Performing musical saw in a potato barn

Su-a LeeTue 26th June 2012

The SCO's principal cellist prepares for the East Neuk Festival

The East Neuk Festival is a jewel in the Scottish Chamber Orchestra's summer calendar. Only in its eighth official year, it has become a spectacular gathering of exciting artists from all over the world. As with many great things, the beginnings were humble. The seeds germinated some five years previously in the minds of chairman Donald MacDonald and director Svend Brown, and began with two or three concerts given by the SCO. We performed in smaller ensembles, as well as the full outfit, in the tiny hamlets of the East Neuk of Fife - a hidden treasure. 



The SCO has been at the heart of the Festival since the beginning and we have enjoyed watching it expand. One of the notable excitements each year is the addition of a quirky new concert venue, which in past years has included the Secret Bunker, a terrifying underground vestige of the Cold War. This year it is to be the Potato Barn at Cambo Estate! Indeed when the official recce took place to assess its sound viability, there was great hilarity to find that the barn was indeed chock-a-block full of potatoes and noisy machinery!



So you can imagine my excitement when director Svend Brown approached me with the idea of playing the musical saw in such an agricultural setting! Who knows where the first saw was played?! I like to think that it was in such a barn. How did I come to be playing the saw in the first instance? Early in the days of our then rather revolutionary band, Mr McFall's Chamber (circa 1996), I announced to Robert McFall that I wanted to learn a new instrument. He suggested the musical saw and also gave me a contact in Amsterdam, Gert-Jan Blom, with whom I subsequently went to study. It has now become a firm feature of our Mr McFall’s Chamber programmes. 



What can I tell you of the musical saw? It is a spectacle! A sight and sound that is sensational in every way. Amazing to think that something so dangerous looking and utilitarian can make such an ethereal sound. Depending on repertoire and setting, it can sound ghostly, comical, or heartbreaking. For this programme in Cambo Barn, I am delighted to be playing some vocal music by Hildegard of Bingen, arranged by Robert McFall. This is what he writes about it : '"O Ecclesia", by Hildegard of Bingen, the 12th century German abbess, philosopher, writer, composer and visionary, tells the story of Saint Ursula, who, along with her female followers, renounced earthly love in order fully to surrender herself to Christ.  On her return to Cologne from a pilgrimage to Rome, the entire group of women was martyred by an army of (understandably) angry Huns. This instrumental setting for musical saw, strings and percussion uses only the first half of the piece, finishing at the point when the mob of men pour scorn on Saint Ursula's rejection of sexual relations, saying: "This ignorant girl doesn't know what she's talking about."'

The programme at Cambo Barn this year promises to uphold the ethos of the festival...exciting, challenging, intimate and moving in equal measure.

FIRE AND WATER is the title of the East Neuk Festival concert at Cambo Potato Barn on Friday June 29 at 7.30pm with Scottish Chamber Orchestra conducted by James Lowe with Alexander Janiczek (violin/director). The programme also includes: Pärt’s Arbos; Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony, Op 110a; MacMillan’s They saw the stone had been rolled away and Adam’s Rib; Pärt’s Fratres for Strings; and Barber’s Adagio for Strings. www.eastneukfestival.com

Su-a Lee

Su-a Lee is principal cellist of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and a founder member of the group Mr McFall's Chamber, which presents classical music in new and inventive ways.

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