Preview: East Neuk Festival, various venues, East Neuk, Fife
Medieval music with a modern soul
Wednesday 02 July 2008
Some festivals get all the limelight, others bloom unseen – but when they're as far off the beaten track as East Neuk in windswept Fife, this is a fate to which they must be resigned. Still, East Neuk is only an hour by road from Edinburgh, and the festival's venues are an unusual mix of churches, a medieval byre and a concrete aircraft hangar in RAF Leuchars.
One of the star attractions this year is Sheila Chandra, the protean singer who has resisted all attempts to pigeonhole her art, which fuses classical Indian music with Irish folk, flamenco – you name it. On Friday she's performing at Kinkell Byre with the Tuvan throat-singing group Huun-Huur-Tu. And the Tuvans are spreading it around: they're also sharing the stage with those early-music brand leaders, the four-man Orlando Consort.
The Orlandos hadn't met the Tuvans when I spoke to them, but were confident they'd find common ground, since this is the strategy they employ as a way of drawing in audiences to the forbidding medieval music they specialise in. Forbidding is my word, not theirs: as tenor Angus Smith points out, composers such as Steve Reich, Harrison Birtwistle and Peter Maxwell-Davies are now ploughing the same melodic furrow of the monks of Notre-Dame, 800 years ago.
"We don't like to programme early music in isolation – we like to find ways of giving it a resonance today," says Smith. "And the music of medieval Notre-Dame is, in many ways, similar to the music being written today."
This week, the consort is going to perform music from a rare medieval manuscript – brought to Scotland by a French bishop, then reworked by a Scottish priest – and follow this with a brand-new work inspired by it, from choral composer Tarik O'Regan.
And where better than RAF Leuchars? "The shelter may have been created for 20th-century defence purposes, but it happens to have the acoustic properties of a 13th-century cathedral. To bring medieval and world music together in it seemed a very nice idea."
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