Choosing the top 20 classical and opera performances of all time in Scotland-as we have done all this week-was never going to be easy, nor conclusive. The legacy lies in the individual memory, or someone else’s memory in writing.
Here though was an opportunity to consider the furthest-reaching moments in Scottish musical history. The task was not simply to judge a piece of music, but to assess the quality of a performance together with the significance and context of its presentation.
I am indebted to our panel of experts. Conrad Wilson was staff music critic of The Scotsman for 27 years, and has attended every Edinburgh Festival since it began. John Currie has directed all of Scotland’s major choruses, working with all the great conductors in the process. Hugh Macdonald is a former head of music at BBC Scotland as well as the former director of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.
Kenneth Walton Scotsman Classical Music Critic 16th December 2007
The cult of Berlioz has long been stronger here than in his native France, and there’s a good case for the claim that British enthusiasm was first kindled in Glasgow in 1935 when the enterprising Erik Chisholm conducted the British premiere of Berlioz’'s huge opera, The Trojans.
Young Chisholm was undaunted by even the biggest musical challenge, for as well as bringing world-famous musicians such as Bartok and Hindemith to Scotland for the Active Society, his work with the Glasgow Grand Opera saw an astonishing series of British premières, including Mozart’s Idomeneo.
For The Trojans at the King’s Theatre, Chisholm had professional soloists but an amateur orchestra, which must have been sorely stretched by the demands of Berlioz’s five-hour marathon. Yet the performance was judged enough of a success to prompt a reassessment of the idea that the work was an unperformable failure.
'Glasgow Amateurs arouse the envy of the Musical World' ran one headline, and among the many leading musicians who journeyed north from London for the occasion were Hamilton Harty and Ernest Newman. Chisholm had invited Sir Thomas Beecham too, but he rudely declined, questioning how “this whipper snapper” could attempt such a massive undertaking. Beecham himself would himself conduct it eventually, but Chisholm paved the way.