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EMMA JOHNSON AT THE DEVERON FESTIVAL: Mozart, Weber and Beethoven; Emma Johnson (clarinet) Deveron Festival Orchestra / Gareth John 10.06.2006, Banff Academy, Banff, Scotland (AC)


Gareth John - Deveron Festival Director

Deveron Festival is the UK's most northerly mainland annual music festival and is based in the coastal town of Banff, on the Moray Firth in Scotland. The Festival ran over the weekend of the 8th-11th June this year and was started in 1996 by a group of professional musicians led by local conductor Gareth John. It consists of a short annual series of classical music concerts bringing top-quality professional music into the area - performed  by musicians who would not normally visit this rural community geographically separated from the major arts venues. This review is written by Alan Cooper, a music contributor to the Glasgow Herald and Press and Journal newspapers. (Editor)



Emma Johnson - Photo by Joe Bangay



It was not only the presence of one of the finest and most exciting clarinetists in the world that made Saturday’s concert with the Deveron Festival Orchestra conducted by Gareth John their best ever performance. Emma Johnson radiates a fiery enthusiasm in her playing that lifts her audience up and sweeps them away towards intoxicating new realms of musical passion and technical brilliance. Was it this though that inspired the orchestra to give such a dynamic and vibrant performance of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony or Mozart’s Overture: The Magic Flute?

I go to a lot of concerts, but one of the composers I rarely hear played live is Weber, so I was especially pleased that Emma Johnson had chosen his Clarinet Concerto No.2 in E flat major for her performance on Saturday. Gareth John likes to chat to the audience about the music that his orchestra is going to play and he encourages his guest performers to do likewise. Emma Johnson’s vivacious introduction was clear and to the point. She left everyone eager to hear what she was going to do with this piece which is designed to show all the finest points of clarinet playing. It begins with notes at either extremity of the instrument’s range. The outer movements require whirlwind technical virtuosity while the andante con moto calls for great beauty of tone. Emma Johnson seized the music with both hands and wrung every last drop of passion and technical wizardry from the score. Many in the audience, even from one of the colder corners of the stolid northeast, rose to give her a standing ovation.

Even before Emma Johnson took the platform, the Deveron Festival Orchestra gave an electrifying performance of Mozart’s Overture: The Magic Flute, and their handling of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony struck a fine balance between tumultuous drama and well focused, precise playing. The military inspiration of the work was all there in this fine performance.

In past Festivals, Gareth John has often brought aspects of the visual arts or literature together with his music. On this occasion, he had asked four artists, Sue Arber, Ingeborg Bodzioch and David and Jane Pettigrew to prepare a slide show of their works to be projected behind the orchestra to illustrate their reactions in visual art to the Beethoven Symphony. For me, it was during the penultimate Allegro that this worked best but I have to say that overall, I found the visuals a bit of a distraction, especially when the performance itself was as good as it was. I can hardly wait till next year to see and hear what Gareth does with Stravinsky’s Firebird.




Alan Cooper


The Deveron Festival web site is Here


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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)