Music and art bring light into St Giles'

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Edinburgh-born saxophonist Tommy Smith and internationally acclaimed artist Maria Rud return to St Giles’ Cathedral to perform their spontaneous music and art show Luminescence as part of the Fringe from Thursday 15th to Saturday 17th August.

Described by The Scotsman as “one of the most spectacular experiences of the Fringe” in 2023, Luminescence puts St Giles’ centre-stage as the images that Rud creates in response to Smith’s playing are projected onto the stained-glass window on the church’s east wall.

“We’ll begin each performance with no preconceptions of the direction the show will take,” says Smith. “Maria and I are both aware of aspects of the Cathedral’s history and of the legend of St Giles himself but we won’t have them in mind during the performance. I'll start to play and Maria will respond by painting whatever the sounds I make suggest to her.”

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Smith and Rud first met at a reception in the National Museum of Scotland in Chambers Street. After chatting for a few minutes they agreed that they should work together at some point. They first collaborated when Smith, the artistic director of the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, invited Rud to create images in response to the orchestra in its Where Rivers Meet concert series, also in St Giles’, in May 2021.

Tommy Smith and Maria Rud in spontaneous performanceTommy Smith and Maria Rud in spontaneous performance
Tommy Smith and Maria Rud in spontaneous performance

“Where Rivers Meet happened during lockdown, so it was broadcast online rather to a room full of people,” says Smith, who has gathered a world-wide following since emerging as an extravagantly talented teenager in the 1980s. “It’s an entirely different experience for Maria and myself to have an audience to play to. We tried out Luminescence towards the end of 2022 and people seemed to enjoy it. We enjoyed it, too, and it’s amazing to see how Maria responds in paint to the notes and phrases I play. Although I'm improvising, I'm working with the church's acoustics and they suit a mostly melodic approach.”

Rud's experiences as an artist working with musicians include international tours with percussion virtuoso Dame Evelyn Glennie and more recently, with the RIAS Kammerchor in Berlin.

This year marks St Giles’ 900th anniversary and both Rud and Smith express a reverence for a building that has stood at the heart of Edinburgh for so long and has borne witness to so much history, from the infamous tale of Jenny Geddes throwing her stool at the Dean to Queen Elizabeth lying in state before her funeral in London in 2022.

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“Growing up in Edinburgh, I was always aware of St Giles’, although mostly from a distance,” says Smith. “It’s a big, awesome space inside, with wonderful architecture and an amazing stillness. We always find inspiration from just being there.”

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