Best classical performances to book for in 2016
Stuck for a last-minute present? Take in some serious (and not-so-serious) music
It's mid-December, you've already bought presents for the easily pleased, and now you're scrambling to find something for your more choosy loved ones. Might we suggest a classical concert? Scotland is not exactly short of really good classical ensembles, and the 2016 season has some very tasty concerts lined up, with bracing mixtures of old favourites and new work. If you've seldom or never gone to a classical concert, it's time to get to know some of the world's most gripping music the way it was meant to be heard: played live by world-class musicians.
Classical concerts have rituals which the uninitiated may find strange. Expect a lot of clapping. Try not to cough during the quiet bits, and if there aren't at least three curtain calls then the evening was probably an utter trainwreck. Apart from that, sit back and let your ears guide you. Here's a selection of some of the most alluring concerts of 2016.
Scottish Chamber Orchestra: Beethoven Symphony No 7
Beethoven's Seventh Symphony is especially famous on account of the menacing yet catchy second movement, which has been used in countless films and TV shows (memorably in the opening titles of Tarsem Singh's 2006 The Fall. The audience at the symphony's 1813 premiere was so struck by the movement that they demanded the orchestra play it all over again before doing the rest of the piece.
The Queen's Hall, Edinburgh, Thu 1 Jan; City Halls, Glasgow, Fri 22 Jan
Nigel Kennedy plays Bach and Fats Waller
Nige attracts the mockery of classical snobs for his spiky hair and suspiciously flattened vowels, but with his showmanship and fondness for improvisation, he's the one who's firmly within the tradition of charismatic virtuosi. Here he plays some of Bach's great Sonatas and Partitas, along with his own arrangements of tunes by the composer of 'Ain't Misbehavin''.
Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Wed 27 Jan.
RSNO: The Music of John Williams
John Williams has more Oscar nominations than anyone except Walt Disney, but his emotional directness and romanticism haven't always made him the favourite of music critics. Still, unlike the late James Horner he does at least write all his own stuff, and while his music for Star Wars, Superman and Harry Potter painted with the broadest of brushes, he almost single-handedly kept the orchestral tradition alive in Hollywood. And who but some kind of genius could make a movie's chief antagonist immortal with just two notes a semitone apart?
Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Fri 5 Feb; Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Sat 6 Feb.
Edinburgh Quartet: Storm and Stress
String quartets contain all of the drama of an orchestral concert with none of the duplication of effort, and the Edinburgh Quartet is the leading quartet in the country. Here it performs a quartet by Grieg and two flat-out masterpieces: Bartók's spiky Quartet No 3 and Haydn's Op 76 No 2.
City Halls, Glasgow,Tue 16 Feb; The Queen's Hall, Edinburgh, Wed 17 Feb.
Mr McFall's Chamber: All of the Above
The ever-exciting Mr McFall's Chamber has a repertoire that spans Finnish tango, jazz, Captain Beefheart and contemporary composition. This 20th birthday concert should be a stonker, featuring new music by Martin Kershaw and Tim Garland, cartoon classics from Raymond Scott and a trio of pieces by Frank Zappa, including the rip-roaring 'G-Spot Tornado'.
Tolbooth, Stirling, Wed 17 Feb; The Queen's Hall, Edinburgh, Thu 18 Feb; The Brunton, Musselburgh, Sat 20 Feb.
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Christoph König conducts (among other things) Schubert's famously unfinished Symphony No 8 and one of the most wickedly tuneful of mid-20th century works, Paul Hindemith's laboriously titled but exhilarating Symphonic metamorphosis of themes by Carl Maria von Weber.
City Halls, Glasgow, Thu 18 Feb.
Scottish Ensemble: South Atlantic Crossings with Gabriela Montero
The great Venezuelan pianist brings her exploratory fire to Mozart's Piano Concerto No 14, plus there are works by Bach, Piazzolla and others. Montero has drawn negative comment from people who imagine themselves to be classical music fans for her tendency to improvise; in this, as with Nigel Kennedy above, she's the one who's keeping the flame, not them.
Eden Court, Inverness, Tue 8 Mar; Caird Hall, Dundee, Fri 11 Mar; City Halls, Glasgow, Sun 13 Mar.
Scottish Chamber Orchestra: Brahms Symphony 4
March is especially rich in worthy concerts, but Brahms's Symphony No 4 is one of the most moving works in the repertoire: its closing movement, a thunderous passacaglia, has been described as a tragedy about the death of a hero (think Sean Bean at the end of Fellowship of the Ring and you've got the idea.)
Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Thu 10 Mar; City Halls, Glasgow, Fri 11 Mar.
RSNO: Oundjian and Benedetti
A triple bill of crazy awesome: Nicola Benedetti lends her gifts to Szymanowski's borderline-crazy Violin Concerto No 2, there's the Scottish premiere of James MacMillan's Little Mass, and then Peter Oundjian conducts Berlioz's outrageous Symphonie fantastique.
Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Thu 17 Mar; Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Fri 18 Mar.
Scottish Chamber Orchestra: Beethoven Symphony No 5
Dah-dah-dah-daaaahhhh! Beethoven's Fifth is a canonical example of how you build up complexity from simplicity: the reason those four notes are so instantly recognisable is that Beethoven used them to build the entire first movement of this most famous of his works, twisting and turning them so many different ways that there was zero chance you'd ever forget them. Also, check out the symphony's don't-know-how-I'm-gonna-stop-this ending.
The Queen's Hall, Edinburgh, Thu 7 Apr; City Halls, Glasgow, Fri 8 Apr.
RSNO: The Rite of Spring
Played well, Stravinsky's brutal 1913 classic still sounds more modern than anything else: in retrospect, it might have been an omen of the century to come that the 20th century's most transgressive work of classical music depicts a human sacrifice. You don't really need anything else with it, but if you must, it may as well be Bartók's gleefully weird The Miraculous Mandarin.
Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Fri 6 May; Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Sat 7 May.