Monday, June 17, 2013

Following Mendelssohn to Mull: a JDCMB guest post from Levon Chilingirian

Back in the last century - can it really be 20 years ago? - a pianist friend from Edinburgh invited me to go with her to a then-new festival in the Scottish Isles, entitled Mendelssohn on Mull. We went. We had a whale of a time. We stayed in a b&b run by an English couple who'd gone north to escape the rat-race and had filled their house with delicate Dickens vignettes. Concerts took place in delectable places - a school hall, a tiny theatre, bijou churches, the Western Isles Hotel in Tobermory and more. The air was sweet and clear, the soup was hearty and the sheep were everywhere. It's a cherished memory. 

At that time, the violinist Leonard Friedman was artistic director; sadly, he has now passed away, and he is much missed. A couple of weeks ago, I received an email saying how about a guest post from today's artistic director, Levon Chilingirian? So here it is: a return visit to a beautiful island and a unique experience that's become a fine and well-established part of our musical landscape....

Over to you, Levon.

The late autumn of 2002, a flying visit to the remote island of Mull to see if I might be interested to take over as Artistic Director of Mendelssohn on Mull. Stunning scenery and wildly contrasting concert venues...castles, churches (mostly tiny!) and village halls. Could I gather a group of young players to join five mentors and make music?

It took me a few seconds to say yes and the last 11 years have been rewarding - full of fun and sometimes with tears of happiness at the incredible performances I have witnessed.
Always the exhilaration of daily performances is complemented by gatherings at the Mishnish - our second home where a few sociable drinks are often followed by impromptu renderings of Scottish folk tunes late into the night!

The all-time favourite piece, the Mendelssohn Octet has been played in every possible way!! A relay of players for the first 3 movements with everybody joining in for the Finale was our favourite. I can never forget a cat duet sung by the delectable Gaby Lester and Marcia Crayford! We have had visits from Paganini (in a dark alcove in Duart Castle) and a wandering Felix Mendelssohn (in authentic 1829 top hat!) [That'll be Rick Jones in the Mendelssohn anniversary year, 09... jd]

One evening as my group was returning to Tobermory at dusk, we encountered a majestic deer crossing the single-track road ahead of us. I immediately parked the car and watched in amazement as he led his entire family to the top of the hill and disappeared into the wilderness. We have learnt to share this beautiful island with 'heeland coos' and midges. Our music is truly a part of nature and this is why everybody who has experienced it (performers and listeners) has very special memories of Mull.
Levon Chilingirian

Levon Chilingirian is Artistic Director of Mendelssohn on Mull, quite possibly one of the most exceptional music experiences in the world, if not one of the friendliest. The festival celebrates its 25th anniversary this year - a milestone that coincides with the Year of Natural Scotland. For further information about the festival, the venues and the young professionals taking part visit