Live Music Now Scotland is a very good initiative aimed at giving young musicians their first experience of professional performance. Under the inspirational leadership of Carol Main, it has given many young musicians their first break. The last in their morning series in the Usher Hall features a young string quartet called the Routes Quartet, a name that appears to give a nod to traditional music, as in “folk roots”.
Indeed, there is an already established Roots Quartet that is folksong orientated. The Routes Quartet, however, is strictly instrumental, and takes the classical string quartet format of two violins (called fiddles of course!), viola and cello. The Quartet claim that they are the only string quartet playing on the British folk scene. That may be true, but there are a number of well-trained classical musicians who play folk on their classical instruments, the excellent Wendy Wetherby on cello comes to mind, for example.
However, the string quartet format is the only thing that is classical about this group, as they play a series of tunes from the tradition and ones they have composed themselves. There is of course a long tradition of classical musicians using folk music in their compositions, think of Dvořák and his Bohemian melodies, or of course Beethoven, Haydn, and Mendelssohn setting Burns poems to music and rearranging his songs in the classical tradition. The best recent example is from a wonderful Italian film, The Great Beauty, which is really a love letter to Rome. The music to the first part of the film is an arrangement of Burns’ great song My Heart’s in the Highlands by Arvo Pärt, and is sung in a haunting ethereal way by the excellent Danish Mezzo, Else Torp.
The group’s numbers, including jigs, reels and original compositions, are well chosen, and they are clearly all good young musicians who will contribute to Scotland’s rich traditional musical culture. Their explanations of the music are somewhat lost in the vastness of the Usher Hall, as without a microphone, and being musicians not singers, they are not very good at projecting their voices to an audience, many of whom are aurally challenged! However, they are warmly applauded by some 200 of an audience in the choir stalls of the Usher Hall, many of whom are intending to stay for John Kitchen’s lunchtime organ recital. Truly Edinburgh is rich in its musical life.