Latest News from the world of Dunedin

Planning Manager and Assistant to the Chief Executive

25 June 2015

We are looking to recruit a self-motivated, confident and enthusiastic individual to join the Dunedin Consort as Planning Manager and Assistant to the Chief Executive on a full-time basis.
The ideal candidate will have 2 years experience of working in an arts environment, preferably the performing arts, as well as a demonstrable passion for classical music. A driving license is also essential due to touring duties.
The position would suit someone currently working in arts administration, with experience in project planning and senior management support. Experience of stage or tour management would also be a distinct advantage.
The successful candidate will need to demonstrate an ability to coordinate complex projects, have a keen eye for detail, and be adept at forming excellent internal and external relationships.
Based at the Dunedin Consort office in Edinburgh, this full-time post has responsibility for coordinating the Dunedin Consort annual programme of concerts, events, and educational activities, in conjunction with the Chief Executive and the Music Director. 
Application process: 
Please download the full job description.
Send a brief covering letter and a CV by email to Alfonso Leal del Ojo, Chief Executive 
( Please aim for your CV to be no longer than two pages.
Deadline for applications:  Friday 3rd July 2015, 5pm
Interviews: Tuesday 7th of July 2015
Start date: As soon as possible but no later than Monday 3rd of August 2015
Salary: £24,500 - £27,000 based on experience

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Simon Frith: Why we should be frightened of Bach (and why we're not)

04 March 2015

The following is a transcript of Professor Simon Frith's keynote talk, given at our recent Coffee & Enlightenment performances on 4 & 5 February 2015. For a review of the Glasgow event, please see The Herald.

Talks at classical music concerts are not common these days, so I should begin by saying what this talk is not.  It will not be a lecture on Bach, an exercise in musical appreciation of the sort that Donald Francis Tovey developed when he was Reid Professor of Music at the University of Edinburgh.  He set up the Reid Orchestra so he could illustrate his talks or, rather, he mastered a way of introducing music that enabled his audience to listen better, with more understanding of what was going on.  This way of talking about music lives on in radio broadcasts, concert programmes and record sleeve notes, but such lectures to inform listening rarely introduce live classical music any more.

What we are more used to now is a spoken introduction to early music concerts, in which a group’s leader introduces us to the instruments, describing their provenance and saying something about the sources of the music we will hear, perhaps explaining the group’s more unusual performing decisions. 

My talk will not be like this.  I won’t attempt to analyse the music to which we are listening tonight nor say anything about the Dunedin Consort’s instruments or John Butt’s take on Bach’s historical musical practice.  Rather, this evening celebrates a different sort of event, not a classical or early music concert, but a coffee concert, an institution first established in the early eighteenth century (in the 1730s Bach directed such concerts in Leipzig).  These can be seen as early examples of what the German social theorist, Jürgen Habermas, calls “the public sphere”, places where citizens met to listen to music, drink coffee and talk, talk not just about music but also about matters of the day, about public events and rumours, in a setting that was not under the auspices of the government or organised for political ends.  The music played might or might not affect or feature in the discussions.  In seeking to get some sense of what these events might have been like, John Butt therefore asked me to start a discussion.  I suspect he invited me because even though I am Tovey Professor of Music at the University of Edinburgh I am not a musicologist; no-one would expect me to display Tovey-style analytical expertise although, as John also knows, I can talk about anything, especially when I know little about it!

What I want to reflect on this evening is music and religion.  My thoughts are obviously inspired by Bach’s music (and by the cantatas we’re are hearing today) but I believe this is an appropriate topic for a contemporary coffee concert because arguments about religious beliefs, secular society and the relation between the two are matters of immediate importance, whether we’re discussing religious faith and what’s now called militant atheism or Islamic fundamentalism and the ever-louder demand that the Enlightened West be more aggressive in defending its secular principles from irrationality of all sorts.  In relating these issues to my experience of listening to Bach, I will draw on an excellent essay on enlightenment and belief that appeared in the Guardian a few weeks ago, written by the Indian scholar, Pankaj Mishra.  []

I will begin with two anecdotes.  The first is from someone I know who is on the committee of one of England’s many Bach Choirs.  Last year, like many other choirs, they performed Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem.  A choir committee member who was a Quaker thought this was a good opportunity to use an advertisement in the programme to publicise the Quakers as a group which is particular concerned to debate issues of war and peace.   This suggestion was strongly opposed by other members of the committee, who thought it inappropriate for a Bach Choir to be advertising a religious organisation.  If the Quakers were allowed to advertise in this programme, what would stop other religious groups advertising in choir programmes in the future?  The irony of members of a choir that primarily performs religious music (often in religious buildings) wanting to keep a clear distance between themselves and religious organisations does not need spelling out.

Second, as some of you will know, Radio 3 has a daily Bach slot between 6.30 and 7.00 am every weekday morning.  The reason, as I heard a presenter explain last December, is that “Bach is the ultimate pick-me-up!”, the ideal way of getting people ready to face the working day.

I draw two conclusions from the Bach choir argument and this cheery remark.   First, it seems clear that Bach’s sacred music has been effectively removed from its original context of the rituals and needs of worship.  Like his secular music, it has become a form of entertainment, a ‘pick-me-up’, a pleasure-commodity for which people happily pay.  And, of course, this musical move from worship to entertainment is not just an aspect of classical music history.  We can find similar processes in popular music—in the history of gospel, for example, or of Christmas carols.  What we have here is the long-term secularisation of music in terms of its sociological functions and value.

Second, though, the secular musical pleasure for which people now pay, the secular musical experience we/they value is, nevertheless, understood in terms of a free-floating uninstitutionalised religiosity.  Individually what we get from classical music is routinely described as a spiritual uplift: music, it is said, gives us a sense of a realm beyond the everyday material world.  Music is good for the ‘soul’, enables us to experience ‘profound’ feelings and offers us a kind of restrained ecstasy.  I haven’t got time to go into this in more detail here, just to argue that for many people today (and not just so called high music listeners) the musical experience is understood as a quasi-religious experience.  Such sacralisation of musical pleasure was established in the nineteenth century (not least by Mendelssohn’s ‘revival’ of Bach), as concert halls became the equivalent of churches, sacred spaces with hushed audiences, seriously listening to transcendent sounds ‘for their own good’.   This is religion as a way of feeling rather than as a way of believing, which means, in turn, that while everyone at a concert —at this concert, for example—may feel they are in something like a congregation, there’s no reason at all to think that we share any religious beliefs or purposes at all.

It follows that even though we often do describe our listening experiences in religious terms, we are rather different from Bach’s original listeners.  Try hard as he does to perform Bach’s music so that it sounds like it did when it was first played, John Butt can’t get us to listen to it in the way people listened then, even in this coffee house context of a reconstructed environment.  John’s book on the philosophical context of Bach’s musical work, Bach's Dialogue with Modernity: Perspectives on the Passions(Cambridge University Press, 2010), suggests to me that for the original listeners to Bach’s sacred music, ‘a religious experience’ described something decidedly unsettling.  The comfort of God’s blessing and the exhilaration of God’s grace were stalked by doubt, guilt and the fear of damnation.  I can relate to this in my own experience.  My parents met in an evangelical youth camp and I grew up in a religious household.  When my mother died—she was one of the kindest and most gentle women one could hope to know--I was dismayed to hear her described in the minister’s funeral oration, as a miserable sinner no better than the worms in the soil.  Such a shame-inducing account of the inescapable sinfulness of humanity—and the damnation that would follow—was, it seemed, a necessary part of the belief in Christ’s redemption.   The religious experience of Bach’s music, in other words—the experience of Bach’s music as religious—is very different from the quasi-religious experience of today’s classical music.  To listen to Bach and contemplate human folly and consider what kind of afterlife awaits us is not a way of listening to Bach that is likely to make us feel good and enjoy opaquely profound thoughts about nothing in particular.

At the heart of Bach’s sacred music was a tension between the institutionalized fear of God and the possibility of individual enlightenment.  In the long term the Enlightenment led to the ascension of reason over faith as the basis of our beliefs about ourselves and our place in the world.  Individual autonomy came to trump traditional authority, but Protestantism itself, was an attempt to reconcile the different tendencies here, to reconcile reason and faith.  For an individual, such attempts always face the possibility of failure, of getting things (reason and belief) wrong and being damned as a consequence.  Bach’s sacred music was music for people for whom the precise contours of individual religious belief both mattered and were a constant source of anxiety as well as grace.

Since then, rationalism has come to be taken for granted, but that is not to say that the resulting secularisation has solved all ethical or perceptual problems.   To start with, it is clear to me that something is missing from an account of human experience that explains everything by reference to evidence based reason.  There are experiences, experiences that we value, that can’t be explained in this way.  This is one reason why music is seen to provide a kind of religious experience, an access to something that we feel but do not ‘understand’, an experience, that is, which is essentially irrational.  The problem is that if music certainly can be used as a substitute for religion in terms of feeling, providing a sense of the ineffable—it cannot provide the same sort of moral purpose or guide to living. 

To put this another way, it is apparent that neither the heritage of European enlightenment nor the experience of listening to Bach guarantee anything in the way of either reasonable or moral behaviour.  Last year, the eminent academic international lawyer, Philippe Sands, staged a musical/theatrical event: ‘A Song of Good and Evil’,  (See This followed his discovery that both Hersht Lauterpacht, the Jewish lawyer who helped develop the concepts of ‘crimes against humanity’ and ‘genocide’ and drafted closing arguments for the prosecution in the Nuremburg trials, and Hans Frank, a Nuremberg defendant (he was a Nazi lawyer who in 1939 became governor-general of the occupied sector of Poland), talked about getting through the stress of the trials by listening (or imagining listening) to Bach’s St Matthew Passion. What, then, can Bach’s Passions be said to mean when that meaning is so important to people on both sides of an argument about good and evil?

What can be said is that Bach’s music doesn’t sound archaic to contemporary sensibilities (anymore than do Shakespeare’s plays).  The reason, I think, is that one of the questions Bach was asking (though I’m using Mishra’s words here)--does an enlightened society have to be a godless one?--is still relevant, although, as an atheist, I would phrase it differently (again using Mishra’s words): does individualism and the language of rights have to trump a sense of community and the language of obligations?

Mishra ends his essay with a discussion of Jürgen Habermas, who, as I suggested at the beginning of this talk, is the most prominent academic celebrant of the rise of the secular public sphere, of which coffee houses were an early example.  Habermas. Mishra notes, has come round to believing that the ‘substance of the human’ can only be rescued by societies that ‘are able to introduce into the secular domain the essential contents of their religious traditions.’  Habermas’s dramatic shift is one sign among many that the identity of the secular modern, which was based on exclusivist notions of secularism, liberty, solidarity, and democracy in sovereign nation-states, has unraveled, and requires a broader definition.  A new common space has to be negotiated.

It is precisely such a common space that Bach’s music, sacred and secular, describes.  And ironically, perhaps, it seems to me that it is the sacred music—the cantatas we are hearing this evening—that provide the best evidence of what the secular public sphere should now sound like.

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Meet Simon Frith - Why we should be frightened by Bach (and why we are not)

25 January 2015

Meet Simon Frith - Why we should be frightened by Bach (and why we are not)

We speak with Simon Frith who will be introducing the discussion at our first coffee concert series! John Butt will join him to discuss along with the audience and musicians some of the issues raised.
Please could you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do.
I'm the (semi-retired) Tovey Professor of Music at the University of Edinburgh.  My main academic duties now are supervising PhD students and running a popular music research seminar.  I'm also at work on the second volume of a three volume history of live music in Britain since 1950.
It’s fair to say that you’ve had quite an unconventional career for a ‘musicologist’. Please might you tell us a bit about your background and how it informs your current research?
I'm a sociologist rather than a musicologist, so my interest has always been in the meaning of music as a social and cultural practice, rather than the analysis of musical forms (though the distinction between text and context is also something that can be examined and understood sociologically!)  
In the past, you’ve written extensively and perceptively on a wide range of socio-cultural issues relating to popular music. How far does this relate to classical music’s role in contemporary society?
From a sociological perspective, all musical practices are open to the same kind of analysis and, indeed, one interesting question is why and how the distinction between 'high' and 'low' music in contemporary Western societies was first established and is now maintained.
Do you have (or have you had) any particular personal reactions or connections to Bach’s music?
Other than that I've always liked listening to it.... no
This project is boldly entitled Why we should be frightened by Bach (And why we’re not). Can you outline some of the reasons why Bach has become such a significant cultural figure, since the ‘rediscovery’ of his music in the nineteenth century?
What interest me here is a kind of double process in which, first, a music which has a religious function became a form of entertainment (people listening to Bach for pleasure; Bach concerts and recordings commodities for sale) and, second, that such entertainment came to be seen as offering a quasi-religious experience — a kind of transcendent uplift — which differentiated it from other forms of commercial musical entertainment (this is true for classical musical ideology generally — see below — but Bach's music became particualrly important for this from the mid-19th century onwards).    
To a significant extent in your writings — as both an academic and journalist — you’ve engaged with academia and ‘high' culture’s difficulties in taking popular music seriously. How do you think that this might relate to some of the assumptions of earlier classical repertories?
An important strand of the thinking which created the high cultural ideology of the 19th century (the ideas of individual genius, the canon, silent listening, etc, etc) was the need to differentiate aesthetic experiences along class lines while also suggesting that the meaning of real art somehow transcended its social circumstances. To suggest that what we now call classical music (and its audience) was 'serious' in this new way necessarily implied that other kinds of music practice (and audience) could not be taken seriously. 
Do you think it’s helpful for an audience to try and understand the creative contexts for historically distant repertories - for example, in this case, in relation to Bach? 
I don't think it's necessary to have particular musicological or historical knowledge of Bach's creative practice in order to enjoy listening to his music, but I think it's helpful to have such knowledge when discussing why and how we enjoy listening to it (just as such knowledge is important for the musicians who have to make — and justify if only to themselves — performing decisions).
What do you think is particularly helpful or special about approaching Bach’s music in this format?
This format would be great for any kind of musical performance--we still know remarkably little about how people actually listen to and make sense of music--but it's particularly interesting for Bach, partly because his music obviously raises interesting questions about the relationship of religious and aesthetic experience and partly because the music itself was first composed and heard when such questions about the nature of individual belief were of wide public concern.
Meet Simon Frith and join the discussion with John Butt at our concerts exploring JS Bach's in early February 2015!

4th of February @ 6pm
Greyfriars Kirk - Edinburgh Book Now
5th of February @ 6pm Glad Cafe - Glasgow Book Now

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Messiah - Scottish Tour 2014

05 November 2014

Messiah - Scottish Tour 2014

Ever since it first appeared on the stage of Dublin’s Musick Hall in 1742, Handel’s Messiah has become a firm favourite with audiences all over the world. Some 272 years on, Christmas in Scotland just wouldn’t be Christmas without Dunedin Consort’s annual performances of Handel’s most famous work. Opening with the mystery of the nativity, it unfolds a uniquely dramatic and powerful narrative. These performances, given by some of the finest soloists and specialist instrumentalists active today, are sure to help you get into the festive spirit!
“The Dunedin Consort’s celebrated Messiah seems to get better every year”
The Guardian
John Butt - Director
Mhairi Lawson — Soprano
Rowan Hellier — Alto
Thomas Walker — Tenor 
David Shipley — Bass

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NCEM Young Composers Award 2015

08 October 2014

Dunedin Consort are delighted to announce a collaboration with the National Centre for Early Music and BBC Radio 3, in presenting the 2015 NCEM Young Composers Award. The Award will be launched on BBC Radio 3's Early Music Show on Sunday 30 November 2014.
This major national award is open to young composers resident in the UK and up to the age of 25, divided into two age categories: 18 years and under; and 19 to 25 years. Composers are invited to write a new piece for the Dunedin Consort which is directed by the award-winning conductor, organist, harpsichordist and scholar, John Butt.  The winning works will be premiered by the Dunedin Consort in a public performance which will be recorded for broadcast on BBC Radio 3's Early Music Show.
Entry details:
Applicants must register their interest in the award by 5.00pm on Friday 20 February 2015 by emailing the National Centre for Early Music at
Completed scores must be received no later than 5.00pm on Friday 20 March 2015.
The Award will be judged at the National Centre for Early Music in York on Thursday 14 May 2015. During the day a shortlist of entries will be presented by the Dunedin Consort in a workshop led by composer Christopher Fox. At 7.30pm the Dunedin Consort will perform each of the pieces in the presence of a panel of judges, after which the two winners will be announced, one for each of the two age categories.
Further information, the Terms and Conditions and details of how to apply will be posted on this page in time for the launch on 30 November. If you would like to be added to the NCEM Young Composers Award mailing list, please email

For further information:
BBC Radio 3 Early Music Show
National Centre for Early Music
To listen to winning compositions from previous awards - please click here.

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The Guardian — John Butt: a rightful Gramophone award winner

18 September 2014

Philip Clark

The Guardian

He may be an unlikely podium hero, but his recording of Mozart’s Requiem with the Dunedin Consort, complete with echoes of a 1920s jazz band, is a delight

Full Article

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Mozart's Requiem recording wins Gramophone Award

27 August 2014

Mozart's Requiem recording wins Gramophone Award

Commonly referred to as the ‘Oscars in Classical Music’, the Gramophone Awards represent the most prestigious annual competition in the international record market.

We are proud to announce our latest recording of Mozart’s Requiem has won a Gramophone Award under the Choral category!

John Butt, Music Director, had this to say on the announcement:

"I am absolutely delighted to hear that the Dunedin Consort has won another Gramophone Award, complementing our success with Messiah in 2007. We are exceptionally fortunate in having an absolutely superlative team of soloists, choir and instrumentalists, the most supportive board and management we could hope for, and, of course, the unsurpassed work of Linn Records at every level of production. This success is also a wonderful reflection of our generous Scottish supporters and donors, in a particularly crucial year for the country."

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Meet the musicians - Mhairi Lawson

01 December 2013

Meet the musicians - Mhairi Lawson

We catch up with Soprano Mhairi Lawson ahead of our Messiah performances in December 2013.

Tell us a bit about your early life. How did you come to be a singer? Did you play any instruments? Were you encouraged by your parents to pursue music as a career?
I don't remember ever not singing something or other.  Sang around the house, in church and sundayschool, in school.  My parents are both active in choirs and amateur opera societies, it was normal for the house to be ringing with some kind of noise.  I learned the piano, played for local ballet lessons and also occasionally church organ. A career in performing music came as a bit of a surprise as we didn't know any professional musicians and there were none in the family. My parents were and still are extremely supportive.  My Dad is still holding out for the yacht I'm supposed to buy him....
In recent years, you have really started to feature as one of the top specialist performers of baroque repertoire. Did you find yourself instinctively attracted to this repertoire? When did that happen?
I have been extremely privileged to have been given good opportunities to work within the area of historical performance practice - it seemed to choose me, and I wonder if my childhood exposure to a lot of national and traditional music of Scotland, particularly dance tunes, contributes also to my love of 17th and 18th century repertoire.
You’ll be performing Messiah with us in December. I’m guessing that you’ve sung the work many times (!). How do you manage to bring fresh insight to it with every performance?
 Yes, I've sung this work many times - I never get bored with it, I always work it with my voice teacher to find a higher level of delivery - this is a lifetime' s work.
What do you enjoy most about singing with John Butt and the Dunedin Consort?
Being involved in all aspects of the work in progress ie. as chorister and soloist is immensely rewarding - hard work, mind you, physically and mentally.
When you’re not singing or travelling between engagements, how do you spend your time? 
I do the following....  build Lego star wars models with my 5 yr old boy, nag my husband,  build lego batman models, plant vegetables,  catch up on "worthy" reading to keep ahead of my historical performance students at the Guildhall School in London,  build Lego chima models,  go to the hairdresser, make damson gin and goosebarry and blackcurrant jam,  watch DVD box sets of 'boardwalk empire' and 'homeland', drink gin, go to the opera as much as possible.
Do you have any advice for young singers considering pursuing their art as a professional career?
Hmm, difficult.  I was told by a well meaning teacher that I'd never have a career and that I should probably give up. I suppose that my advice would be - ignore people wanting to give you advice.  At least, choose your advisors carefully!
Mhairi will appear with the Dunedin Consort at the following performances:
Fri 20th of December 2013 @ 7.30pm The Queen's Hall - Edinburgh 01316682019 Handel's Messiah
Sat 21st of December 2013 @8pm Kelvingrove Museum (Glasgow) 01413538000 Sold Out (£10 Standing Gallery tickets available) Handel's Messiah
Sun 11th of May 2014 @ 3pm The Queen's Hall - Edinburgh 01316682019 Madrigals of Love and War

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John Passion nominated for a Gramophone Award

29 July 2013

John Passion nominated for a Gramophone Award

Our recording of Bach's John Passion within a liturgical reconstruction has been nominated for a prestigious Gramophone within the Baroque Vocal category.

We are delighted by this nomination and want to once again thank all our supporters, musicians and customers for their support. We could not have done it without you.

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Meet the musicians - Jonathan Manson

21 July 2013

Meet the musicians - Jonathan Manson

We speak with Jonathan Manson ahead of his concerto appearances with Dunedin on August 2nd (The Brunton/Musselburgh) and September 17th and 22nd (Perth Concert Hall/Lammermuir Festival)

How did you end up playing the cello?
I started on the violin when I was six but found it very frustrating as my sister already played the instrument much better than I could.  A year later, when I first tried the cello at our village primary school in Aberdeenshire, I was completely smitten - mainly because playing on the bottom string sounded to me just like a Land Rover starting up!
As a cello (and viola da gamba) player your role keeps constantly shifting. One day you are supporting the bass line, others you are part of the harmony and others you need to play the most difficult solo pieces. Is there a particular role you enjoy better?
I feel very lucky to have such a variety of roles, often on different instruments, which all help me to get different perspectives on the music.  The difficulties involved in playing a concerto are obvious, but the craft of playing a bass line - which involves being responsive and flexible but also guiding the music with conviction - has particular challenges which I relish.  Playing middle parts, which I usually do on the tenor viol, is also great fun as one usually gets the juiciest harmonies.
The cello concertos you will be performing in August (Vivaldi) and September (CPE Bach) are very different. What challenges do each one bring?
The Vivaldi C minor concerto is a wonderfully atmospheric piece, but it's concentrated into a shorter and denser format so there is less time to develop the musical ideas: one has to grasp each character quickly before it changes again.  The CPE Bach concerto, on the other hand, is conceived on a bigger scale and uses a much greater range of the instrument.  The fastest movement is the last, so the challenge is to pace yourself so that you have enough energy left for the tiring passagework that comes just before the end.
What's your idea of perfection?
As I'm writing this in the middle of a heatwave, my idea of perfection right now would be standing on top of a mountain in Sutherland with a fresh sea breeze blowing in my face...
What living person do you admire the most?
David Attenborough, who has done more than anyone in the last 50 years to raise awareness of the importance and extraordinary variety of the natural world.
What is special about working with the Dunedin Consort and John Butt?
One of the things I appreciate the most is the working atmosphere in the group: the focus is always on the music and how we can best serve it, rather than on personalities and politics.  I'm sure we are all infected by John Butt's generous, inventive and open-minded spirit, which helps us all to feel involved in the delight of 'rediscovering' the music.  I find it fascinating that pieces I've played hundreds of times before can seem so fresh and vivid when we've worked on them with John.  And his razor-sharp wit keeps us all amused, which is an added bonus!

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