Orpheus Caledonius - L’Avventura London with Old Blind Dogs and Siobhan Miller at The Queen’s Hall Edinburgh tonight sounds like a long introduction to something, but what exactly? Well, the answer to that is best arrived at by looking at everything one by one.
“Orpheus Caledonius” is an historically important publication by William Thomson published in 1725 that for the first time collected Scottish songs and printed them with their melodies. Scottish tunes were hugely popular in 18th century Britain, and this led to a second volume five years later with another fifty songs. Many of the airs to which Robert Burns set his own words come from “Orpheus Caledonius”. Sadly, over the years, this publication has fallen into near obscurity, and this project aims not only to bring this publication back into public prominence, but also bring back to life through live performances the words and music contained in it.
For this project Žak Ozmo and L’Avventura London, specialist performers of period music, are re-looking at this important work, and this opening information from their own website at http://www.lavventuralondon.co.uk/pages/about-us best illustrates their goals
“L'Avventura London, founded and directed by Žak Ozmo, is a period-instrument ensemble dedicated to the exploration of Western musical repertoire from the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries”. For this project, L'Avventura London are working with one of Scotland’s best loved Scottish folk music bands “Old Blind Dogs” and their special guest singer Siobhan Miller, the two-time winner of the ‘Scots Singer of the Year’ award.
Having got the introductions out of the road now, what was the performance like? Well, the answer to that is a rare evening of something very special happening on stage. Individually, any one of these performers could easily command The Queen’s Hall stage alone, but combined together and working off of each other’s unique talents, the combined result is a magical journey into the past in music, words and song.
I have to admit to a big personal soft spot for the sounds of music from this period, and hearing it lovingly played by L'Avventura London on instruments that included archlute, baroque violin, recorder and harpsichord was a pleasure. There is something so unique about the sound of a harpsichord, and modern electronic instruments always seem to fail trying to re-create its sound. Old Blind Dogs as usual were superb in their own musical abilities, and Siobhan Miller has one of those beautiful voices that just seems to float on the air itself and belong to an earlier time…absolutely perfect for these songs.
Over nearly twenty songs in two sets, a pleasant evening in a very warm and friendly atmosphere , we explored songs of love, loss, personal tragedy, attempts at arranged marriage and much more. Somehow, none of the music in these songs sounded dated, instead much of it sounded very contemporary, proving that although the publication “Orpheus Caledonius” might have fallen into obscurity, the music contained in its pages has never gone away.
If there is one thing for me that came over from this performance, it is just how much life this music and these songs had…there is so much joy and humour in them (even oddly in the saddest of songs). Hearing these songs performed reminds you instantly of just how important music and song are to us as individuals and as a collective gathering. I think that in a time before you could listen to whatever music you want in the seclusion of your own home (and the isolation that can bring) that music was far more of a social event in everyday life that connected people together in a way that we have somehow lost a little bit of in our modern society. Music at its very heart is meant to be enjoyed live as a communal interactive social experience, and the music of “Orpheus Caledonius” reminds us all of that important fact.
Review by Tom King