This article is from 2007.
The international festival has created a series of events for choral groups. Carol Main explores the world of early music
Early music has never been an area that the Edinburgh International Festival has paid much heed to, despite the fact that the genre undoubtedly enjoys a strong following among the music-loving masses.
Even commercial radio – Classic FM – has recruited early music choral group, The Sixteen, as its ambassadorial official ‘voices’. Recognising not only this, but the sheer wealth and beauty of the repertoire to be mined and the outstanding quality of many of its exponents, Jonathan Mills brings a totally new dimension to Edinburgh. Eleven performances by some of the world’s most prominent early music ensembles in the appropriately atmospheric acoustic of Greyfriars Kirk are collectively gathered together under the heading Harmony and Humanity.
‘There is a real audience for this music,’ says Mills, who is especially proud of the fact that the all female vocal ensemble, Anonymous 4, have got back together to come to Edinburgh to perform their unique, almost unworldly, authentic recreations of medieval chants and polyphony. While the Tallis Scholars and Orlando Consort may be familiar Renaissance and early music specialists in the UK, La Venexiana and Huelgas Ensemble are not.
‘The Italian group La Venexiana is one of the best of its kind,’ says Mills, ‘and my absolute dreamboat group is the Huelgas Ensemble, with Paul Van Nevel, who isn’t known in this country at all.’
But the series, for Mills, is not only about the music and its performers. ‘Why am I doing this?’ he says. ‘It’s because I want to show that there is another facet of this city at Festival time, that’s not the Usher Hall or the Festival Theatre. It’s the medieval.’ As an Australian, he recognises spooky places in his home country, but as a newcomer to Edinburgh he also sees it as a place of particular medieval resonance. ‘I’m from a place that has nothing medieval whatsoever, and, for me, this series is part of building an interesting historic story. There’s not been a mainstream festival in Europe that’s done this.’ It is music that cannot fail to affect anyone who listens to it.
As Mills himself says, ‘If I do believe in God and I’m being carted off from this mortal coil, I believe that I wouldn’t want to hear music more sublime than the Lassus Tears of St Peter or the Tenebrae Responses of Gesualdo. They are among the most sublime utterances ever.’
Greyfriars Kirk, 473 2000, 20– 24, 28 Aug–1 Sep, 6pm (9pm, 21), £17 (discount for booking five or more).