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Date of Next Meeting: Saturday, 13th February, 2016

The 17th meeting of the Scottish Lute and Early Guitar Society will take place on Saturday 13th February, 2016, from 1pm (usually the meetings last two to three hours). All are welcome.

The venue is Chris Elmes’s place – 1F1, 25 Haddington Place, EH7 4AF (the left side of Leith Walk between Annandale St and MacDonald Rd). Parking is unrestricted off Leith Walk on weekends; MacDonald Road or Hopetoun Crescent is the best area.

There will be a charge of £1 a head for the use of the venue.

If anyone wishes to make a presentation, please contact Rob MacKillop: robmackillopATgmailDOTCOM

Review of 16th Meeting: 7 November, 2015

A new departure for SLEGS, in that we had two performers with Torres-related classical guitars. More later…

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Chris Jupp rose to the occasion, quite literally, by performing standing up, playing a 4c guitar made by Bill Samson. A Branle and Tourdion by Adrian Le Roy were despatched within seconds, leaving the audience wishing he had played repeats, perhaps even adding a variation or two. The playing was excellent, and we hope Chris gives us more next time. He finished with his own arrangement of My Mistress Blush Is Bonnie, from the Skene manuscript, which sounded lovely on the small guitar.

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Yasuhiro Nakashima flew in from Japan to perform with his 7c lute: Rujero (from the Samson manuscript) and Cassandra by Raimundo. Yasuhiro has a very disciplined right-hand, thumb-in technique, which brought out great clarity to the chordal and contrapuntal passages. The faster runs were despatched with ease. Excellent playing.

Yasuhiro was then asked to perform the Rujero again, this time on a lute built by Stuart Goldie. This was Stuart’s first attempt at making a lute, and his only other self-made instrument is a violin. Although there was a problem with the finish on the soundboard, the sound of the instrument was lovely. It is hoped that Stuart, a fine guitar player, will now devote some time to playing the lute, and play for us at a future meeting.

Philip Lord started well with a Prelude in F by Weiss from the British Library ms 30387. Sighs of appreciation greeted the first entry of the low range of his magnificent Michael Lowe 13c lute. Unfortunately, Philip went on to suffer a problem we are all familiar with, lack of concentration, and the piece went adrift. Next time, Philip!

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Bill Samson is one of our Society’s treasures. He is not only more knowledgeable than any of us about the history of the lute, he was also responsible for the creation of three of the instruments played today. His latest is a Torres-style guitar, based on Torres FE18 of 1865, though with rosewood for the back and sides, and 64cms string length. The sound was beautifully rounded, as one might expect a Torres guitar to be.

Bill played the famous Bm study by Catalan guitarist/composer, Feran Sors, aka Fernando Sor. It was a good performance, but one felt Bill was warming up. The second piece, a Rondoletto by Napoleon Coste, was performed with much more confidence, the guitar showing its full dynamic range. This was an excellent performance of a very good composition.

Well done, Bill. That guitar is a beaut.

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Chris Elmes is our resident medievalist, today playing a Bill Samson 5c lute, plucked with a quill. An improvised prelude heralded the 14th-century composition, Chetizova Nascondere. The prelude was captivating – I could have listened to Chris’s meandering for much longer. The composed piece was very interesting, apparently subject to improvised decoration in an appropriately stylised manner.
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Chris then surprised, nay, terrorised, the audience by asking for someone to sight-read a tenor line. Rob MacKillop stepped up rather hesitantly, as he had left his reading glasses at home. Chris Jupp wouldn’t let him off, offering Rob his own reading glasses!

After a brief lesson from Chris on what he expected Rob to do, Chris then improvised beautiful lines around the original 14th-century tenor part, as was the custom in those days. It’s great to hear and see such a forgotten and neglected art come alive in an Edinburgh flat, in 2015. Chris Elmes must be one of the finest medieval lute practitioners in Europe, certainly on this island.

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David Bateman played a lute which was part-made from a kit some thirty years ago, and which lay abandoned until its owner recently gave it to David, who completed the construction. Although a guitar player, David hadn’t played a lute until recently, and entertained us with six pieces from the student repertoire. The lute, plucked with a guitarist’s nails, was very loud and strident, and one could tell that David has studied Renaissance dance. Keep at it, David. You are off to a great start.
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Rob MacKillop delighted us with his playing on his new guitar by master luthier, Simon Ambridge.  The guitar is not a specific replica of any one guitar, but is based mainly on surviving guitars by Antonio de Torres – the greatest maker in the second half of the 19th century.  There are also elements of Manuel Ramirez and Santos Hernandez in the design of the guitar.  The guitar is strung in gut; just as it would have been a century or more ago.

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Rob drew a sweet sound from the instrument – a more personal, intimate sound than we are used to hearing from the current generation of guitarists – largely due to his right hand technique that uses the fingertips, rather than nails, to pluck the strings.

The  pieces he chose to play us were mostly from composers who played original guitars of this type – masterly interpretations of ‘Pavana’  by Francisco Tarrega,  ‘Valse in E’ by Dionysio Aguado, ‘El Mestre’ – an arrangement of a Catalan folk song by Miguel Llobet, ‘Bolero’ by Julian Arcas – as well as a lovely piece newly composed for him by the French composer Christian Vasseur, entitled ‘Rob’s Dream’.  This was a premier – hardly surprising since the final score only arrived nine hours before the performance! If any of us doubted the quality of the music that comes from a gut-strung guitar played without nails, these doubts were rapidly dispelled by Rob’s spellbinding performance.

We look forward to hearing more of this repertoire at future meetings.

The attendees then split off into group huddles and discussions, and the playing continued… photos by Bill Samson.

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Date of Next Meeting: 7th November, 2015

The 16th meeting of the Scottish Lute and Early Guitar Society will take place on Saturday 7th November, 2015, from 1pm (usually the meetings last two to three hours).

The venue is Chris Elmes’s place – 1F1, 25 Haddington Place, EH7 4AF (the left side of Leith Walk between Annandale St and MacDonald Rd). Parking is unrestricted off Leith Walk on weekends; MacDonald Road or Hopetoun Crescent is the best area.

There will be a charge of £1 a head for the use of the venue.

If anyone wishes to make a presentation, please contact Rob MacKillop: robmackillopATgmailDOTCOM

Review of 15th Meeting: 1st August, 2015

We had a good turnout at the meeting, to which we welcomed two visitors – Yasuhiro from Japan, and Kyrre Slind from Norway.

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David Bateman told us about a part-built Harwood and Isaacs lute kit that he came by.  He finished the job with some refinements of his own and showed us the resulting lute which works beautifully.  He was encouraged  to perform on it at a future meeting.

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Dorothee passed her Martin de Witte lute to Rob, who played a Scottish piece on it. Dorothee, new to lute, managed a few notes before nerves got the better of her. We have all been there, Dorothee! Hang in there. Keep at it. What you did play sounded beautiful.

Eric Thomas, fresh back from studying with Paul O’Dette in Urbino,  played Dowland Fantasia 1a beautifully and with lots of graces, on his 7-course Barber and Harris lute.  It’s such a difficult piece to play well on the lute, but Eric showed us he was on top of it.

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Yasuhiro Nakashima played his own beautiful arrangement of a Scottish traditional piece, followed by a stunning fantasia from the Sienna manuscript, both on his 7-course lute.  We were impressed with the tiny manuscriot book in which he writes his tablatures!

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Philip Lord is making great progress with his new Michael Lowe 13 course baroque lute.  He started with an anonymous gavotte from the Saizenay manuscript  and followed with another anonymous piece in Miguel Yisrael’s baroque lute method.  He is showing a great affinity with baroque lute music.

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Rob MacKillop played his new guittar (Scottish/English wire-strung guitar) which is tuned in G.  It was made for him by Paul Doyle in Galway.  He played two pieces from the Jean Kirkpatrick manuscript – some lovely variations in different time signatures on “The Lea Rigg” followed by an anonymous “Allegro” which was reminiscent of  the music of Weiss.

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Bill Samson played his own 7-course lute – The first piece, “Packington’s Pound” is often credited to Francis Cutting – the earliest important Elizabethan lutenist/composer – but being a ballad tune, it is probably just an arrangement of an anonymous piece.  This was followed by the anonymous “Packington’s Galliard” and then by Cutting’s variations on Greensleeves – the earliest known intabulation of this piece.

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Stuart McLuckie played his 8-course James Marriage lute – a lively gigue by John Blow, followed by a trickier piece called “La Bressanina”. It’s good to hear Stuart play – he always brings a lively voice to proceedings.

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Chris Jupp borrowed Stuart’s lute to play the dark-sounding “Mr Dowland’s Midnight” and the soothing “Orlando Sleepeth”. The subject matter could have sent the audience to sleep! But the next performer, visitor Kyrre Slind roused us with a very rhythmical piece from Attaignant called “Haulberroys” on his 8-course Venere replica by Barber and Harris.

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It is always wonderful to have visitors, especially from far-flung places, and few places are as far flung to a Scotsman as Japan! I hope we haven’t seen the last of both today’s visitors.

Thanks again to Chris Elmes for the use of his venue.

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Date of Next Meeting: 1st August, 2015

The 15th meeting of the Scottish Lute and Early Guitar Society will take place on Saturday 1st August, 2015, from 1pm (usually the meetings last two to three hours).

The venue is Chris Elmes’s place – 1F2, 25 Haddington Place, EH7 4AF (the left side of Leith Walk between Annandale St and MacDonald Rd). Parking is unrestricted off Leith Walk on weekends; MacDonald Road or Hopetoun Crescent is the best area.

There will be a charge of £1 a head for the use of the venue.

If anyone wishes to make a presentation, please make a comment below, or email robmackillop at gmail dot com.

Review of 14th Meeting: 9 May, 2015

Due to other commitments, I couldn’t make it to this meeting. I’m thankful to Bill Samson for writing the following report. Looks like I missed a good one!

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A small turnout at this meeting due to a variety of unforeseen circumstances, but thoroughly enjoyed by the four participants and allowed room for in-depth discussion of technique, interpretation, lutes, guitars, stringing and newsy gossip.

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There were two brand new lutes at the meeting – Philip Lord’s 13-course baroque lute by Michael Lowe – arguably the greatest lute maker in the world at the present time.  It was based on an 18th century Hofmann lute (I can’t remember which of the Hofmanns it was) and had a birds-eye maple back and pegbox.  The detailing is exquisite.  Its playing properties too are wonderful – an excellent action and fine sound.

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The other new lute was Dorothee O’Sullivan Burchard’s 7-course renaissance lute by the Dutch luthier Martin de Witte.  This is a Venere model with scale of 59cm.  The multi-ribbed yew back is breathtaking and the craftsmanship throughout is superb. The playability is first class and the sound is all you could hope for.  One notable feature is the haselfichte (‘bearclaw’) spruce soundboard indicating that it was cut perfectly on the quarter.

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At the other end of the age scale there was Gordon Ferries’ 1853 Panormo guitar, with rosewood back and, in Gordon’s hands, a tone to die for.

Bill Samson brought his 6-course lute in A, which has had a few outings at past SLEGS meetings.   This time he had replaced the wound 6th string with a Savarez KF string that shares many of the properties of high-twist gut and has a very convincing sound.

After chatting for a while and making introductions, we decided that nobody else was coming and it was time to perform our party pieces.

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Dorothee kicked off with a lively Almain by John Johnson, from the Lundgren lute tutor.  This was followed by the haunting “Herr Christ ist erstanden” by Hans Judenkuenig.  It was a revelation at how Dorothee’s playing has progressed since we last heard her perform.  Her tone production was excellent.  We’re looking forward to future performances from her as her technique continues to develop.

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Philip played his new baroque lute.  He performed the following pieces:

Menuet (anon)
Menuet (Weiss)
Sarabande (anon), and
an arrangement by Wilfred Fox of Brian Boru’s March.

Philip has been playing baroque lute for only a few months but we were impressed by the security of his right-hand thumb technique – one of the most difficult aspects of baroque lute playing.  His tone production was excellent, too.  More please!

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Gordon Ferries played 19th century guitar music by Johann Kaspar Mertz.  The three pieces were from Mertz’s Opus 13 and were:

Romanze
Scherzo, and
Sehnsucht

I think these pieces were new to the rest of us and they revealed the enormous amount of very high quality music for guitar that has yet to be thoroughly explored and performed.  Gordon’s Panormo seemed to me to be just right for this music.  He is now playing without nails and the sound he made brought tears to my eyes (good ones!).

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Bill Samson played two ballad tunes on his 6-course lute from the Dutch Thysius Lute Book (1590s).  The first was a common-time version of Greensleeves, with some divisions.  The second was “Brande Soet Oliver” which is a bransle (country dance) based on the song “O Sweet Oliver”, as sung by Touchstone in Shakespeare’s “As You Like It”.

It was my strong impression that we were all more relaxed playing for a smaller group of friends and nerves weren’t as evident as they sometimes are.

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We enjoyed trying out each others’ instruments – a good way of evaluating them before taking the plunge and ordering one.

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After we had all performed we enjoyed tea and coffee and a chat.  Dorothee told us about the Lute Society’s Benslow Weekend, which she attended.  She was surprised to see how many people there were who have been playing lutes since the 1960s.

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The attendees agreed that this had been a most enjoyable and inspirational get-together.  Thanks are due to Chris Elmes for, once again, making his house available for the meeting.

Bill Samson

The above photos by Bill Samson. Those below by Philip Lord:

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Date of Next Meeting: Saturday 9th May, 2015

The date of the next SLEGS meeting is Saturday 9th May, from 1pm (usually the meetings last two to three hours).

The venue is Chris Elmes’s place – 1F1, 25 Haddington Place, EH7 4AF (the left side of Leith Walk between Annandale St and MacDonald Rd). Parking is unrestricted off Leith Walk on weekends; MacDonald Road or Hopetoun Crescent is the best area.

There will be a charge of £1 a head for the use of the venue.

If anyone wishes to make a presentation, please make a comment below, or email robmackillop at gmail dot com.