October 7, 2009 / 5:34 PM / in 8 years

Oldest Scottish choir celebrates 150th a year late

EDINBURGH (Reuters Life!) - Scotland’s oldest choir produced a fascinating program, including a world premiere by English composer Judith Bingham from the works of Robert Louis Stevenson, to mark its 150th anniversary a year late in Edinburgh’s Usher Hall.

The 100-strong Edinburgh Royal Choral Union commissioned Shadow Aspect from Bingham drawing inspiration from poems, texts and meditations by Stevenson, the novelist, poet, essayist and travel writer born in Edinburgh in 1850.

The performance also included Felix Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture and his seldom heard Second Symphony, Lobgesang, to mark his association with Scotland on the 200th anniversary of his birth.

Keith Bruce of the Herald newspaper said in a review on Monday that Bingham’s work “was surely one of the most quintessentially ‘Edinburgh’ pieces the Hall has heard.”

“It is theatrical and playful but far from slight, at first a possible soundtrack to an Old Town ghost story before finding literal and philosophical Enlightenment.”

The Choral Union was joined by the Edinburgh Youth Choir and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra under the baton of Michael Bawtree.

Critic Kenneth Walton in the Scotsman newspaper praised the Choral Union “for marking its 150th anniversary with such an interesting program.” He had caveats, however, on Shadow Aspect with its theme of darkness.

“The music itself is soaked in a rather cold austerity and only at the end, when the organ -- played by John Kitchen -- erupts into a Mesiaen-like dawn chorus, and the music builds to its first and final euphoric outpouring, does Shadow Aspect truly touch the emotions.”

The Choral Union was founded in 1858, but its grand anniversary production was delayed by a year until its spiritual home, the Usher Hall with its marvelous acoustics, had completed renovations.

Stevenson, author of such iconic tales as Treasure Island and Travels With A Donkey who died on Samoa in the Pacific in 1894, was born into a family of engineers who were responsible for constructing a number of major lighthouses around the British coast.

Appropriately, Shadow Aspect includes The Instructions to the Bell Rock Light Keepers of 1823. They were ordered “to keep the lamps of the reflecting apparatus burning bright and clear, from the going away of day-light in the evening till the return of day-light in the morning.”

Editing by Paul Casciato

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