Features

Road Show: Malcolm Martineau in Edinburgh

The globetrotting Scots pianist returns to his hometown for the Edinburgh International Festival.
By Mario R. Mercado 

Road Show Edinburgh hdl 717
The Edinburgh skyline, with Edinburgh Castle in the distance
Kevin McGill / Alamy Stock Photo
“When I was growing up, Leith was considered dangerous.”
Road Show Malcolm Martineau Lg 717
© KK Dundas
Road Show Hollyrod lg 717
The Palace of Hollyrodhouse
© David Ionu/agefotostock.com

MALCOLM MARTINEAU, one of today’s most sought-after accompanists, leads a peripatetic existence. This month, he plays recitals with ElI¯na Garancˇa in Salzburg and with Bryn Terfel as part of the Edinburgh International Festival. The latter is significant for Martineau, a native of Edinburgh, who looks forward to returning to the historic city that represents home. What’s more, this August marks the seventieth anniversary of the Edinburgh Festival; the 2017 season features four staged opera productions, including Greek, by Mark-Anthony Turnage,
from Scottish Opera, and Teatro Regio Torino’s Macbeth, led by Gianandrea Noseda, as well as five operas in concert.

Two of the Scottish capital’s landmarks—the commanding Edinburgh Castle, a medieval pile of buildings set behind fortress walls, and the splendid Palace of Holyroodhouse, the queen’s official residence in Scotland—are linked by the Royal Mile, the thoroughfare passing through the heart of the Old Town. Martineau also recommends their adjacent parks—the Princes Street Gardens, in the case of the castle, and Holyrood Park, a rugged landscape encompassing steep paths and small lakes. Also of interest are the narrow, cobblestoned alleys (called closes) and stairways leading from the Royal Mile.

Edinburgh is compact and eminently walkable. Gracious streets of eighteenth-century Georgian and neoclassical architecture define New Town. Martineau suggests walks along George Street and Charlotte and St. Andrew Squares. 

The Mound, a thoroughfare that connects New and Old Town, is home to two of Martineau’s favorite museums, the Scottish National Gallery and the Royal Scottish Academy. Designed by the Scottish architect William Henry Playfair, the buildings are connected underground, a boon during inhospitable weather. Outstanding collections include Old Masters (Botticelli, Rembrandt, Velásquez), Impressionist and Postimpressionist art and an essential summary of Scottish painting from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries.

It is a sign of Edinburgh’s standing as a cosmopolitan center that the two buildings that were originally railway-line station hotels at either end of Princes Street—the Balmoral and the Caledonian—have been transformed into luxury properties. The Balmoral, with its famous clock tower, next to Waverley Station and minutes from the Mound, has an array of bars and restaurants, including the Palm Court, a destination for tea. Many of the rooms at the Caledonian, part of the Waldorf Astoria hotel group, offer views of Edinburgh Castle.

In terms of food, there are “varying degrees of Scottishness,” Martineau says with a wry laugh. His first recommendation is Stac Polly, on Dublin Street. Here, you’ll find haggis baked in phyllo and served with a plum sauce, as well as gin-cured Scottish salmon and a fillet of Scottish beef. “If you are looking for something a bit grander, the Witchery by the Castle, located in a sixteenth-century merchant house, is renowned for its seasonal Scottish produce and menus that include a duck confit and pistachio terrine and a smoked sea trout.” Martineau is an admirer of the cooking of Tom Kitchin, regarded as Scotland’s top chef. His eponymous restaurant, located on Commercial Quay in Leith, also features Scottish ingredients, including North Sea hake served with peas à la française. 

“When I was growing up, Leith, a district on the waterfront, was considered dangerous,” says Martineau. “Now, it is the most trendy place in Edinburgh to live. The Royal Yacht Britannia is moored there, an attraction one can tour, and there is no end of restaurants and shops to discover.” 

If it’s a traditional Scottish pub you’re after, Martineau suggests two—the Canon’s Gait on the Royal Mile and Cumberland Bar in New Town. Both have generous lists of beer and ale, not to mention whisky, and satisfying gastropub menus. The Cumberland Bar figures as a setting for Alexander McCall Smith’s serial novel 44 Scotland Street.

To take full advantage of the Edinburgh Festival, the Scotsman suggests a mix of the official program and the Fringe. “Look at the Fringe schedule and see what interests you—comedy, revues, circus acts. Take a bit of risk. You might take in rubbish or something that is fantastic. Like the city itself, it is good to get lost, and then you’ll find things you didn’t expect.” spacer 

Mario R. Mercado writes on music, dance, theater and art. 

Edinburgh Picks
HOTELS

WALDORF ASTORIA,
THE CALEDONIAN

Princes Street
waldorfastoriaedinburgh.com

THE BALMORAL
1 Princes Street
roccofortehotels.com  
PUBS

CANON'S GAIT
232 Canongate
gait.bar

CUMBERLAND BAR
1-3 Cumberland St.
cumberlandbar.co.uk 
RESTAURANTS  

STAC POLLY
29-33 Dublin St.
stacpolly.com

WITCHERY 
by the Castle
Castle Hill, Royal Mile
thewitchery.com

THE KITCHIN
78 Commercial Quay
thekitchin.com 
MUSEUMS, SITES
NATIONAL GALLERY 
OF SCOTLAND

The Mound
nationalgalleries.org

EDINBURGH CASTLE
Castlehill
edinburghcastle.gov.uk

PALACE OF
HOLYROODHOUSE

Canongate
royalcollection.org.uk 

 



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