Le Jongler de Notre Dame: The Scotsman
Gig review: St Magnus Festival, Le Jongleur de Notre Dame
Published Date: 22 June 2010
By Kenneth Walton
ST MAGNUS FESTIVAL: LE JONGLEUR DE NOTRE DAME
ST MAGNUS CATHEDRAL, KIRKWALL, ORKNEY
OF ALL the experimental music theatre works Peter Maxwell Davies wrote during his period of intense collaboration with the amazing Fires of London ensemble, Le Jongleur de Notre Dame – composed for the 1978 St Magnus Festival – is surely an apotheosis of all he was striving to achieve.
It involves a mime-acting juggler whose juggling is intrinsically a musical performance; it requires the musicians to buzz around the stage interacting physically with this musical circus act; it calls on a children’s band to herald the coming and going of the juggler who is, effectively, a holy fool whose innocent talent provokes a miraculous response from the Virgin Mary.At its heart, though, is the delicious sense of spiritual ecstasy, which shone persistently through Joshua Armstrong’s radiant production, set in the shadowy light of St Magnus Cathedral.The instruments are the voices of the monks who taunt the juggler – a musical personification that was mischievously enacted by members the Hebrides Ensemble, darting in and out of sight while performing this enticing, often beautiful music. And what a performance by mime-juggler Chris Patfield, whose amazing ability to throw any object around with supple balletic control – at one point on a tightrope – all but had him grabbing the mocking monks’ instruments and tossing them in the air.But who among us expected the all-white statue of Mary, having watched it sit stock still at centre stage for an hour, suddenly reveal itself as Hebrides violinist Zoe Beyers, who then proceeded to play exquisitely? Everything about this performance – including the jaunty marching wind band of Kirkwall Grammar School, and despite the occasional difficulty making out baritone Håkan Vramsmo’s words (as the Abbot) – made it a thrilling opening to this year’s festival.