Steven Osborne and Alban Gerhardt marked the official 40th birthday of The Queen’s Hall Edinburgh tonight with a special concert that highlighted just how special this venue is to audiences, musicians and the very fabric of musical performance in not just Edinburgh, but Scotland as a country.
On 6th July 1979, HM Queen Elizabeth II officially opened The Queen’s Hall; the event was the culmination of the combined vision and a lot of hard work by many people to create in Edinburgh a venue that would be a home for both world class chamber music, and a diverse programme of musical genres whilst also attracting some of the best musical talent from around the world. Tonight, 40 years on with millions of people having passed through its doors and thousands of diverse performers taking to its stage in many thousands of performances over the years, that initial vision of creating a world class music venue has more than been realised.
Continuing that tradition of excellence in music for this special concert event were multi-award-winning Scottish pianist Steven Osborne and one of the world's finest cellists, Alban Gerhardt with a very carefully selected programme of music
Schumann: 5 Stücke im Volkston
Brahms: Cello Sonata in F Major Op.99
De falla: Siete Canciones populares (arr. M.Marechal)
Debussy: Estampes for piano solo
Ravel: Alborada del gracioso (arr. Castelnuovo-Tedesco); Habanera (arr. P.Bazelaire); Tzigane (arr. Laszlo Varga)
The Queen’s Hall is not simply about music, but also creating an environment for inspiring young musical talents to develop and become part of the next generation of performers, and Steven Osborne was a perfect choice for this special 40th birthday event. Steven grew up just outside of Edinburgh in Livingston and attended St Mary's Music School in Edinburgh before studying at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester and going on to winning prestigious awards and enjoying an international music career. The Queen’s Hall was a very important part of Steven’s growing up, and has retained a very special place in his professional career. Connections like this between a venue and an artist are very special indeed. Watching Steven play with such skill and passion, particularly when performing “Debussy: Estampes for piano solo” you get an idea of just how much being able to perform at such a special venue with such a warm and intimate atmosphere and unique acoustics must have meant to a young musician, and also of course the opportunity to perform on The Queen’s Hall’s much loved concert piano.
Alban Gerhardt from Germany is widely accepted by many people as one of the world's finest cellists, and watching and listening to his very emotive and distinctive performance it is easy to understand why he has earned this reputation, as the range of playing techniques that he brought to stage, particularly on the Ravel works, probably re-defined for many people in the audience what they thought a cello was capable of playing. Despite the demanding technical skills of the Ravel works, it is possibly the work of Manuel de Falla that was closest to Alban Gerhardt’s heart this evening as he has had over the years a long musical love affair with Spanish music and composers, with the great Spanish Cellist Pablo Casals being an important inspirational figure in his music.
I note in the programme tonight that Alban Gerhardt plays a Matteo Gofriller cello dating from 1710, and it is so appropriate that this wonderful instrument should still be having a musical performance life in the hands of a performer of Alban Gerhardt’s calibre.
Steven Osborne and Alban Gerhardt have been friends for many years and it is obvious that not only do they respect each other musically, but instinctively understand one another when performing live on stage together, and there were times when that “freedom of movement” when playing together reminded me more of how Jazz musicians work than the more rigid forms of classical music.
Review by Tom King