Scottish Portrait Gallery concert

The National Galleries of Scotland and the artist Victoria Crowe are delighted to host a concert on the 15th of November celebrating the music of Thea Musgrave in her 90th birthday year and the 90th anniversary of the birth of the composer Ronald Stevenson. This concert takes place at the Portrait Gallery during the showing of the exhibition Beyond Likeness which features Victoria Crowe’s portraits of both Musgrave and StevensonIn addition to vocal works by these two Scottish composers, the concert includes music by Arvo Pärt, Benjamin Britten and Gerald Finzi to mark the centenary of the First World War in November 2018.

Soloists include countertenor David James, Brain Bannatyne-Scott (bass) and soprano Susan Hamilton, accompanied by Jan Waterfield (piano) Gwen Sinclair (harp) and musicians from the University of Edinburgh. The counter tenor David James will perform some settings of poems by Kathleen Raine (whose portrait is also in the exhibition); the bass Brian Bannatyne Scott will perform setting of Hugh Macdiarmid, and the centrepiece of the exhibition will be soprano, Susan Hamilton, singing the Nine Haikus with harp accompaniment. 

After the concert, the event will continue in the Portrait Gallery café, where you will be able to enjoy a complementary glass of wine in the company of the performers. This is a great opportunity to meet Victoria Crowe in person where she will be signing copies of her Beyond Likeness book alongside the merchandise and two beautiful limited editions prints from her exhibition.

Note tickets for this event are only available in advance. Please call if you require assistance with access. +44 (0)131 624 6200.

detail of painting by Victoria Crowe

Tickets have just gone on sale for a one off celebrity concert at the Scottish Portrait Gallery from 6.15 – 9pm on Thursday 15th November. It is celebrating both the 100th anniversary of the end of WW1 and the last days of the wonderful exhibition of portraits by Victoria Crowe at the SPG, and will include works by Thea Musgrave and Ronald Stevenson, both of whose portraits feature in the exhibition. In addition, performances of works by Britten, Part and Finzi will honour the end of the terrible conflict in 1918. David James, Susan Hamilton and Brian Scott will be the vocalists, along with Jan Waterfield on piano and Gwen Sinclair on harp.

There will be a chance to meet the performers and Victoria Crowe over a complimentary glass of wine after the concert. Tickets are very limited and are available only in advance via the SPG website, priced 25 pounds. The concert is advertised at the moment as “Celebrating Thea Musgrave’s 90th Year” but this may change!

John France reviews Christopher Guild’s CD

(from musicweb international)
Ronald STEVENSON (1928-2015)

Piano Music – Volume 2
Frank MERRICK (1886-1981)
Hebridean Seascape (c.1935/1986) [13:05]
Three Scots Fairy Tales (1967) [3:15]
A Carlyle Suite (1995) [20:18]
Rory Dall Morison’s Harp Book (1978) [17:04]
Three Scottish Ballads (1973) [9:48]
Savourna STEVENSON (b.1961)
Lament for a Blind Harper (1986) [3:01]
All works transcribed by Ronald Stevenson
Christopher Guild (piano)
rec. 5 & 12 June 2016(?), Turner Sims Concert Hall, Southampton

I was confused. When I knew that I was receiving a CD of Ronald Stevenson’s piano music to review, I mistakenly assumed that it was a second volume to Murray McLachlan’s outstanding triple-disc set on Divine Art (dda21372). I had already reviewed this CD back in 2013. As it turned out, the CD in question was the second instalment of Christopher Guild’s survey for Toccata Records. Preparing for this review, I was reminded that there is yet another exploration of Stevenson’s music underway. The first volume of Kenneth Hamilton’s study of the composer’s music appeared in July 2016 (Prima Facie PFCD050). I have not heard this disc. Add to this five versions of the magisterial DSCH Passacaglia and several other discs devoted in whole or part to this repertoire, it seems that Ronald Stevenson’s piano music has suddenly become hot property.
read on….

American Record Guide

TOCC 0272 Ronald Stevenson Piano Music, Volume One: A Celtic Album

American Record Guide 09/09/2015

What a surprise. About the last word I’d use to describe Ronald Stevenson’s music is “charming”. Imposing, impressive, profound? Sure. But never charming. But this release has proved me wrong and shown me a side of this composer I never knew existed. christopher_guild In this first volume of Toccata’s I hope long series of Stevenson’s piano music, pianist Christopher Guild plays a mix of short folk song settings and two large, serious, virtuoso works more characteristic of the composer. It’s a great plan because sometimes, as in his 80- minute Variations on DSCH, Stevenson can be overbearing, even haranguing, so the mix of winsome folk settings and weightier stuff refreshes the ears. The longest and most important work here is the 20-minute Scottish Triptych, made up of a keening song, heroic song, and choralepibroch, dedicated to three fellow Scotsmen: a composer and two poets. The first piece is craggy and dissonant, insistent and angry— exactly the sort of thing one expects from this composer. The “heroic song” is slower, sweetly triumphal, and less dissonant. The pibroch, literally “piping” and referring to Scottish bagpiping, is the most delicate and gentle of all, with some notes strummed directly by the player’s fingers inside the piano, evoking a harp or harpsichord. This last piece is very moving, threnodic, gently heroic—a real find. If you know Medtner’s dithyrambs, minus their arch cheekiness, you’ll have a sense of this piece’s affect. Altogether this is the most stirring and emotionally compelling music I’ve heard from Stevenson and alone worth the price of the disc. In acknowledgment of its power and pathos, Mr Guild appends a long 25-second silence after the Triptych before moving on to some of the lighter settings. The other big work here is the 16-minute Rosary of Variations, recorded here for the first time. It’s an interesting concept for a work, mostly meditative and contemplative as one would expect, but with moments of great glory and exultation. I can easily imagine the penitent reciting the prayers of the Rosary, though the exact individual Mysteries contemplated are open for interpretation. It’s a variation work, so, yes, it’s repetitive; but then that is the nature and essence of the Rosary. Though I’m not Catholic, I found this work consoling and satisfying; perhaps Catholics would appreciate it even more than I do. The other half of the recital is 21 Scottish and Irish folk song settings, ranging from half a minute to about four minutes each. Most are fully tonal and technically in the grasp of amateur pianists, unlike the two large works; but sometimes Stevenson incorporates cranky and crunchy dissonance into his settings, so that I think of him as a Scottish Bartok. These are lovable little gems. Gorgeous Steinway, strong and rich bass, clear treble—absolutely everything I could want in a piano, and Guild is a fantastic advocate for this almost unknown music. I can’t wait for Volume 2. © 2015 American Record Guide Reviewer: Stephen Wright

St Giles’ at Six

st_giles_sixScottish Vocal Ensemble
Mark Hindley – Director
Fathers & Daughters
A programme of beautiful, atmospheric and moving music by Andreij and Roxanna Panufnik and Ronald and Savourna Stevenson, including the first performance of Savourna Stevensons’ 2014 work The Dream.
The programme will include Ronald’s:
Peace Motets
  1. Thou shalt not kill
  2. Put up again thy sword
  3. They shall beat their swords into ploughshares
  4. The Seventh Beatitude
Musings by the Lyne Water

An Appreciation

Given at the celebration of Ronald’s life at Warriston Crematorium, Edinburgh 14th April 2015 Mary Ann Kennedy I don’t think Ronald was a man who gave a hoot about fashionability – musically I mean – he was of course a completely dapper dude, tapping into the flamboyant showmanship of his beloved virtuoso piano-composer forebears and I reckon also, illustrating the bravura and panache that he perceived as being a fundamental part of the Scottish psyche, however deeply hidden these might be in some of us. But as it was for Karl Nielsen, music was the ‘sound of life’ to Ronald, and it is obvious that he cared deeply about people and place – about roots. His music he said was rooted in reality – he wanted to follow in James Joyce’s footsteps and sink his roots as deep down as he could amongst the people, the folk, in order to soar high above to the stars, and beyond. Only by being thus rooted could his music communicate directly – an imperative that went right back to his own roots – and his father’s desire for music that was plain speaking, without too much of the un-necessary twiddly bits! Ronald’s Celtic heritage – Welsh and Scottish – was at the heart of his deep love of folk and traditional music, a musical passion that would have been considered, certainly in earlier years, unfashionable. “One must go back to be oneself and make it worthwhile being”, he said however – and Ronald saw the infinite worth of this music of his roots – and its capacity to convey narrative, emotion, vision on a grand scale as well as in miniature, (… to be able to appreciate it as long-lived music, as opposed to long-form, as the wonderful pianist Mary McCarthy said to me just before we came inside today.) He said of himself, “I feel that I function at the point where extremes meet” and in this I believe he was very much like Donnchadh Bàn Mac an t-Saoir, the great 18th Century poet whose epic pibroch poem in praise of Ben Dorain inspired Ronald’s own epic – a true Ceòl Mòr for orchestra and chorus. Duncan Bàn – the ultimate outdoorsman – his great talent was for being able to convey the macro and the micro with equal joy and respect: An t-urram thar gach beinn aig Beinn Dòbhrain; De na chunnaic mi fon ghrèin, ’s i bu bhòidhche leam… The greatest of all mountains beneath the sun, Ben Dorain, but also populated by: An eilid anns an fhrìth mar bu chòir dhi bhith, The hind is in the forest as she ought to be, Far am faigh i mìlteach glan-feòirneanach; Here she may have sweet grass, clean, fine-bladed; Bruchorachd is cìob, lusan am bi brìgh, Heath-rush and deer’s hair grass, herbs in which strength resides, Chuireadh sult is ìth air a lòineanaibh; And which would make her flanks plump and fat-covered. I think Ronald had this same breadth of perception which enabled him to work likewise on the epic or the miniature scale, to value each in equal part, and to incorporate the essence of one extreme in the other. He grew up with a music that did this already, no surprise then that he would remain so loyal to this music of ‘roots’. He did this though in the face of a rather snooty contemporary music world that wanted discord where Ronald preferred beauty – fearlessness in the face of beauty as John Purser has described it – the beauty of melody, of word rhythm, of capacity to connect with humanity, to understand oneself. Ronald considered this love of one’s own heritage – a cultural nationalism – to be as much a contemporary concept as anything that flourished in the romantic 19th Century. In this he was the natural successor to Bartok and Kodaly, and to Janacek. But while Bartok’s lifelong love affair with Magyar folk music was devoted to the good of his country and fellow Hungarians, Ronald believed that an understanding of one’s own background was also the fundamental basis for a truly internationalist outlook. His was a world music before the term became fashionable – the world music of Henry Cowell, rather than Peter Gabriel, and nowhere more visible than in his second piano concerto – the Continents – a work that Ronald created with a desire to connect with every person in the globally diverse Proms audience that was to hear it for the first time. A young Eddie McGuire remembers the Scottish premiere of the work – where this international melting pot of music yielded up African drumming, an Australian aboriginal tune transcribed by Ronald’s great friend Percy Grainger, Javanese Gamelan, Japanese pentatonic scale, Afro-American spiritual, Latin American dance, Chinese folk song, Hindu raga – but it also gave you, if you knew what to listen for – Ronald’s great concern with the liberation struggles of various corners of humanity with references to the death of Che Guevara and to the Vietnam War, then in its final stages. All this was, as Eddie wrote at the time, anchored in the folk music of Ronalds’s own background, with a pìbroch Calum Salum’s Salute to the Seals inspired by the music-loving seals of Tiree and Calum’s serenading of them from the beach. And I can vouch for their musical appreciation, having done the self-same thing with Oran na Ròin beneath the neighbouring Skerryvore lighthouse! Of the Continents, another critic wrote that it was “As though the Indian Ocean was lapping against the shores of the Hebrides”, and that, said Ronald, tickled him pink! “I have understood that the secret depth one finds in our folk-songs, is basically owing to the richness of their untold harmonic possibilities” – Ronald’s advocacy on behalf of traditional Scots and Gaelic music was a potent one indeed. A BBC interview with Ronald from the late 70s revealed a really quite staggering snobbery on the part of the interviewer, with something approaching incredulity that such a talent would choose not to live in London, would indeed limit his horizons by living in Scotland, and would embrace a music that was essentially some kind of underclass. Ronald was of course more than a match for this – and his championing of traditional music was just a few years later to manifest itself in the form of a series of programmes for the BBC on the pipes, harp and fiddle – a series now regarded as a landmark by musicologists such as Stuart Eydmann. His greatest legacy however, in terms of Scottish traditional music is right here today. As he grew up with songs around the parlour piano, so too did Ronald and Marjorie bring up a family who made music, who created the means by which to make music and for whom music was at the very core of their being. That Savourna, Gerda, Gordon and the next generation again – Anna-Wendy, Rob, Miles, Emily and the others – should grow up with music – and the music of their nation – hardwired is the perfect testament to a remarkable couple – to a man who in the words of Thoreau, lived ‘deliberately’, and perhaps, as that particular walk in the woods was how Ronald described himself, it might be appropriate to finish with a poem by his son-in-law Aonghas MacNeacail: Sìth na Coille – The Peace of The Forest
có nach iarradh sìth na coille nuair a tha sinn sireadh tàmh cha b’ann iargailt gairm a choilich anns a chomraich seo nach cnàmh ach na seachain ceòl is dannsa na cuir cùl ri còmhradh tlàth dlùthaich ris an leug a b’annsa leat mar chéile chaomh gach tràthcuimhnich gu bheil brìgh na d’ bheatha ged nach b’ann gun strì no cràdh – allt do sgeòil ro bheò ’s ro leathann – inns’ a luach do dh’aois is àl bitheamaid gu moiteil cinnteach gu bheil duais am miannach stàth – ged nach ruig sinn cinn nam fireach faic an dùrachd fhéin mar bhàrrseadh a luaidh ’s nach gabh sinn spaisdir mach bho thàlaidhean nan sràid measg nan geug ’s gach sochair paisgte seinneamaid an duan gu bràth có nach iarradh sìth na coille tosd a bhiathas gréis a bhàird togail chnothan cinnt le togairt còmhla ann am buain a ghràidh who wouldn’t wish the forest’s stillness when we go in search of peace the cock’s crow here brings no challenge in this refuge that won’t decay but don’t shun either dance or music don’t reject gentle conversation draw close to the gem you’d wish to have as gracious spouse each dayremember that your life has value though you’ll live with strife and pain – your story’s stream’s too live and open – tell its worth to old and young let us be both proud and certain there’s a prize in seeking good – though the peaks may be beyond us see the wish itself as crownso, my love, why don’t we stroll out from the allure of the streets among the boughs and sheltered comforts let us sing the song for aye who wouldn’t wish the forest’s stillness quiet that feeds our bardic skills picking certainty’s fruit with pleasure together in the store of love – (together while we garner love)
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▶Ronald plays Grainger

Three Scots folk songs, recorded by Richard Black Published on 29 Mar 2015 Recorded live in concert in Brodick, Isle of Arran, approx. 1988. The recording was made on cassette: the piano was showing signs of age. Neither detracts from the playing.

Passacaglia on DSCH

Stevenson – Passacaglia on DSCH (Mark Gasser) Audio + Sheet music Ronald Stevenson’s massive Passacaglia on DSCH, op. 70 (1962), the initials of Dimitri Shostakovich, who’s also the dedicatée of the work. Live, unedited performance by Mark Gasser, performed at Weill Hall of Carnegie Hall.

Le Festin d’Alkan

Ronald Stevenson – Le Festin d’Alkan (1st mvt, Hamelin) Audio + Sheet music played by Marc-André Hamelin at Greenwich Piano Festival in Blackheath in 1999 For pianophiles extraordinaires (see below) Ronald Stevenson’s (1928-) immensely difficult Le Festin d’Alkan: Concerto for solo piano without orchestra. This is the first movement, a firm, tumultuous free composition. This is the premiere performance (and the only one, as far as I know), given by Marc-André Hamelin at Greenwich Piano Festival in Blackheath, 06/09/1999. At the beginning of the score there is a hand-written introduction by the composer: “The title of this work will be readily recognisable as a homage to Alkan’s well-known “Le Festin d’Aesop”. My work also pays tribute to Alkan’s later preference for giving “petits concerts” in his study for a few friends rather than public concerts for a larger audience. That had become my own preference. This work, “Le Festin d’Alkan”, encapsulates my aesthetic conviction that free composition, free transcription and free variation (the forms of my three movements in order of performance) are all essentially the same thing. If a transcription is free enough it becomes both free variations and free composition.” (read more on YouTube)