SO what happens when traditional and classical musicians come together to play – as fiddle-player Chris Stout and Catriona McKay on Scottish harp do on the current tour of Scottish Ensemble’s Court & Country dates, coming to Eden Court on Tuesday, March 13. Expect a mixed programme of JS Bach and Bartok plus contemporary music from composer Sally Beamish – both her Seavaigers plus new music. Chris and Catriona talk about their experience with William Moss ...
Q How did the collaboration come about?
CATRIONA: It was really Sally Beamish that brought us together. I used to teach Sally’s daughter harp lessons…and Sally sat and listened to the harp music and was just absorbed. She used to come along and support our concerts too. So it was just a really natural progression then for her to want to write for us. It was then Sally’s vision for us to perform the piece with the Scottish Ensemble.
Q When did you first start working with Scottish Ensemble?
CHRIS: That was in 2013, through the concerto Seavaigers . And since then we have done a number of concerts with them. It’s nice to have Sally writing again something completely different with us in mind.
Q What’s it like to collaborate with Scottish Ensemble, coming from different musical backgrounds?
CHRIS: Well we already shared an awful lot in the way we think with the Scottish Ensemble. Although Catriona and I come from a more traditional music background, we actually studied side by many of the people who play in the SE. We actually have known them a long time, not all of them – but about half the group. We studied classical music at the Royal Conservatoire in Glasgow. They kind of knew a bit about the traditional music and our training was in classical music, so there wasn’t really anything to worry about when we came together. There’s a lot of mutual understanding.
Q About Dealer In Hope – where did the idea come from for this piece, and how did it evolve into the track it is today?
CHRIS: Originally I just wrote a little tune, just a small melody - and melody forms a good part of what we do. It was a little dedication to Jonathan and his 10 years in charge of the Scottish Ensemble. Then I have to confess there were elements of it I wasn’t completely happy with. When I came to perform it again there was the opportunity to really work on it. So Catriona and I sat down – I looked at the melody again and Catriona brought magic to it - and we could create something that went from a melody into a proper piece of music.
So then we took that idea and sat down with the SE and just taught them the melodies by ear. That was a really, really amazing thing to do. That was a really important thing to do as we didn’t have to start writing down things that shouldn’t be written down, like elements or style.
The Scottish Ensemble just used their natural musicality and that is fundamental to the sound of the music, because it sounded genuine. It didn’t sound like a bunch of classical guys playing folk music or a bunch of folk guys playing classical – it’s exactly what it should be. It felt really natural.
Q What sort of format did the learning by ear take in the sessions?
CATRIONA: Good old style, everybody sitting round in a circle, nothing fancy! CHRIS: It was all laid-back and relaxed, no music stands!
Q Scottish Ensemble are particularly interested in breaking down walls between genres and art forms. As musicians who have always escaped categorisation, do you think this is important? What benefits are there and how do you feel about the Celtic and classical music scenes / categories. Are they useful? Should we be trying to break them down further?
CHRIS: I think there is room for these musics to remain in their pure form as well as the boundaries being blurred and new things being created.
There is room for everything and that’s where we are – sometimes our music is more ‘pure’ genre-wise than other times. I don’t like using the word ‘pure’ because if we start aspiring to something that is pure and perfect then we’ll never stand a chance!
When you experiment/collaborate, that’s often where the most excitement is and the most vulnerability because you are really stepping out there and trying something that is new, perhaps ground that hasn’t been walked before.
Scottish Ensemble Court & Country with Chris Stout & Catriona McKay come to Eden Court on Tuesday (March 13) at 6.45pm. Below get a taster of the first time around with Chris, Catriona and Scottish Ensemble performing Seavaigers by Sally Beamish: