Hark! the Herald Angels reward glorious harmonies Quartet grace awards ceremony as The Enlightenments are singled out for commendation by Keith Bruce
[Monday 7th September 2009]
MANY and varied have been the delights of the Saturday morning Bank of Scotland Herald An0gels award in the foyer of Edinburgh's Festival Theatre. We have seen everything from the unique double act of Leslie Phillips and Dannii Minogue exchanging saucy looks, to the utterly original traditional singing of Jock Duncan acting out the drama of a plouging match on the red carpet. This year has been graced by a young opera company performing The Magic Flute, a French junkyard music ensemble making sparks fly, a New York performance artist's crack country and western combo, a sassy jazz singer, and the Creole Choir of Cuba.
Follow that? Well, the Hark! singers, part of artist Gabrielle de Vietri's contribution to The Enlightenments, the Edinburgh International Festival's visual arts show, certainly did. De Vietri was accepting a Herald Angel on behalf of curator Juliana Engberg for the whole project, and she brought along the close-harmony quartet that has been singing the news of day in the Dean Gallery. Never has the weather forecast sounded so sweet .
The awards were presented this week by Scotland's culture minister, Michael Russell who, as a former Herald arts columnist, paid tribute to the paper's critical team for the job it does during August . "The Herald Angel awards are important fixtures in the Festival calendar and recognise the exceptional creative talents that exist in Scotland, " he said.
"All of this year's winners are to be commended and I am particularly delighted that four Scottish Government Expo-funded Made in Scotland productions have received Herald Angel Awards. Such recognition clearly demonstrates the real impact of the Expo fund in creating new works from Scotland's sensational talent that is truly world class, which further enhances our cultural reputation.
"Yet again, it has been a fantastic year for Edinburgh's festivals, with record ticket sales, new collaborations, and a vibrant range of productions which have thrilled audiences and critics alike."
His words were echoed by his co-presenter, the head of sponsorship at Bank of Scotland, Sarah Cran, who said: "2009 has clearly been an exceptionally successful year for Edinburgh's festivals. Congratulations to this week's very worthy winners and indeed to all of the winners of the Bank of Scotland Herald Angel Awards over the last four very exciting weeks."
It is certainly an illustrious list, but not without its lighter moments. EIF director Jonathan Mills accepted with good grace his Little Devil award, given for his determination that "the show must go on", with his personal presence at every possible opportunity, despite the encumbrance of a leg brace after he broke his ankle. His injury became something of a symbol of the assault course that festival-goers have had to undertake thanks to Edinburgh's tramworks, gave The Herald a front-page picture story and earned him the nickname among his staff of "Moonboot" Mills. On Saturday he took the opportunity to pay tribute to the much-maligned NHS for the care he has received.
It was Mills's programme that won all the awards this week and one opera production was particularly praised. The Gottingen International Handel Festival staging of Admeto was a brilliantly conceived version of the story, set in samurai Japan and featuring butoh-inspired dance alongside a fine cast. The company having left town, the Angel for its director Doris Dorrie was received by EIF managing director Joanna Baker on her behalf. The director of the Gottingen Festival, conductor Nicholas McGegan, was also an Angel winner, not just for his work in the pit with the Gottingen Festival Orchestra , but also for the concert performance of Handel's Acis and Galatea at the Usher Hall, which interrupted the opera's run. McGegan left Edinburgh to conduct at the Proms but he is no stranger to Scotland and has a flat in Glasgow, where he was once principal guest conductor at Scottish Opera. The award was accepted on his behalf by his former associate at the opera company, Drew Young, now artists' co-ordinator at the EIF.
Two years ago, theatre director Lee Breuer received a Herald Archangel when his radical production of Ibsen's Doll's House was seen at the Festival. His Mabou Mines company returned in 2009 with Peter and Wendy, a captivating and faithful version of J M Barrie's classic story which combines the talents of puppeteers with those of narrator Karen Kandel. Her performance has her supplying a vast range of voices for all the characters as well as interacting movingly with her puppet co-stars. With affecting shyness, this remarkable actress received her Angel award.
At the King's Theatre in Edinburgh on Saturday, the fine acting company from the Gate Theatre in Dublin were poised to embark on their final performances of the work of Brian Friel. The three plays - Faith Healer, Afterplay, and The Yalta Game - that made up the Gate|Friel season at the Festival have won unanimous acclaim and have been an unmissable opportunity to see the work of Ireland's greatest living playwright in superb productions. The Angel was accepted by company manager Niamh O'Flaherty.
Italian composer Giorgio Battistelli was obviously pleased to have had the opportunity to re-mount his remarkable piece of music-theatre Experimentum Mundi at the Traverse under the auspices of the Festival after the Fringe had ended. He was also gratified to find that new audiences loved it as much as they had done when he first conducted it in the 1980s. His Herald Angel was for that piece, but he also made a crucial contribution to the Festival success of this week's Archangel winners, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.
The hardest-working band at this year's Festival gave the world premiere of Battistelli's newest work, an EIF commission, Fair is Foul, Foul is Fair, at their Usher Hall concert with conductor Garry Walker, the work sitting amongst a programme of Haydn. That concert was just one of 10 performances by the SCO in this year's festival, including both the opening concert and last night's closing Bank of Scotland Fireworks Concert with which the band is indelibly associated. In between times the orchestra has been the pit-band for both the Royal Ballet of Flanders and Scottish Ballet, where the musicians have demonstrated their remarkable versatility with the huge range of music they play. Three of them - cellist Su-a Lee, violinist Rosenna East, and flautist Alison Mitchell - joined managing director Roy McEwan to receive the award.
The Archangel to the SCO broke new ground in being the second such award to the orchestra. Also on Saturday the second ever Wee Cherub award was given to one of the school students who have stretched their critical wings during this year's Festival. The Herald Young Critics scheme is run in partnership with the development department of the EIF and involves Herald writers visiting Edinburgh schools to talk about the techniques and skills of criticism before a group of young people attend a Festival performance and submit a review to a deadline. The best of these are then printed in the paper. Those that appeared this year were Andrew Connarty's review of Faust at Ingliston, Fraser Smith's of Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria, Rebecca Oliva's of Michael Clark, and Aaron Stephen's of Experimentum Mundi. For the second year running the award went to a Boroughmuir High School pupil and Fraser Smith followed Kyna Bowers in lifting the Wee Cherub.
Unlucky break wins a Little Devil for Jonathan
Keith Bruce [Saturday 5th September]
THE Edinburgh International Festival can boast a clean sweep of every award at the final Bank of Scotland Herald Angel Awards this weekend.
The range of work winning an award is still as wide as ever, with visual art, individual performance, direction, conducting, ensemble work and a fractured ankle all receiving recognition.
The ankle belongs to festival director Jonathan Mills, who chose an unfortunate time to take a tumble - just prior to the opening of his third programme. Despite being in considerable pain, Mills demonstrated the old adage that "the show must go on" and been in evidence at events at all venues over the past three weeks. He is due a Little Devil for that spirit.
At the time he was first being treated, the Festival's visual art show The Enlightenments opened. With work available by bluetooth technology to mobile phones, as well as exhibitions at the Dean Gallery, Talbot Rice and Collective, it is an entertaining, diverse and enlightening collection of film and video watercolours, site-specific installation, interactivity and performance, for which curator Juliana Engberg wins an Angel.
German renaissance woman Doris Dorrie is a filmmaker and novelist as well as director of the superb samurai-set production of Admeto which came to Edinburgh from the Gottingen International Handel Festival. She receives an Angel, as does Nicholas McGegan, director of that festival, and conductor not only of the Admeto performances but of a superb concert performance of Felix Mendelssohn's version of Handel's Acis and Galatea at the Usher Hall.
In theatre, performer Karen Kandel receives an Angel for her remarkable multi-voiced narration of Peter and Wendy in the Mabou Mines version of Barrie's classic, still running at the Royal Lyceum. The presence of Dublin's Gate Theatre with superb stagings of three works by Brian Friel featuring first class actors, and presented in marathon sessions yesterday and today, is also recognised with an Angel.
Composer and conductor Giorgio Battistelli is in charge of a company of craftsmen and artisans and a percussionist from his native Italy, as well as Scots singers and an actor for the remarkable Experimentum Mundi at the Traverse. His work may have had contrasting responses in the pages of The Herald yesterday, but he is receiving a Bank of Scotland Herald Angel nonetheless.
The young critic who was unimpressed by that show is one of those in the running for this year's Wee Cherub, selected from the reviews by Edinburgh high school pupils which were published in The Herald as part of the EIF Young Critics project.
The second-ever cherubwinner will be revealed this morning and Aaron Stephen of Castlebrae is up against Rebecca Oliva (Royal High), Fraser Smith (Borougmuir), and Andrew Connarty (Holyrood).
The Archangel Award, for remarkable sustained service to the Festival, goes, for an unprecedented second time, to the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Winners of the top award in 2005, the SCO has this year played a remarkable 10 performances, including the opening concert and tomorrow's closing Bank of Scotland Fireworks Concert, the world premiere of a new work by Giorgio Battistelli at the Usher Hall with conductor Garry Walker, and as the pit band for both the Royal Ballet of Flanders and Scottish Ballet, demonstrating its versatility by playing Purcell for the former and Stravinsky and Berio for the latter.
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