Newsletter Vol 19 No.3 November 2015





This issue of the Newsletter is dominated by two sets of circumstances that affect our Society, one positive and the other disturbing. First the good news: after a period of baffling prevarication and obfuscation (and other –ations besides) on the part of  the Bayreuth authorities, we can announce the return of the ticket allocation for the Bayreuth Festival in 2016. In August I drew attention to the world beyond Bayreuth; now we focus again on what many regard as the very navel of Wagnerian performance. Below we print a message from our Chairman recounting the latest news about the ticket allocation and its implications.

Less happily we also include a message about the difficulties arising from the need to replace two key officer roles in our Society: Secretary and Treasurer. These roles have proved to be extremely demanding and will need to be divided to ease the burden. For this we need more support from the membership, and we hope this can be forthcoming at the AGM in December. There will also be an opportunity to enjoy ourselves then, when the business is done. If it is not too early to express them, our very best wishes for the Christmas season. 


Bayreuth tickets


We are delighted to report that tickets to the Bayreuth Festival in 2016 will again be made available to member Societies of the RWVI. A total of 1,000 tickets will be offered pro rata on the basis of registered membership. At the time of writing we have no further information specifically as to the performances or ticket prices on offer but members will be advised as soon as possible and invited to apply to the Committee. 


The Future of the Society 

Dale Bilsland


As you are aware Nadine Harrison stands down as Secretary at the forthcoming AGM and Scott Wilkinson will do so at the AGM in 2016. Despite numerous requests no volunteers have been forthcoming to fill these essential positions and we must stress to Members the consequences for the future of our Society. A Programme of Meetings has been arranged to June 2016 as has our Gartmore Weekend in September and Nadine has kindly agreed to administer these. It may be possible to provide a programme of meetings and a residential course until summer 2017 (including a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the independent Wagner Society of Scotland in October 2016) but, without a new programme secretary, anything beyond this would not be possible.

In the absence of a Secretary and Treasurer the Society simply cannot continue to function. Apart from the lack of personnel there are important legal obligations on the membership of a Registered Charity which a Committee thus depleted could not fulfil, and sadly the business of the AGM in December 2016 could involve the winding up of the Wagner Society of Scotland. Given our success and the hard work put in by Derek Watson and all those others who founded and ran the Society this would be too tragic to contemplate. However the Society belongs to its members and it is up to them to contribute to its running. The future of the Society will be discussed at the Annual General Meeting on 6 December.




Forthcoming Events


All events take place at Edinburgh Society of Musicians, 3 Belford Road, EH4 3BL (by Dean Bridge).
—Admission £7 members, £15 non-members (except 6 December as below).


Sunday 6 December 2015 6.30–9 pm

AGM and Members’ Christmas Social


As indicated in our August Newsletter, we will hold our 19th AGM on Sunday 6 December 2015 at 6.30pm..

Following the AGM, members are invited to a Christmas social evening including a buffet and drinks. There will be time to socialise and browse the remaining books and CDs we have for sale, just in case something catches your fancy.   This event is for members only and there is no entry charge.


Sunday 17 January 2016 at 7.30 pm

Wagner  The Critic’s Perspective — Ken Walton


Wagner's music presented contemporary audiences and critics with a whole new listening experience. Ken Walton, classical music critic and Scotsman columnist, examines the nature of 19th century critical reaction to Wagner's music, setting such innovatory hallmarks as the so-called ‘Tristan Chord’ in historical perspective.

Ken Walton studied at the Royal Northern College of Music and Glasgow University. He has worked as a music critic, journalist and broadcaster in Scotland for over 30 years, the past 15 of these as principal music critic of The Scotsman. He is a former member of the BBC's Scottish Music Advisory Committee. Ken has also worked extensively in music education, having taught at Glasgow University and the RSAMD (now RCS), and is currently director of music performance at Hutchesons' Grammar School.


Sunday 28 February 2016 at 7.30 pm 

Wagner’s Place in the Development of the Idiom of Brass Instruments — John Wallace


The nineteenth century was a period of great new invention in brass instruments, which enjoyed unparalleled public popularity as instruments of entertainment and recreation. Wagner took to chromatic brass early, and fused old idioms with the new mechanical means to create an entirely new sound world. 

John Wallace grew up in the Brass Band tradition in Scotland. In 1965 he toured Europe with the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain and went on to be principal trumpet with the Philharmonia Orchestra after periods with the Royal Philharmonic and London Symphony Orchestras as Assistant Principal trumpet. In 2002 he returned to Scotland to become Principal of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland; he left this position in 2014 to resume his musical career, re-forming his brass ensemble, the New Wallace Collection, and composing new music for brass.

During his first career as a trumpet player, John played concertos with celebrated conductors including Simon Rattle, Andrew Davis, and Riccardo Muti, and premiered new works by Malcolm Arnold, Peter Maxwell Davies, Harrison Birtwistle, James MacMillan, and many others.

With Trevor Herbert, he co-edited The Cambridge Companion to Brass Instruments (Cambridge University Press, 1997) and wrote, with Alexander McGrattan, The Trumpet (Yale Musical Instrument Series) published in 2012 by Yale University Press.


Sunday 3 April 2016 at 7.30 pm

Wagner and the Third Reich — Derek Williams


Long before Richard Wagner emerged as a political and theatrical figure around the time of Bismarck’s unification of Germany in 1871, which gave full citizenship to Germany’s Jewish minority, anti-Semitism was already ubiquitous and entrenched.  Martin Luther in his 1543 treatise On Jews and their Lies had urged that rabbis be forbidden to preach, their prayer books destroyed, Jewish synagogues, schools and homes set afire, and that the Jews’ money and property should be confiscated.  When he wrote ‘we are at fault in not slaying them’, he was in effect advocating genocide.

Wagner’s anti-Semitism is comprehensively documented in contemporary literature and by himself in Das Judenthum in der Musik as well as other writings and personal correspondence.  Nevertheless, prominent Jews numbered amongst Wagner’s closest friends, for example his favourite conductor, Hermann Levi, who conducted ParsifaI, Wagner’s paean to Christianity, and who was invited to be a pallbearer at the master’s funeral.

In light of his toxic and verbose animus towards all things Jewish, what sort of intimate conversations could Richard Wagner be expected to have had with his Jewish friends, and what sort of discourse might he have enjoyed with the likes of his great admirer, Adolf Hitler? Would Wagner have approved of the Third Reich and all it connoted?

Derek Williams is on the Associated Staff of the University of Edinburgh as a lecturer/tutor in music.  He has had a lifelong interest in the works of Richard Wagner, and was influenced by Wagner’s opus in the construction of his own opera Wilde.  He was responsible for running Edinburgh University’s Wagner Week earlier this year and will do so again in 2016. Alongside his career as an educator, Derek has been self-employed variously as composer, conductor, musical director and record producer for a range of international clients.  Further information can be found at


‘Richard Wagner : the Dresden Years 1843—1849’

A Residential Study Course at Gartmore House — 16–19 September 2016


We are delighted that Derek Watson will be continuing his study weekends following the life and musical development of Richard Wagner. Information and booking forms for this course are enclosed with this Newsletter and are available on the website.


Bayreuth Scholarship  This year’s Scholar, singer Kamilla Kate Dunstan, writes about her visit


Kamilla’s complete report, of which these are extracts, will be published on the website.


The first day was taken up with meeting many of the other two hundred plus scholars from around the world and a tour of the Festspielhaus.  We viewed the main foyer and orchestra pit and were told about the acoustics of the theatre and Wagner’s intentions in the performance of his operas.

The orchestra pit was very different from any I had seen elsewhere. It was literally covered from the audience’s view, not to hide the orchestra but for acoustic purposes. The pit is built on several different levels to accommodate the huge orchestra Wagner requires for his operas. Because the conductor is raised at the back of the pit, it is nearly impossible for him to see the first violin section, so they are moved to where the second violin section would be to enable him to conduct them more clearly.  There is little ventilation in the pit, and it can reach up to 45 degrees. For this reason there are two alternating orchestras, members are allowed to dress in light casual clothing, and we only see the conductor at the end of the performance.

The theatre as a whole is plain and simple. It is built on a hollow floor, and the roof and pillars are also hollow to allow the sound to bounce off and resonate throughout the theatre. I saw three productions: Lohengrin, Siegfried, and Tristan und Isolde.

Lohengrin was one of my favourite productions of the week. For this production I sat in the Galleries, where in spite of the height I could see and hear everything.  The production was set in what looked like a laboratory and the chorus were dressed as rats, becoming more and more human throughout the opera.  The music was sublime and the singers were never overpowered by the orchestra even in the fullest moments of orchestration.

Siegfried, despite a clever set and staging, was a somewhat strange and obscure production, unlike anything I had seen before. The stage was on a revolve that turned a complete 360 degrees. One side was built like Mount Rushmore but with Russian dictators, and the other side resembled a cheaply lit town plaza with offstage rooms and shops. To show these rooms off-stage cameras were placed around the room or filmed by a cameraman on foot. It was then broadcast on a large screen above the stage. This made the production seem more personable and less fantasy-like, as suggested in the original plot.

Tristan und Isolde  is one of Wagner’s most challenging operas, requiring huge vocal stamina from the two name parts. I sat in the main part of the theatre, where the acoustics were quite different from the Galleries. The slightest pin drop could be heard and the music was sublime.

The Scholars’ concert, which Katharina Wagner attended, showed the performers at different stages in their development as singers both technically and dramatically. We were also fortunate enough to explore Bayreuth and visit the Wagner Museum and the Liszt Museum.

I would like to thank the Wagner Society of Scotland for their kind generosity and support in enabling me to make my trip as a Bayreuth scholar. It is an experience I will never forget and it greatly enhanced my professional outlook as a singer. More importantly it made me appreciate the legacy that Wagner left behind.


Wagner as Fundraiser 

Another in Ian Robertson’s series of reflections


Material luxury was for Wagner inescapably exigent. Yet for much of his life, certainly up to the time when King Ludwig became his patron in 1864, his income never met his requirements, at any rate as he perceived those needs. Wagner thus inevitably proceeded to virtuosity in the soliciting of funds. As Rudolph Sabor has stated (The Real Wagner, 1989, 174-5): ‘He studied the art of raising money as painstakingly and systematically as he had once studied composition. He detected hitherto uncharted paths to the hearts and wallets of benefactors... One is tempted to compare the richness and variety of his ideas in this field to those displayed in his writings and compositions.’

This is in marked contrast to the financial thriftiness and shrewdness of Wagner’s great contemporary Verdi. Sadly the two never met; there is no evidence that Wagner ever approached Verdi for money. We can only fantasize on the possible course of what would in such an event have been a duel between titans.


News in Brief


  Longborough Festival Opera have announced their production of Tannhäuser for next summer, with performances on 9, 11, 14, 16, and 18 June 2016. The director is Alan Privett and the conductor is Anthony Negus, our speaker in November. Further information can be found at

●  Productions from the Wagner in Budapest Festival return to the Müpa Concert Hall in June 2016, including the Ring of the Nibelung and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. The artistic director is Ádám Fischer. Further information can be found at events/wagner-in-budapest/wagner-in-budapest-2016.

●  Information about Opera North’s Ring performances in various venues from April to July 2016 can be found at

●  ENO’s new production of Tristan und Isolde will run with eight performances in June-July 2016 (

●  Information about opera performances in Scotland can be found at


Dale Bilsland
22 West Chapelton Drive, Bearsden, Glasgow, G61 2DA
Telephone:  0141 942 0935  Mobile:  0776 691 2724


John Anderton
2 Glenlockart Road, Edinburgh, EH10 5RG
Telephone:  0131 447 1645

Treasurer & Membership Secretary

Peter Stuart
1C Pendreich Road, Bridge of Allan, Stirling, FK9 4PZ
Telephone:  0178 683 3804                

Newsletter Editor

Maureen McLennan
6 Merchiston Place, Edinburgh, EH10 4NR
Telephone:  0131 623 2920  Mobile:  0790 256 3232