Song and Civilization
Chants will be a fine thing
This article is from 2008.
If a singing nun conjures up images of The Sound of Music or Sister Act, then it’s time to get real and listen to the exquisite beauty of Sister Marie Keyrouz. Appearing as part of the EIF’s fascinating Song and Civilization series, the Lebanese-born Catholic is a perfect example of the 2008 Festival theme of artists without borders. Indeed, the five concerts together make up a choral microcosm of its aim to look afresh at 21st century Europe, where its borders are and how the arts, uniquely, can break them down.
‘The Edinburgh Festival was founded on the back of the Second World War,’ says artistic administrator Matthew Studdert-Kennedy, ‘but Europe has changed radically since then. 2008 is as good a time as ever to look at that in the context of the choral traditions from the fringes of Europe.’
Apart from Sister Marie, who brings a long and ancient history of Christian chants from the eastern Catholic church, the series also embraces music from Turkey, Georgia and Corsica. ‘We had to do the music of Itri Efendi,’ says Studdert-Kennedy. ‘He is the composer to Turkey and the Ottoman empire that Bach is to Europe.’ Not a lot of his music survives and the Kudsi Erguner Ensemble’s interpretation, with its colourful, upbeat percussion, is renowned for its authenticity.
One of the oldest choral traditions in the world is that of Georgia. ‘It is very ancient, but fresh to our ears and, in common with the Corsicans’ music, is very much a living tradition’ says Studdert-Kennedy, ‘The songs are handed down the generations, some of them contained within small villages. It is real folk music. The Georgians and the Corsicans both have amazing harmonies and they will touch you immediately after you hear them.’
Perhaps particularly representative of the Festival’s theme is ‘Chant Wars’, a programme in which two of Europe’s most innovative ensembles specialising in medieval music come together to explore the political and musical frictions between different styles of Gregorian chant in Medieval Europe. As Studdert-Kennedy says, ‘It encapsulates the whole of our Festival programme in a nutshell.’
Greyfriars Kirk, 473 2000, 11–15 Aug, 5.45pm, £17.