Peter Gregson featured in The Scotsman

Thursday 17th June 2010

Ahead of his concert tomorrow at Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, Peter Gregson spoke to The Scotsman‘s Tim Cornwell. You can also listen to Peter playing and speaking to the Music Café team on BBC Radio Scotland Yesterday afternoon (available until Weds 23rd June).

Arts Diary: A busy week for Gregson, supported by one uncertain voice in the choir

CELLIST, serial collaborator, traveller, and coffee drinker; that’s how 23-year-old Peter Gregson describes himself. Others call him one of the most original musical talents to come out of Edinburgh in recent years.

Not so long ago, Gregson was knuckling down to his exams as a schoolboy at the Edinburgh Academy, before heading south to the Royal Academy of Music.

Since then, he has performed concerts in the head offices of Twitter in San Francisco and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab.

Researchers at MIT helped develop the Guitar Hero computer game, and Gregson has been working on the Hyperbow project, which aims to capture and adapt the most subtle and intricate aspects of bowing.

Tomorrow Gregson will play the Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh. In the first half, he will perform JS Bach’s Third Cello Suite on a conventional cello. Then he will switch to an electric cello made especially for him, with a computerised bridge and five strings (with an extra top E) connected to five different speakers, giving a surround-sound effect to several contemporary pieces.

After the Queen’s Hall gig, Gregson will also be a last-minute recruit to his Alma Mater’s production of Carmina Burana at the Usher Hall on Sunday, playing in an orchestra of about 70, with nigh on 300 singers in its scholars and parents’ choir.

Nerves permitting, I will be one of those sharing the stage with him, along with my daughter, Annie. In January, I took a voice test in an attempt to sing in a choir for the first time since I was 14 – about three decades ago, plus change.

Every Sunday for five years I sang treble in my boarding school chapel choir before retreating in confusion after my voice broke, and I could no longer belt out the tune.

At the voice test, the Edinburgh Academy music master, Angus Tully, made me count backwards from 20 as fast as possible.

From this, he concluded my natural tone was a D-flat. For all I knew, it was a musical joke, but he helped by getting the whole choir to sing it.

Modern technology makes life easier for the musically disabled. In the build-up to my big choral comeback, The CyberBass Project, which provides part-specific training recordings for hundreds of choral pieces, has been a life-saver with its Carmina CD.

With a tune you can sing along to (or at least attempt) playing at full blast on your earphones while you’re out cycling or walking, you’re safe in the superior knowledge that, unlike all those other idiots who make inappropriate grunting noises to music no-one else can hear, you are actually “practising”.

Still, my first principle of chorus singing is mostly: “Do no harm.” In other words, sing only what you think you know and if in doubt, mouth it.

Having it large

GREGSON’S Friday concert is supported by the electric sound specialist Milton Mermikides. It includes the Scottish Premiere of Steve Reich’s Cello Counterpoint, a cello octet for which Gregson has recorded seven parts and will play an eighth.

Also in the programme is John Metcalfe’s Tracing the Outline, a new suite for cello and interactive electronics. Gregson plays, and the computer adds notes and rhythms, creating what the cellist described as some “unbelievably large chords”.

Amateur jigsaw

EDINBURGH is “the great city of the amateur”, in the words of Richard Neville-Towle, organist at Canongate Kirk, founder of Ludus Baroque and, for his sins, music director of the Really Terrible Orchestra.

In particular, he means amateur music, from orchestras to a string of church choirs and university choirs to the Edinburgh Royal Choral Union.

For Mr Tully, the Carmina concert is “a big musical jigsaw with 375 moving parts, which will only come together for the performance”.

His soloists include the baritone Peter Thomson, who sang the part with St George’s School for Girls earlier this year, and Louise Alder, who is just about to graduate from Edinburgh University. She is heading for the Royal College of Music on scholarship to join a master’s programme in voice, and like Gregson is also making her way to the prestigious Aldeburgh Festival this year.