Alexander McCall Smith's Scotland at Night
Candlelit concert of music and poetry
This article is from 2009.
For a composer contemplating setting some songs but needing advice from a writer as to who might be an interesting collaborator, No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency author Alexander McCall Smith would seem a reliable choice as a font of knowledge on the matter. When Edinburgh composer Tom Cunningham sensibly decided to seek out McCall Smith’s views, little did he think that the world-famous author would offer to write the poems himself. Now two sets of songs down the line, a five-star recording on Delphian and an opera for the Botswana No 1 Ladies’ Opera House in the making, the partnership is a strong one with its first fruits being heard in a one-off, candlelit Fringe concert.
‘McCall Smith gave the impression that he had all the time in the world when I got in touch,’ says Cunningham, ‘although I know that nothing was further from the truth. He was very generous with his time.’
The resulting Scotland at Night is a cycle of six songs, all with the common theme of night time. ‘They start with dusk,’ explains Cunningham, ‘where my harmonic style is totally modal. Using imagery from the poems, the second one is about Grangemouth in the dark, so you hear the flames rising and falling, and in Trout Loch you hear the ripples on the water.’
Music and poetry about nightly goings on in Scotland wouldn’t be complete without a traditional ceilidh. Cunningham has written some original tunes in the style of eightsome reels to accompany McCall Smith’s dancing words which finally spin off into shouts of exhilaration from the singers.
Classic FM award-winning choir, Laudibus, will perform Scotland at Night, along with a second song cycle entitled ‘The Painter’s Eye’. ‘They are,’ says Cunningham, ‘settings of poems inspired by paintings that Sandy particularly remembers from visits to exhibitions.'