Saturday, June 15, 2013

Edinburgh: Heights and Highlights

It’s been nearly 35 years now, but the concert's still live in my mind, and in my bone-marrow memory of music and sound...

I had ridden a train from London north to Scotland’s capital city; I’d been reading for some years about the glorious madness of the Edinburgh Festival that commandeers the whole of the city and nearby surrounds every August for a month of Music and the Arts.

Each day for 18 hours or more, amateur and professional performers--actors and orchestras, buskers and ballerinas, jugglers and jazzmen, painters and poets, string quartets and one-person shows, magicians and filmmakers and maddening mimes-- take over the parks and basements, the alleyways and streetcorners and every possible regular venue, whether theatre or concert hall, dance studio or music room,
dingy club or raised tent--and I was determined to take-in every available mystical, musical, magical, maniacal moment.

And I did. That exhilarating, exhausting fortnight--plus two subsequent August weeks when I flew back for more--gave me scores of blurry scenes and forgettable brief entertainments (main Festival, Fringe, and beyond the Fringe alike); both personal embarrassments (like wooing a sweet schoolteacher and then losing her when I let the local lads buy me too many single-malt Scotches) and small triumphs (climbing to the top of the high hill called "Arthur’s Seat" just in time to see the dank clouds part and a liquid, angled-light sunset scald the crags and roofs and stones of grey “Auld Reekie” Edinburgh to molten gold); along with the crucial big events, of course, burnished and possibly brighter in memory and nostalgic conversation than in fact.

But look at the list:

1) Yo Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax, and a young violinist whose name I've forgotten, doin’ the dumkas for Dvorak’s danciful Dumky Trio (in E Minor, Op. 90)--ranging wide and far, from majestic to genial, from foot-stomping folk to a fire-breathing frenzy. Ma smiled and smiled, and I swear his eyes twinkled too... riding the dust-devils raised, already bestriding his silk road to worldwide acclaim.

2) A beautiful exhibition titled something like “Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Vienna Secession” opened the eyes of my soul ever after to the
aspects and links among Art Nouveau, Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele, the Arts and Crafts Movement, artist and architect Mackintosh, and by extension the Prairie School and Frank Lloyd Wright and all the ways that merged again at last for the Art in excelsis: Deco.

3) Item, the concert by Scots socialist, staunch union man, master of finger-pick guitar, and voice-of-the-folk extraordinaire, which add up to one man only: Dick Gaughan (pronounced Gaa-kin)--brusque and rugged,
a take-no-prisoners, suffer-no-fools, but friend-to-all sort of a fella known to bust the fourth wall and reticent union halls wide open!

4) Great Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman staged more and more classical theatre productions as he aged, including the brilliant, partly reimagined (for example, adding several servants who’d pop in and out, silently mocking and mimicking the main characters), still heartbreaking version of August Strindberg’s
Miss Julie that he brought to Edinburgh for two or three performances only, just before that production toured the world, welcomed everywhere as a Bergman masterpiece like his then-current television film Fanny and Alexander. But for the Festival crowd that evening it was performed in the original Swedish, without translation, and we of the audience, we mesmerized fans and canny Scots alike, didn’t mind a bit. We were “in the moment.” We laughed; we cried. It was Strindberg, it was Bergman... it was Strindbergman... and it was perfect.

(Let that be our place to pause. Take a break while I finish up Part 2, “June and Martin Gone Festive.” You may have noticed that the sizing and integrating tools are working again, at last! I'm keeping my fingers crossed...

Back soon, I hope.)