Jazz musicians let rip while Russian painter and multi-media artist Maria Rud creates spontaneous images inside Edinburgh’s oldest cathedral in a series of live, online performances. Gayle Ritchie finds out more.
It is billed as the most ambitious, multi-dimensional event ever staged by the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra.
Where Rivers Meet, brings together live music, live painting and architecture in the striking setting of Edinburgh’s 12th Century St Giles’ Cathedral.
The project features four outstanding saxophone soloists and the vividly expressive creations of Russian painter and multi-media artist Maria Rud.
The seeds for the project were sown when Tommy Smith, the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra’s founder and director, met Maria at an event in Edinburgh’s National Museum of Scotland in 2012.
Maria, discovering Tommy’s passion for the visual arts, suggested that they might one day work together.
Nine years later, they are adding to the SNJO’s extensive body of work, with a piece that resonantly captures the meeting of music, art, and individual and collective creativity.
Four outstanding saxophonists – Tommy (tenor), Paul Towndrow (alto), Konrad Wiszniewski (tenor) and Martin Kershaw (alto), take the solo spotlight on potent suites composed by Albert Ayler, Ornette Coleman, Dewey Redman and Anthony Braxton’s music respectively, as Maria responds with characteristically rich and soulful images.
“Visionary music compositions by Ayler, Coleman, Braxton and Redman are arranged by Tommy Smith, Geoffrey Keezer, Paul Towndrow and Paul Harris and performed by SNJO, featuring the four music soloists and myself,” explains Maria.
“The magnificent architecture of St Giles’ Cathedral will come to life in a new light. The interior plays a pivotal role in this performance. It is a world within a world.”
During lockdown, the musicians – and Maria – enjoyed socially distant rehearsals in St Giles’. But, says Maria, “there are so many elements of improvisation that each performance will be largely spontaneous.”
“Sequences of images come to me with music like a live storyboard,” she explains.
“Live painting sequences will be projected directly on to stained glass windows and the surrounding body of St Giles’.”
Maria says Where Rivers Meet offers the “rare opportunity” to see creation of music and painting up close and personal and to see architecture in a new light from “angles accessible only to a bird”.
“To collaborate with Tommy Smith and the SNJO in St Giles’ Cathedral with its interior as a ‘canvas’ is a great creative privilege.” Tommy says: “The performances are all about expression – the deepest emotion of our inner voice.
“To reach that space where we summon heart and spirit, the soloists must bare their souls – that was the challenge and the achievement of much of the best of the free jazz of the 1960s and beyond,” he says. “And that’s what we’re after here.”
“Sequences of images come to me with music like a live storyboard.”
The SNJO’s manager, Catherine Gillespie, says the concerts will be very unique – “especially in St Giles’, where the vibrancy of Maria’s art and the rich textures of these exciting new arrangements are magnified and enhanced by the soaring architecture of Edinburgh’s oldest cathedral.”
In the past, Maria has worked with internationally renowned percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie, a former pupil at Ellon Academy in Aberdeenshire and named the new chancellor of Robert Gordon University last month.
Evelyn beat out a panoply of driving rhythms on a snare drum, marimba or timpani while Maria painted in real time beside her.
“Our first show with Evelyn was in the Grand Gallery of the National Museum of Scotland (NMS),” says Maria.
“This was a collaboration with NMS and the launch of the AniMotion Show which went on to tour the world.
“Evelyn and I collaborated on many shows with such imposing buildings as, Belfast City Hall and Durham Cathedral, as our ‘canvases’.
AniMotion, a unique collaboration of art, music and digital technology, was a concept that started as an experiment, but quickly captured people’s imaginations.
“You can never repeat the same thing twice,” says Maria. “There is always an element of improvisation and each time it is fresh and new.”
- Where Rivers Meet runs online from May 12 to 15 at 7.30pm. livestream.snjo.co.uk