The new Scottish play: first review – SlippediscSlippedisc

norman lebrecht

September 30, 2022

Hugh Kerr of Edinburgh Music Review offers a first response to Nicola Bendetti in James MacMillan’s new violin concerto:

‘An Ayrshire triumph reviewed by an Ayrshire critic,’ is what I told Nicola Benedetti at the interval reception after her triumphal performance of the new violin concerto by James Macmillan. Nicola was born in Irvine, Ayrshire, and James Macmillan was born nearby in Kilwinning but grew up in Cumnock. A gratifying coincidence to this Kilmarnock critic!

Macmillan wasn’t at the Usher Hall tonight, but he had been present the night before in Perth for the first of three Scottish Chamber Orchestra concerts featuring the world premiere of his second violin concerto. He would have heard a superb rendition by Nicola and an ecstatic reception from a sold out Usher Hall. There were a lot of young people in the audience, compared to normal classical concerts. It’s “the Nicola effect”; she appeals to young people in Scotland, something that bodes well when she takes over the Edinburgh Festival directorship next month. The last Edinburgh Festival had no Scottish composers in its classical programme. Macmillan’s violin concerto played by Nicola would make a great opening work for next year’s festival.

The concerto is dedicated to Nicola and to the memory of the Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki, who died in 2020. It is melodic yet challenging, reflective yet at times martial, at times loud but ending quietly. Nicola’s performance is at once melancholy, reflective and resolute. It is a very fine though difficult work and I think it will become a standard of the repertoire.

photo: Benedetti, with conductor Emilyanchev

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