has blossomed into a four-day programme.

Things got off to an auspicious start, in a pagan sort of way, when torch-bearing multitudes marched up on to Calton Hill, where a weird and windy Fire Festival featured what we are told was the first performance this century of The Galoshan - a variety of Scottish folk play celebrating death and resurrection and other prime medieval matters.

Mick Andrews used hismassed drummers, pipers and horn blowers to truly spectacular effect, with the giant puppets representing the three main characters carrying out their ritual combat against the backdrop of Edinburgh's unfinished acropolis, illumined by large-scale and rather alarming fire sculptures.

Having got off to a rousing start, events gathered pace on Auld Year's Night itself. Wandering through the capital's streets one encountered street theatre and music, organised or unorganised. The Grass Market had temporarily reverted to its traditional use with a Hogmanay Fair, through which one could push one's way to the High Kirk of St Giles for the somewhat more decorous concert given by the cathedral choir and BT Scottish Ensemble, with director Herrick Bunney.

A bit of a curious mixture, this concert - any programme that could feature Stanford's Magnificat in B flat, the Sextets from Strauss's Capriccio and the "Hallelujah Chorus" qualifies quite comfortably as eclectic. But it made a suitably festive programme with requisite weight added by John Kitchen's excellent performance of the Poulenc Organ Concerto.

Out from the candlelit cathedral one plunged into the anarchic ambience of Exploration - a specially commissioned piece by the French street theatre group, "Karnavires". A large and already dangerously exhilarated rabble following the performers and their van down from the Old to the New Town, stopping to perform mystifying rituals and key buildings. Involving copius explosions and flames, the effect was, as is so often the case, more spectacular than illuminating.

Considerable determination was required to reach Princes Street for the Concert in the Gardens and the observing of midnight. The whole of the city was packed, with giant video screens suspended on cranes at either end of the street, relaying pictures from Edinburgh to Edinburgh and the world, presumably. The premier Scottish rock band Runrig warmed up the multitudes as the hour approached, and a huge clock was projected on to the Castle Rock. As midnight struck a truly remarkable firework display went off, apparently from all parts of the city at once, and the crowd went mad.

What happened after this is increasingly unclear in the memory, but I do distinctly remember the Scottish Fiddle Orchestra fiddling industriously away into the early hours as the revellers jigged and reeled beneath the floodlit Castle.

I found myself in the Usher Hall on New Year's Day for a concert of Viennese music given by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra under Carl Davis. Once again the more decorous element of Edinburgh was to the fore, and a politely restrained audience was regailed with the likes of Mozart, Strauss and Lehar.

One unusual item was Davis's own music for the television drama La Ronde, featuring the wordless singing of Ida-Maria Turri. Haydn's trumpet concerto was performed snappily by Peter Franks, but the highlight for me was the immortal waltz from Lehar's Merry Widow - surely one of the great tunes of its kind?

There was so much happening that some things had to be missed. I skipped the Arthur's Seat Triathlon and the Hot Air Balloon race, and I never did find out if the Bay City Rollers managed to play in both Glasgow and Edinburgh, and I was unable to sample the "soothing programme of classical music and jazz" at the Market Street Event on New Year's Day.

But I am happy to say that I witnessed - in fact I was right in the middle of - the finest performance of the whole weekend; two hundred thousand ecstatic revellers, assisted by Runrig, singing "Loch Lomond" on Princes Street in the freezing cold during the first five minutes of 1995.

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