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Every Good Boy Does Fine, Holy Trinity Church, Haddington, Review:

**** (4 stars)

Lammermuir Festival

Jeremy Denk has been delighting audiences at this and previous years’ Lammermuir festivals with his piano playing – which I have to confess to having missed.  This year, in addition to playing in several concerts, he was in conversation with James Waters, co-director of the festival, about his book Every Good Boy Does Fine.

The title is an amendment of the phrase many of us will have had drilled into us in music lessons – Every Good Boy Deserves Favour [or Football, or Fun] – which helps you remember EGBDF – the names of the notes that sit on the lines of the treble stave in music.  I taught piano and other instruments for many years before I moved to Edinburgh, and as the blurb for the event promised “a fraught love letter to the act of teaching”, I thought I should go and listen.

The audience was exhorted not to leave any spaces beside them in Holy Trinity Church, as the event was a sellout – so I found myself sitting next to another singleton.  Polite conversation revealed that he too was a music teacher, and as the talk progressed, we found ourselves laughing in wry recognition of some of the things Jeremy Denk was saying about music and music teaching.  The whole talk was laced with humour, but there was also a profound understanding of music and an ability to convey this understanding in a way that did not require deep technical/ musical knowledge.

Prompted by questions from James Waters, Jeremy Denk talked about how he came to write his book; why he had such an unusually large number of piano teachers during his years at college, and which teachers had the greatest impact on him.   He touched lightly on some deeply personal matters and how these affected his relationships with his teachers.  Almost in passing he commented on the importance of teachers but also their ‘irrelevance’ – sometimes only one or two small things they say stick with you – and the harm that can be caused by remarks which the teacher has no idea are hurtful.

We heard three passages from his book.  A fascinating one on harmony showed how it can be used to get you from A to B in a piece of music straightforwardly or by an extremely circuitous route, superbly illustrated with fragments of the final fugue from J S Bach’s Well-Tempered Klavier and the opening of Scott Joplin’s Heliotrope Rag.  One on rhythm looked at counting [the bane of many young musicians’ lives!] and how metronomically correct playing can produce zombie-like music – it’s the microscopic deviations from exactitude that give music its life and meaning.

There was much laughter during these two extracts, and even more when, at James Waters’ request, we heard about how and why James Denk joined his school orchestra at the age of thirteen, about the incredible woman who conducted the orchestra, and how playing the viola in the orchestra began his love affair with the ‘inner voices’ in music – the musical lines that may not stand out as obvious melodies but which interweave with the upper melodies and provide the richness of harmony – thus bringing us neatly back to our starting point and the inner voices in Bach’s fugues.

A brief Q&A session ended the session.  The audience was obviously delighted to spend time with Jeremy Denk who is a firm favourite with regular attenders at the Lammermuir festival.  I was delighted to have spent time with an engaging, articulate musician who effortlessly demonstrated his knowledge and passion for the music he plays in a book which is very well-written, informative, and enjoyable. 

Every Good Boy Does Fine, Holy Trinity Church, Haddington, Run Ended

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James IV – Queen of the Flight, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Preview.

Following the incredible trilogy of ‘James Plays’ which I saw and loved some years ago, the National Theatre of Scotland is adding a fourth play: James IV – Queen of the Flight.  Presented by Raw Material and Capital Theatres in association with National Theatre of Scotland, the play is in rehearsal, ready for its world premiere at the Festival Theatre in October.  I can’t wait!

Writer Rona Munro and Director Laurie Sansom are reunited with Designer Jon Bausor who also worked on the first three James Plays; and joined by Venus ex Machina as Composer. British Historian Dr Onyeka Nubia has been working as a historical consultant on the project. 

Blythe Duff (Taggart, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child) returns as Dame Phemy, after her iconic performances as Isabella in James I and II and Annabella in James III.   Daniel Cahill (All My Sons for Dundee Rep and River City for BBC) will play James IV, his role in James III, creating continuity throughout the series.   Danielle Jam (Them! for NTS, Molly and Mack for BBC) as Ellen, and Laura Lovemore (Queen of the New Year for BBC and Life is a Dream for The Lyceum) as Anne, join the company as two high-born Moorish women who take their place in the royal court. 

James IV – Queen of the Flight, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Friday 30 September – Saturday 8 October 2022 for tickets go to: James IV: Queen of the Fight (

Then Production will then tour Scotland: Theatre Royal, Glasgow  Tuesday 11 – Saturday 15 October, Dundee Rep Theatre  Tuesday 18 – Saturday 22 October, His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen Wednesday 26 – Saturday 29 October, Eden Court, Inverness Wednesday 2 – Saturday 5 November, Macrobert Arts Centre, Stirling Wednesday 9 – Saturday 12 November.

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Scottish Opera Highlights Tour, Preview

It’s that time of year again, when some intrepid young singers and a pianist set off to bring Scottish Opera to the remoter parts of Scotland.  This tour is no exception – it starts in Dundee and ends in Durness: on the way it visits [among others] Forres, Shetland, Stranraer, Biggar and Durness.

Director Emma Jenkins and designer Janis Hart bring verve and creativity to this year’s original piano-accompanied production. The cast includes Scottish Opera’s 2022/23 Emerging Artists Zoe Drummond and Osian Wyn Bowen who both performed in The Gondoliers and Utopia, Limited 2022, alongside Christopher Nairne and Shakira Tsindos, led from the piano by Scottish Opera’s 2022/23 Emerging Artist repetiteur Kristina Yorgova.

With 1970s inspired costumes, join the cast as they transport to another world, where anything is possible. The production also features the world premiere of a new piece by Scottish Opera 2021/22 Emerging Artist and composer Toby Hession, with libretto by Emma Jenkins. Titled ‘Told By An Idiot’ it is a modern and humorous re-working of Macbeth.

Scottish Opera’s Head of Music Derek Clark, combines repertoire favourites, with a treasure trove of lesser-known pieces. The playlist includes much-loved classics from Mozart’s The Magic Flute and The Marriage of Figaro, Beethoven’s Fidelio, Verdi’s Macbeth and Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers Duet alongside music by Rimsky-Korsakov, Gounod and music written by Mendelssohn when he was just 12 years old. It is the ideal opportunity to experience a selection of Opera Highlights in a two-hour performance.

Director Emma Jenkins said: ‘Four young singers in search of an identity find themselves, like Alice in Wonderland or the children of Narnia, propelled along an operatic rollercoaster of love and loss, devotion and desire, jealousy and jubilation. The overriding theme of the Opera Highlights is LOVE. Love in all its forms, both positive and negative. Our singers put on and take off various roles as if possessed by the force of love in a fast-paced performance that celebrates not only the voice, but also ensemble work and physical theatre.  All this against the backdrop of Janis Hart’s stunning design which combines a retro 70s feel with an anarchic theatrical space in which one feels that anything could happen!’

Scottish Opera Highlights Tour Tour starts Thursday 22 September 2022 in Dundee and ends Saturday 29 October in Durness.  For Tickets available from the Scottish Opera website