'The tuba player is now a machine gunner': Ukrainian orchestra defying Putin comes to Edinburgh
Plus International Festival forced to axe 'city dividend' events; Storm Babet aftermath; and chefs in farmed salmon protest
The extraordinary musicians defying Putin in Edinburgh
Their rehearsals were interrupted by air raids and at least two of their members are now serving on the frontline, but the courageous musicians in the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine (NSOU) were determined to be heard.
One of the finest symphony orchestras in eastern Europe, the NSOU has returned to the UK for the first time in more than 20 years after the Usher Hall joined with 16 other venues to support a major tour.
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Alexander Hornostai, NSOU managing director and producer, said: “Whilst this war has had a dramatic impact on Ukrainian lives, we took the decision early on that we had an important part to play in continuing to perform, in order to protect and showcase Ukrainian musical culture and show that there is more to our country than just conflict.”
The orchestra is “deeply grateful” to the Usher Hall and other venues for working with them to ensure the tour could take place, Hornostai added.
Playing on through war: The orchestra initially disbanded and members scattered amid the extreme danger and uncertainty following the Russian invasion in February last year. Some felt compelled to sign up - a tuba player is now a machine gunner and a viola player is a musician in the Army - and others volunteered in soup kitchens. Within weeks, most of the musicians had reunited, first in Venice’s Opera House, La Fenice, then playing morale-boosting concerts in Ukraine and touring to promote the national cause and its distinctive culture. Rehearsals in Kyiv were regularly interrupted by air raids forcing the musicians to take shelter. With no flights out of Ukraine, the 90-members of the orchestra had to take a 20-hour coach journey through the war zone to Warsaw, before flying to Heathrow.
Proud history: Formed in 1918 during the Ukrainian-Soviet War which followed the Russian Revolution, the NSOU fell under the direction of the Soviet People’s Commissariat of Education after the conflict ended in 1921 and the country was subsumed into the USSR. It played for troops to raise morale during the Second World War and was the first to perform in concerts celebrating Ukraine’s declaration of independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
Music of War: The Usher Hall musical programme on Sunday does not flinch from the situation in the musicians’ homeland. It includes a new work by one of Ukraine’s leading composers. Yevhen Stankovych, entitled Ukraine: Music of War, alongside works by Strauss, Bruch, Sibelius and Lyatoshynsky.
Show your support: The Usher Hall’s role in the NSOU tour is the latest show of support for Ukraine in the Capital, with the city council leading national efforts to rehouse those fleeing the war and the charity Dnipro Kids set up by Hibs fans helping evacuate and support orphanage families. The UK Home Office waived visa fees for the orchestra. Tickets are still available for Sunday’s concert and a Just Giving appeal has been set up with the aim of raising £24,000 during the tour to support the work of the NSOU.
YOUR EDINBURGH BRIEFING
NEW HOMES ‘IMPOSSIBLE’: The rising costs of development in the Capital have led Harbour Homes, the former Port of Leith Housing Association, to abandon all future housebuilding plans. “Rising costs, higher interest rates, procurement issues and restrictions on our ability to increase rental incomes in line with inflation have made it impossible for future developments to demonstrate financial viability when assessing them”, the Edinburgh Evening News reports the association saying.
STORM BABET: The cost of last week’s severe weather is still being counted despite Edinburgh and the Lothians avoiding the worst of Storm Babet. The severe weather caused widespread disruption including stopping most LNER services north of the Capital and closing the Fife Circle rail line for most of yesterday. Several boats were sunk or damaged as Granton Harbour was battered by the storm, while waves crashed through the windows of the Old Chain Pier at Newhaven, flooding the restaurant and causing thousands of pounds of damage. Owner Calum Mackay has praised his staff for getting it ready to reopen in less than 24 hours. A sei whale sadly died after becoming beached at South Queensferry.
CLUB TO GO: The site of a former nightclub which once played hots to some of the biggest names in pop and rock would be turned into student housing under plans submitted to the city council. The Jam, the Ramones, Pink Floyd, U2 and Culture Club are among the many stars to have performed at the former Cavendish nightclub in West Tollcross, which was known more recently as Atik and featured in the film Trainspotting2. Silvermills Estates and Lands Ltd want to build a 145-bedroom student housing complex with commercial units on the ground floor on the site and neighbouring land.
UNIVERSITY ON SPY ALERT: The University of Edinburgh is among dozens across the UK to have joined a security scheme designed to protect its research from Chinese spies. The Trusted Research programme has been set up by the security services in an effort to reduce the risk of valuable work falling into foreign government hands. The head of MI5 Ken McCallum has warned of the increased espionage threat from China.
CHEFS PROTEST AT FARMED SALMON: Edinburgh chefs Lloyd Morse and James Snowdon have joined a growing national campaign to removed farmed salmon from restaurant menus after growing ethical concerns over sustainability and welfare of salmon farming. “I think it’s such a poor product, and because of the effect that it has on wild salmon, I won’t serve it,” Lloyd Morse, head chef at the Palmerston Restaurant, 1 Palmerston Place, told The Guardian. Instead he is using wild sea trout.
A national campaign by the WildFish charity is underway and has more than 150 restaurants on board. A recent report by Scotland’s Fish Health Inspectorate found that fish farm deaths have doubled to more than 15 million, many being devoured by sea lice. Critics say over-crowding in nets, the excessive use of chemicals to treat sea lice, and the slaughter of fish before they are fully grown, is unethical and damaging to the environment. Also the mass escape of farmed salmon during stormy weather into the ecosystem is harming the biology balance of wild Atlantic Salmon.
Sea-bed ecologists from Heriot-Watt University also point out that fish farms are damaging the vital sea-grass and kelp beds in Scotland’s lochs which act as blue carbon sinks and are several times more effective than land-based tree plantations.
Scotland is world renowned for its salmon production and it makes up around 40% of total food exports. Wild Atlantic salmon stocks have plummeted since the 1970s, and many of Scotland’s salmon rivers have witnessed massive falls in native salmon. Former Liberal Democrat MSP, Tavish Scott, chief executive of Salmon Scotland, said: “With the domestic and global demand for Scottish salmon continuing to grow, the success of the Scottish salmon sector – and the jobs that depend on it – will not be put at risk from a handful of urban-based activist chefs.”
Fish protester banned: Meanwhile, the Mail on Sunday reported that anti-fish farm campaigner, Don Staniford, who has been monitoring salmon farms and gathering photographic evidence of injured fish and those eaten by lice, has been banned from going near dozens of Scottish fish farms. At a hearing in Oban, a sheriff ruled that Mr Staniford was “well-meaning” but cannot assume the role of “fish farm watchdog”. He has been banned from using drones to film the farms and has been instructed not to carry out surveillance. Mr Staniford is taking his Scottish Salmon Boycott tour across the UK and plans a protest march down the Royal Mile to the Scottish Parliament on 6 November.
DAZZLING APOLOGY: The brightness level of a giant advertising screen outside the Omni Centre is being turned down after complaints it was too dazzling. The screen is believed to be the biggest in Scotland and has lead to tongue-in-cheek comparisons being drawn between Picardy Place and New York’s Times Square. Advertising company GEM Display has apologised and blamed a technical error for “unacceptable levels of brightness and frankly being a nuisance”, according to the BBC’s Local Democracy Reporters service.
DUNDAS PLAQUE ROW: The city council is threatening legal action against a descendant of Henry Dundas over the removal of a plaque linking him to slavery. The plaque, which described the 18th century politician’s role in delaying the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade, was removed from the Melville Monument in St Andrew Square by a group led by Bobby Dundas. Mr Dundas objects to the plaque’s description and says the group acted within the law, but the council insists the plaque was illegally removed and must be restored.
BENEDETTI BOW: Classical violinist Nicola Benedetti is to follow in the footsteps of JK Rowling, theoretical physicist Professor Peter Higgs and boxer Ken Buchanan by receiving the prestigious Edinburgh Award. The annual honour is bestowed on someone who has made an outstanding contribution to the life of the Capital and brought international attention. Benedetti, who has lived in the city for a number of years, is being recognised for her work as director of the Edinburgh International Festival and in leading the city-based Benedetti Foundation, which promotes music education and participation.
BEST FOR THE ENVIRONMENT: The city council has been named the best local authority in Scotland - and the joint fourth best across the UK - for climate action by the campaigning organisation Climate Emergency UK. Edinburgh was ranked highly in the league table for collaborating with other organisations on environmental issues, its work on Green planning and land use, and waste reduction.
AND…ACTION! The search has begun for a new director to lead the recovery of the Edinburgh International Film Festival. New chairman, movie producer Andrew Macdonald, whose credits include Sunshine on Leith, Shallow Grave, Trainspotting and 28 Days Later, aims to revive the festival with a "fresh new vision and direction" a year on from financial collapse and closure. He said he is looking for a "dynamic entrepreneurial leader with a passion for film and the festival scene".
GECKO GEKKO? You may have noticed that we love a cute animal photo here at the Inquirer and our friends at Edinburgh Zoo regularly come up trumps. They tell us with parental pride that a rare species of gecko has been bred at the zoo for the first time, just in time for Reptile Awareness Day which fell on Saturday. The two tiny Henkel’s leaf-tailed gecko hatchlings weigh just two grams, which is about the same as a small paper clip. You won’t see the young’uns just yet, but their parents can be found in the zoo’s Wee Beasties exhibit. With one male and one female baby (the zoo thinks) we suggest the name Gordon may be just the ticket for a hungry wee reptile for whom greed is good. Just an idea…
FAILING A1 CONCRETE: A lane on the A1 near Innerwick in East Lothian is likely to remain closed for about a month after Transport Scotland’s operating company BEAR Scotland identified problems with failing concrete, the East Lothian Courier reports.
International Festival set to cut ‘city dividend’ events
The Edinburgh International Festival has warned that it can no longer afford to stage some of its most popular events due to ongoing funding pressures.
Concerts and performances staged around the city in venues including Murrayfield Stadium, Tynecastle Park, Leith Theatre, Inverleith Park and in Craigmillar have proved among the most popular with new audiences. The pop-up events have been seen as part of a ‘Festival dividend’ which helped to spread the economic and cultural benefits much more widely around the Capital.
Their warning follows one from the National Museums of Scotland which says it will have to stop some of its activities unless it receives increased public funding.
But, but, but… Didn’t the Scottish Government just announce that it was doubling its funding of arts and culture? That’s right, First Minister Humza Yousaf said that he would both double funding for arts and culture and that he would increase funds by £100m a year by 2028. That pledge has been cautiously welcomed by the arts sector after years of standstill funding. Culture Counts, a network of arts, heritage and creative industries organisations, including Edinburgh’s Festivals and the National Theatre, had called last month for increased arts funding of £104m next year to see off a crisis.
What’s the catch? No one knows exactly what the announcement means for different sectors and organisations, or crucially where the money will go, with questions raised about the suggestion of “doubled” funding. An extra £100m adds up to a doubling only if you discount national museums and galleries, yet the money is for “arts and culture”. Scotland spends around £90m a year on Creative Scotland, which provides grants to hundreds of artists and arts organisations, and national performance companies, such as Scottish Ballet, Scottish Opera and the National Theatre of Scotland. Another £85m goes to the national collections, the National Galleries of Scotland and National Museums of Scotland, who want to be sure they will see extra money too.
What the International Festival said: “We are unable to use Leith Theatre due to costs we incur on making the venue fit for purpose, meaning we are forced to programme in more central areas of Edinburgh. In previous years, we have staged events in communities outwith the centre, but this has required self-build performance infrastructure, which we can no longer afford.”
What the National Museums of Scotland said: “The current financial climate is one of the toughest the heritage and culture sector has ever faced. We have still not settled our pay negotiations for the current financial year.”
What Creative Scotland said: “We look forward to seeing more detail, and to working with the Scottish Government to address the significant and ongoing financial challenges that face Scotland’s culture and creative sector, to ensure its continued success.”
What the Scottish Government said: “How the funding will be spent will take time, but to reiterate it will drive up opportunities for participation in creative pursuits, support the production of new works, and ensure that Scotland’s cultural output has platforms at home and abroad.”
CALLING TECH FOUNDERS: A programme to help entrepreneurs in the Capital prepare to find suitable investors for their ideas and innovation is open for applications. The University of Edinburgh’s Advanced Investor Readiness Programme, in conjunction with the BayesCentre, takes place from January to April 2024 and culminates in a opportunity to pitch live on stage at the EIE24 technology showcase on 1 May 2024. EIE is widely regarded as one of the premier investment events in Scotland with many international venture capitalists in attendance. Applications close on 16 November. The programme is suitable for companies in the AI and data science, creative design and media tech, clean energy, fintech and cyber security, robotics, space tech, and tourism and festivals.
SAFETY ON SIGHT: Edinburgh-based tech company, Reactec – which produces hand-arm vibration technology to monitor construction workers - has signed a partnership deal with US tool manufacturer, Honsa Ergonomic Technologies. This will see Reactec’s wearable technology, the R-Link watch, made available to protect US workers. The R-Link monitors tool vibration in real time and alerts at-risk workers when they are close to exposure thresholds.
Jacqui McLaughlin, chief executive officer of Reactec, said: “It’s been an incredibly exciting time for Reactec as we continue to internationalise the business with R-Link. The United States are tackling vibration-related musculoskeletal disorders, like HAVS (hand-arm vibration syndrome) from an ergonomic standpoint, rather than a regulatory one, and with our partnership with Honsa Ergonomic Technologies, we will be able to unlock new opportunities in the US and extend the reach of R-Link to employers who are exploring how novel technologies can protect their workforce.”
CITY’S BIGGEST HOTEL: The Hampton by Hilton at Edinburgh Airport has lodged plans to double in size by adding an extra 240 bedrooms. At 480-rooms, the expanded hotel would be bigger than the Hyatt at Haymarket, which is planned to open near the EICC in 2025, with 365 bedrooms. The extension would be a standalone building to the south of the existing hotel, linked at ground floor only, designed to accommodate the growing number of passengers using the airport.
EXPENSIVE LUNCH: Beware putting your partner’s lunch on your company’s expenses. Citibank has just won an employment case against a banker who was dismissed for submitting an expense claim which includes coffee and sandwiches for his partner – then told lies about it. The senior analyst was sacked over the expenses on a work trip to Amsterdam in 2022. A tribunal ruled in Citibank’s favour.
LIGHT MY FIRE: It wouldn’t be Halloween without the spectacular Samhuinn Fire Festival. Acrobats, drummers and otherwordly creatures will join the fire parade through Holyrood Park and summer and winter meet in an epic battle. You need to buy tickets in advance (£8.88 for adults, £6.73 for under-16s, including booking fees) for the Festival on 31 October at 7-10pm.
DISNEY DELIGHT: Disney’s Aladdin is a musical that has played to millions worldwide, and now the spectacular show is coming to the Edinburgh Playhouse for a pre-festive run. The show, featuring the iconic music by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, and Tim Rice, runs from 24 October – 18 November. Recommended for children ages 6 and up, and remember youngsters under the age of 3 will not be admitted, Shows every day except Mondays - More info and tickets at Disney's Aladdin Tickets | Edinburgh Playhouse in Edinburgh | ATG Tickets
MINIMALIST MUSIC: The Scottish Chamber Orchestra is bringing a night of classical minimalism in a programme that features reworked Radiohead tracks to the Queen’s Hall next month. Steve Reich + will have an eclectic mix of musical styles, and takes place on Thursday, November 9 at 7.30pm. Doors open 6.30pm – Under 18s go free.
QUICK BITES (AND SIPS)
CHOCS AWAY: Luxury hot chocolate cafe Knoops is to open its first Scottish branch in the former Starbucks premises at 106 George Street. Founded by Jens Knoop, who grew up in rural Germany, in East Sussex in 2013, the boutique chain prides itself on offering hot and cold chocolate drinks “to suit every taste and mood”. An opening date for its George Street cafe is yet to be confirmed.
MICHELIN ARRIVAL: A Michelin-starred chef from the United States is set to open a new fine dining restaurant in Stockbridge. Rodney Wages, who earned a Michelin star at his former restaurant in San Francisco, Avery, has bought the premises that used to be the Stockbridge Restaurant in St Stephen Street. Avery Edinburgh is planning a soft launch in December. Wages’ cooking is said to be influenced by Eastern Asian and European flavours. The chef “fell in love with Edinburgh” after visiting on holiday. His restaurant is named after the modern American painter Milton Avery.
PANDA’S PRIZE: Edinburgh's Panda & Sons cocktail bar has featured in a prestigious world's top 50 best bars list, being handed the 39th spot at a ceremony held in Pasir Panjang, Singapore. The World’s 50 Best Bars Academy provides an annual ranking voted for by 650 drinks experts from across the globe. The Queen St bar was the only Scottish venue to make the list and one of only six in the UK. Owner Iain McPherson, who was joined by venue manager Nicky Craig and bar manager Sean Moggach to collect the award, said: “We’re approaching 10 years of Panda & Sons and what a way to celebrate. We’ve worked hard to push the boundaries and expectations of cocktail making by inventing new ways of creating them.”
SOME EXTRA DIARY DATES FOR YOU
Actor and writer Forbes Mason is to return to the stage of Edinburgh’s Lyceum Theatre for the first time in 20 years to star in a one-man show Jekyll & Hyde. The Royal Shakespeare Company stalwart takes the titular role(s) in the adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “shilling shocker” by acclaimed Scottish playwright Gary McNair. Directed by Michael Fentiman, Jekyll & Hyde will be performed on 13-27 January, 2024.
LET THERE BE LIGHT: Locals and visitors alike are being invited to enjoy another instalment of the popular Castle of Light this year, with the theme of “Magic and Mystery.” The interactive trail will run for six weeks through the festive season, from 24 November to 3 January next year. Tickets and more info Castle of Light: Magic and Mystery | Edinburgh Castle
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