Category Archives: News

Easter Passion in Perth

The intrepid Dunedin Consort, whose early lockdown adventures provided the only authentic example of the currently much-invoked “Dunkirk Spirit”, will not be permitting the continuing health emergency to cancel this Easter’s performance of Bach’s epic St Matthew Passion.

With Andrew Tortise as the Evangelist and Matthew Brook as Christus, the ensemble will be presenting a streamed performance of the work on the evening of Saturday March 27 to launch Perth Concert Hall’s Easter festival of classical music.

Broadcast via Vimeo, the concert will be directed by John Butt from the organ, and available to view for a month, with tickets priced at £11.50 per receiving device, including booking fee.

The Dunedin Passion precedes four recitals from Perth featuring musicians from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Royal Scottish National Orchestra and the award winning Maxwell String Quartet. Running at 1pm from Tuesday April 6 to Friday April 9, in partnership with BBC Radio 3, they will also be available to view in the same way and for the same charge.

The series begins with pianist Steven Osborne playing Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time with soloists from the SCO and continues with clarinettist Maximiliano Martin and pianist Scott Mitchell, the Maxwell Quartet playing Haydn and Beethoven, and pianist Susan Tomes and members of the RSNO with quintets by Mozart and Beethoven.

Full details of the concerts from the Perth Concert Hall website: horsecross.co.uk

Keith Bruce

Tectonics online and on-air

The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra has announced that its annual weekend of new and experimental music, curated by principal guest conductor Ilan Volkov and events promoter Alasdair Campbell, will go ahead this year on May 8 and 9.

Only weeks after last year’s programme had been announced, the 2020 event was one of the early casualties of the pandemic, with an immediate promise that it would return in 2021.

While audiences will still be unable to fill the many spaces of Glasgow’s City Halls and Old Fruitmarket complex for what has become a hugely popular event, a full programme of pre-recorded online performances and late-night broadcasts on BBC Radio 3 is promised this year.

The orchestra has three broadcast concerts before then, two of them also available to view on the BBC iPlayer. The second of those is a 50th birthday concert by Steven Osborne, who is celebrating that same anniversary with a recital at London’s Wigmore Hall on Friday March 12. The Glasgow concert is on Thursday, April 22 and is conducted by Martyn Brabbins. In a programme of music by Copland and Shostakovich, Osborne plays the Russian’s Piano Concerto No.2, which was written a birthday present for the composer’s son, Maxim. It is bracketed by Copland’s Appalachian Spring Suite and Quiet City, and the concert concludes with the suite Shostakovich made from his music for an avant-garde 1930s production of Hamlet.

Earlier in April, violin and piano duo Elena Urioste and Tom Poster, whose kaleidoscopic home music sessions were one of the online hits of lockdown, join the orchestra to co-direct a programme entitled “Dreamscapes”. The title work, for violin and chamber orchestra is by Brazilian composer Clarice Assad, and is based on the composer’s researches into Rapid Eye Movement sleep. It is preceded by Arvo Part’s atmospheric and haunting Spiegel im Spiegel and Gerard Finzi’s Eclogue for Piano and Strings, and followed by Mendelssohn’s D Minor Concerto for Violin, Piano and String Orchestra, 54 years after the orchestra broadcast the UK premiere of the work.

The SSO is also in action next week, again under Brabbins and again available to view on the BBC i-Player. Sheku Kanneh-Mason is the soloist for the Dvorak Cello Concerto, performed on Thursday March 11 in George Morton’s reduced orchestration. The concert begins with contemporary American composer Augusta Read Thomas’s Plea for Peace and concludes with Sir James MacMillan’s signature 1989 work, Tryst.

A Classical Solution…?

A CLASSICAL SOLUTION FOR A NEO-CLASSICAL ICON?

Is the future of Edinburgh’s Old Royal High School reaching a musical conclusion? A series of “cultural conversations” aims to state the case. KEITH BRUCE explains.

He may have been born in Glasgow, and designed buildings and monuments all over Scotland, but neo-classical architect Thomas Hamilton is most especially associated with Edinburgh, and there with two public buildings whose recent fortunes have been very different.

The Dean Orphanage, which sits above the Water of Leith in the West End of the capital, is now styled SNGMA2, an extension, across Belford Road, of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, previously simply the Dean Gallery and before that for many years a teacher training facility.

Beyond the East End of Princes Street, on Regent Road opposite the monolithic Scottish Office building, St Andrew’s House, is “The Old Royal High School”, as it has been identified ever since the school moved to Barnton, far out the Queensferry Road, in 1968.

Some recent media coverage of plans for its future has insisted that the building has been “unoccupied” in the half century and more that has passed, but nothing could be further from the truth. In the years after the school pupils for whom it was designed and built moved out, it has seen a great variety of tenants, and often occupied a very prominent place in the discourse about the future of Scotland.

What is beyond debate is the quality of the building itself. Built in the 1820s, it was greatly admired in its own century by Alexander “Greek” Thomson, and more recent architectural historians have called it “the architect’s supreme masterpiece and the finest monument of the Greek revival in Scotland”. With a commanding position on the side of Calton Hill in “the Athens of the North”, it is unsurprising that it was considered in the 1970s to be the natural home for a Scottish Parliament in the run-up to the 1979 referendum, which failed to clear the hurdle to establish such a body.

Nonetheless the debating chamber that had been created inside was pressed into service as the meeting place for the “Scottish Grand Committee” – as distinct from the Scottish Select Committee – a gathering of all of Scotland’s Westminster MPs. By the time Scotland did vote to have its own parliament, the old school building was judged to be inadequate to the purpose, and had, perhaps, become too closely associated with the campaign for more than devolution.

Pending the construction of a new parliament building at Holyrood on the site of a demolished brewery, the devolved administration set up temporary camp at the other end of the Royal Mile and Thomas Hamilton’s neo-classical masterpiece began a longer and more uncertain phase of its existence, but one which may at last be approaching a conclusion.

What is notable during that time, when responsibility for the building returned to Edinburgh City Council, is that the arts have often enlivened it, and been at the heart of plans for its future.

In 1998, Fringe impresario Richard Demarco moved in with a programme of performances and masterclasses during the Edinburgh Festival in a partnership with the European Youth Parliament.

In 2004 the Edinburgh-resident former press secretary to Her Majesty the Queen, Michael Shea, was the main spokesman for a multi-million pound proposal to convert it into a national museum of photography, an artform in which Scotland had produced a good number of pioneers, but which still lacks a major gallery. The plans failed to find the necessary Heritage Lottery backing.

Ten years later the Old Royal High School was pressed into service as a venue for the Edinburgh Art Festival, then in its own tenth year, with film installations in the main chamber and neon artwork on the façade.

Since 2014 speculation about the future of the building has centred around controversial hotel plans, while a proposal by St Mary’s Music School, currently housed in buildings not far from Hamilton’s Dean building, to return it to the realm of education, for which it was designed, has steadily gained ground.

With planning consent for the hotel proposal now lapsed, and the council open to offers for the site, the Royal High School Preservation Trust and St Mary’s have joined forces on the Perfect Harmony Development Board to drive forward the plan for a national music centre and national music school, with substantial backing promised from Carol Grigor’s Dunard Fund.

Part of that public awareness campaign will be a series of monthly Cultural Conversations online, informing people about the plans for the redevelopment of the building and the work of the school.

Vox Carnyx is delighted to be involved in these, with Keith Bruce and Ken Walton putting questions to key people involved in the project before open question and answer sessions. Architects and engineers, teachers and alumni will be taking part in the webinars running from March to August.

The first of these is on Friday March 5 from noon, when Keith Bruce will be speaking with William Gray Muir of the Royal High School Preservation Trust and Carol Nimmo of the Perfect Harmony Development Board.

Readers who wish to watch should visit https://stmarysmusic.ptly.uk/event/culturalconversations01 to receive an access code.

Image: Students of St Mary’s Music School in front of the Old Royal High School (credit Mike Wilkinson)

Six New SCO Concerts

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra has followed the RSNO in announcing a new clutch of digital concerts which will be recorded at Edinburgh’s Queen’s Hall and Perth Concert Hall and broadcast free on Thursday evenings on the SCO’s YouTube channel and Facebook site.

The six concert season in March and April concludes with a world premiere from the orchestra’s Associate Composer Anna Clyne. Overflow, inspired by the poetry of Emily Dickinson and Jalaluddin Rumi, is for a group of wind soloists and will be directed from the oboe by Nicholas Daniel. That concert, on April 15, also includes music by Caplet and Dvorak, and it will, like everything in the season, be available to view free for 30 days after first transmission.

The season begins with an established showpiece for the orchestra’s principal clarinet, Maximiliano Martin. Sir James MacMillan’s Tuireadh, a lament for the victims of the Piper Alpha disaster in the North Sea, features on Martin’s recent Delphian disc with the Orquesta Sinfonica de Tenerife. It will be played on March 4 in its original version for clarinet and string quartet in a programme that also includes Britten’s Phantasy Quartet and Prokofiev’s Quintet in G Minor.

Piano Quartets by Mozart and Faure feature in the other new Queen’s Hall concert, on March 11, when violinist Maria Mloszczowska, Felix Tanner on viola, and principal cello Philip Higham are joined by pianist Susan Tomes.

The first of the run of concerts from Perth, on March 18, is an all-20th century programme of chamber music, pairing two familiar male names from Russia, Prokofiev and Shostakovich, with a wind quintet by Poland’s Grazyna Bacewicz and a trio for oboe, clarinet and bassoon by Czech composer Vitezslava Kapralova.

The following week has a focus on percussion in a programme that sees Reich, Part, Andriessen and Britain’s Dani Howard, who is still in her 20s, bracketed by two works from Henry Purcell.

The penultimate concert, on April 8, features baritone Marcus Farnsworth, who is also due to appear alongside soprano Susanna Hurrell with the RSNO in May. In Perth he features in a recital of rare baroque repertoire including works by Telemann, Biber, Froberger, Muffat, Schop and J C Bach.

Full details and instructions on watching and listening to the concerts are available at sco.org.ukKeith Bruce

RSNO’s New Digital Season

It is a measure of the confident way that Scotland’s national orchestra has dealt with the restrictions imposed on its work by the coronavirus pandemic – and coped with many enforced changes of plan along the way – that it is able to launch a new season in upbeat and positive style.

The headline news is the extension of the contract of Music Director Thomas Sondergard to the autumn of 2024. The further three years of commitment to the RSNO come as the Danish conductor is preparing to make his debut with the Berlin Philharmonic on Saturday, stepping into the shoes of Sir Donald Runnicles to direct a programme of Prokofiev, Sibelius and Kurt Weill.

For Sondergard, the important analogy is that he has found the same warmth and eagerness to work in the German capital that he encountered in his first dealings with the RSNO. He also suggests that the work the Scottish orchestra has made available to a global audience with its online programme during the health emergency has enhanced reputations far beyond its home audience, which is likely to prove crucial if touring proves problematic in the future.

That optimistic tone is echoed by chief executive Alistair Mackie, whose pre-COVID enthusiasm to develop the orchestra’s online work has necessarily moved to the top of the agenda over the past year. “It is true that we have made progress,” says Mackie. “We have learned a lot from our first Digital Season, and, as many of our audiences will know, we often had to move quickly and adapt to travel and working conditions that changed with very little notice. I want to thank our audiences for the support they have shown us during this time.”

The new season will begin on Friday April 16 when Sondergard conducts a concert in the strand of Polish music announced nearly a year ago, including the Violin Concerto No 1 by Karol Szymanowski with Nicola Benedetti as soloist. Benedetti also closes the season on Friday June 11, when she plays Szymanowski’s Second Violin Concerto, working with the orchestra’s principal guest conductor, Elim Chan.

Says Sondergard: “It is incredible to think that little over a year ago myself and the full RSNO Orchestra were touring Europe with Nicola Benedetti, performing in sold-out venues, and experiencing standing ovations night after night. We could not have imagined the experiences of the past year were waiting just around the corner. 

“The past year has been difficult for all of us, and sadly tragic for so many people. Music is our way of expressing and sharing our moments of grief and frustration, but also the moments of happiness and hope that help get us through these extraordinary times.”

Up until now, the behind-closed-doors concerts have been filmed in the orchestra’s rehearsal space in the RSNO Centre, but the new programme will be recorded in Glasgow Royal Concert Hall next door following its successful use for the online incarnation of the Celtic Connections festival last month.

The move enables compliance with social distancing guidelines for up to 75 musicians on the extended stage, when fewer than 60 could be playing together in the RSNO Centre, making areas of repertoire possible once more. The two concerts Chan conducts in June will include the Concertos for Orchestra by Bela Bartok and Witold Lutoslawski, the latter partnered by Chopin’s Piano Concerto No1 played by Benjamin Grosvenor, recreating the line-up on last year’s prize-winning recording of the work.

Lutoslawski also features in the May 14 debut of Polish conductor Marta Gardolinska with the orchestra, when his Mala suita prefaces Dvorak’s Seventh Symphony, and in a chamber music concert a fortnight later, when principal oboe Adrian Wilson is soloist in his Epitaph for Oboe and Piano and Lena Zeliszewska plays Szymanowski’s Violin Sonata in D Minor.

The season also salvages more of the “Scotch Snaps” planned for the 20/21 live concerts – short pieces by contemporary Scottish composers, with works by Michael Murray, Craig Armstrong and Christopher Duncan. The first of these is included in a chamber music concert featuring pianist Paul Lewis, who featured in the RSNO’s recent all-Grieg concert conducted by Ed Gardner, and the Armstrong precedes Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto, played by orchestra leader Maya Iwabuchi and conducted by Angus Webster.

Principal cello Aleksei Kiseliov is joined by pianist Alasdair Beatson for a programme of chamber music by Beethoven, Strauss and Dvorak on May 7 and conductor Kevin John Edusei is on the podium on May 21 for Schumann’s Second Symphony, Mahler’s Blumine and soprano Susanna Hurrell and baritone Marcus Farnsworth singing Schubert as arranged by Brahms.

An individual subscription to the new season is £85, with a household subscription priced at £150. Individual concerts are prices at £10 and £20 and there is a concessionary rate of £27 for all nine concerts, or £3 each, available to full-time students, those under 26 and people with disabilities or who are unemployed.

Download the season brochure and book tickets at rsno.org.uk

Keith Bruce

Musical movies in the East Neuk

The East Neuk Festival of chamber music in exquisite locations in the Kingdom of Fife is, like many other events, still waiting to see what is possible this year after having to cancel last summer’s event.

In the meantime, it has embarked on a Big Project with its “Arts Activist” David Behrens to which local residents and any of the festival’s regular audience are invited to contribute. Behrens has made a beautiful – and surprisingly musical – little film, 3 Amazing Minutes in St Monans, which can – and should – be viewed on the Vimeo platform (https://vimeo.com/508804285).

It was shot entirely on his smart phone, and now the ENF is soliciting 10 second pieces of phone-made footage from its friends and followers for him to work with. Complete instructions and examples of the sort of thing he’s after can be found at eastneukfestival.com/bigproject. Our picture of the much-snapped breakwater at St Monans is a still from one short video by festival director Svend McEwan-Brown.

New Cumnock Partnership

News that Sir James MacMillan has launched a major new initiative to establish Cumnock as a global centre of excellence in the learning and teaching of composition should come as no surprise. 

MacMillan’s preeminent worldwide reputation as a composer, allied to his establishment of the annual Cumnock Tryst Festival, with its formidable record in fostering new compositional talent and associated schools and community initiatives, positions this latest initiative as a bold and natural advancement in the widening impact and influence of his expanding East Ayrshire project.

The new scheme, a partnership between The Cumnock Tryst and Trinity College London, aims to support composers at crucial stages in their development: those just embarking on a career; those teaching composition in schools; and those studying composition either at school or in higher education. 

“It has long been an ambition of mine to take all the experience and learnings we have built over many years of teaching composition in the schools around Cumnock and East Ayrshire and make those available to teachers and students further afield,” said MacMillan, who will be assisted on the ground by fellow composer Jennifer Martin.

The new Tryst-Trinity partnership will kick off this year with a project for Advanced Higher music students at the new Robert Burns Academy in Cumnock, and the launch of a supporting publication for music teachers and young composers, written by MacMillan and Martin, timed to coincide with the 2021 Cumnock Tryst festival in October.

MacMillan, whose new hard-hitting Christmas Oratorio is reviewed this week in VoxCarnyx, added: “The resources we create will not just be focused on teachers, but also support students studying composition at a higher education level or even self-taught. As part of our work to date we have mentored many emerging composers and supported some incredible talent nurtured here in Cumnock, such as Jay Capperauld and Electra Perivolaris, through commissions for our festival.” 

“I really believe that here we have the skills and resources to create an internationally recognised centre of excellence which will benefit the potential composers in the area, but also those around the world.” 

Future Cumnock Trysts are also set to benefit from a substantial new auditorium in the Robert Burns Academy that can seat upwards of 500 people. MacMillan is confident it will become an important venue, not just for the festival, but for performing groups in the community, in schools and from further afield. 

A gala opening was planned for last year’s Cumnock Tryst, featuring the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, but had to be abandoned due to Covid-19. “It is our intention to mark the new space with a celebratory event as soon as we are allowed,” MacMillan promised.

Glasgow Barons Pandemonium

The Govan-based orchestra Glasgow Barons, founded and directed by Paul McAlindin, has announced an ambitious and eclectic digital season of seven concerts filmed in Glasgow venues and building into an archive available free to view via Vimeo.

The series begins on Thursday January 7, with a programme of songs of exile, set to an electronic score by Hamish MacLeod and filmed by him with sound engineering by Tim Cooper at Govan and Linthouse Parish Church. MacLeod is joined by Hannah Rarity, Midya Xan and Aref Ghorbani in exploring repertoire that ranges from Gaelic songs of the Highland Clearances to Kurmanji Kurdish and Farsi lyrics of life as a refugee in Scotland today.

MacLeod and Cooper are also behind the realisation of the Thursday January 28 concert, entitled Flux, for which composer Matthew Ward has worked with Shona MacKay and Nick Olsen from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland on a five-movement suite exploring the power and memory of water.

The MacLeod Hall of Govan’s Pearce Institute is the venue for performances of Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings (January 21) and Thea Musgrave’s Night Windows (Wednesday January 13). On the latter the orchestra is joined by oboe soloist Amy Turner. Concerts of William Sweeney’s Sian Orainn, originally written for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, and of Alasdair Nicolson’s Stramash, commissioned by the City of London Sinfonia, have been filmed at SWG3 on the other side of the Clyde, and are premiered on February 4 and 11 respectively.

The season concludes with a live recording of Steg G’s new album Live Todays on March 4, featuring new pieces by RCS graduates Aidan Teplitsky – entitled Almost Achilles, Always the Heel – and by Kevan O’Reilly – Scotland versus Scotland.

The films are part of the orchestra’s residency project with Glasgow Life and will be available from 7pm of the day of release  via glasgowbarons.com and remain online for a year.

EIF & Linn forge Digital Partnership

An exciting new partnership between East Renfrewshire-based Linn Records and the Edinburgh International Festival is launched this week with the release of three new recordings featuring landmark performances from the 2020 Festival’s reshaped digital music programme.

The recordings were conceived by the EIF to counter Covid restrictions, which saw opera, orchestral and chamber music performances from various Edinburgh venues screened online to a remote Festival audience. Key to that initiative was the engagement by EIF of Linn’s award-winning senior producer Philip Hobbs to oversee much of the sound production.

This week’s trio of releases include: the world premiere recording of Klaus Simon’s reduced orchestration of Mahler’s Seventh Symphony, performed by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra under its musical director Thomas Sondergard; Scottish Opera’s compelling film version of Menotti’s television opera The Telephone with soprano Soraya Mafi and baritone Jonathan McGovern as protagonists Lucy and Ben; and a compendium of highlights from the Chamber Music Series recorded at The Hub, featuring such classical stars as pianist Steven Osborne, mezzo-soprano Catriona Morison, tenor Mark Padmore, soprano Andrea Baker and the Elias Quartet.

Andrew Moore, the Festival’s head of music, welcomed the joint initiative. “I’m delighted that we are to bring highlights of our reshaped digital 2020 Edinburgh International Festival programme to music lovers through this new partnership with Linn Records”. 

Hobbs, who last month added a prestigious Prise de Son from French classical music magazine Diapason to his long list of industry awards, and was recently named as the first ever visiting professor of recording at the Royal Academy of Music, acknowledged the potential of this new venture. “The result is some wonderful performances which will stand as significant contributions to the recorded catalogue for years to come.”

All three recordings will be released on Friday 18 December via key download and streaming platforms, and in Studio Master from www.LinnRecords.com

SCO Stays Free in ’21

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra has unveiled its Spring season of online concerts, when it will be continuing to offer all the music free to view and listen to via its website and YouTube channel.

Chief Executive Gavin Reid said that it is thanks to the generosity of individual supporters and the continuing support of its business sponsors that the concerts remain free to view. Capital Document Solutions, Pulsant, Baillie Gifford, Insider.co.uk and Institut Francais d’Ecosse are among the orchestra’s partners.

Former principal bassoon Peter Whelan returns to direct the first concert of 2021 and a Mozart programme with soloist mezzo soprano Katie Bray that also features an overture by Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges. The season has a strong line-up of singers, with Benjamin Appl performing Butterworth’s A Shropshire Lad in a March concert conducted by Andrew Manze. It also features the UK premiere of the Beethoven-inspired Stride by SCO Associate Composer Anna Clyne, co-commissioned by the SCO with the Australian and Lausanne Chamber Orchestras.

A February concert directed by Principal Conductor Maxim Emelyanychev sees the orchestra in Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre for a performance of Stravinsky’s Pulcinella with soprano Claire Booth, tenor Andrew Staples and baritone Roderick Williams. In combination with January’s Queen’s Hall performance of the same composer’s The Soldier’s Tale, this represents a direct clash with the BBC SSO, which has scheduled the same Stravinsky pairing in its own February programming.

The Festival Theatre is also the venue for the SCO’s contribution to January’s online Celtic Connections festival when it is teamed with folksinger Karine Polwart and her regular accompanists Steven Polwart and Inge Thomson under the direction of violinist Pekka Kuusisto.

Emelyanychev is at the harpsichord for part of his first concert of the season, with Benjamin Marquise Gilmore, Nikita Naumov and Philip Higham also soloists in a Queen’s Hall programme of Bottesini, Bruch, Haydn and Hasse. Two more SCO principals, violinist Stephanie Gonley and flautist Andre Cebrian, feature in his March concert of Bach, Adams and Mozart. Gonley also joins Kristian Bezuidenhout as co-director and co-soloist in an all-Mendelssohn programme from the Festival Theatre in February.

Completing the roll call of singers is baritone Marcus Farnsworth, who sings Bach as part of a baroque chamber programme from the Queen’s Hall on January 21. The preceding week sees a chamber ensemble play Dvorak, Hass and Martinu.

In March saxophonist Jess Gillam makes her SCO debut in a concert conducted by Joana Carniero at Perth Concert Hall, and Susan Tomes joins SCO players for Mozart and Faure Piano Quartets. The season concludes in Perth at the start of April when Francois Leleux conducts the world premiere of a work for winds by Clyne, entitled Overflow and inspired by the poetry of Emily Dickinson and Jalaluddin Rumi.

French Award for Scots Producer

Philip Hobbs, chief producer at leading Scots recording label Linn Records, has received the prestigious Prise de Son (Sound Recording) Award from the French classical music journal Diapason. 

The magazine described Hobbs, who has over thirty years’ experience in the industry, as an “exceptional” talent, whose professionalism consistently meets the very highest standards in sound recording. In particular, it cited January’s Linn release of JS Bach: The Well-Tempered Consort 1, performed by the viol consort Phantasm, adding that “the assiduous care he [Hobbs] takes in his work gives the appearance of great simplicity”.

This is the second major award in as many years for the Glasgow-based producer. In 2019, his work for Linn on the third of Robin Ticciati’s French repertoire series with the Deutsche Symphony Orchestra earned him a coveted Trophée from French broadcaster Radio Classique for Best Sound Recording of the Year.

Hobbs’ notable expertise has been put to wider use during the current Covid pandemic, producing many digital concerts for the Edinburgh International Festival, Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Royal Scottish National Orchestra. 

Back in April, the RSNO also featured among Diapason winners, its album of Chopin Piano Concertos with soloist Benjamin Grosvenor and principal guest conductor Elim Chan netting a distinguished Diapason d’Or. The RSNO previously appeared in the French awards list under its former music director Stephane Deneve.

Christmas Concert On The Box

With live Family Christmas Concerts off the Yuletide menu this year, the RSNO and Children’s Classics Concerts (CCC) have joined forces to create a traditional Christmas Show you can tune into from the comfort of your own home. 

“The Night Before Christmas” has been devised by popular percussionist and regular CCC presenter Owen Gunnell who is seen making frantic attempts to get Christmas organised after inadvertently sleeping through the first 12 days of December, and worse still forgetting to post his letter to Santa. The emphasis is on fun for the whole family, with music to sing along to and favourite seasonal performances from the RSNO, RSNO Junior Chorus and, of course, the irrepressible Gunnell himself. 

The initiative signals a new relationship with STV Player, which joins the RSNO and CCC FaceBook pages and YouTube channels in screening the event. “The Night Before Christmas” is premiered live on 12 December at 2pm, and is available to view free of charge for a further 30 days.  

“We are excited to be teaming up with the STV Player for the first time to bring this concert into homes across Scotland,” said RSNO chief executive Alistair Mackie. “It has been a difficult year for us all and we hope this production will bring a little joy to all the RSNO and CCC audiences that have supported us so strongly in recent months.”

Full information at www.rsno.org.uk & www.childrensclassicconcerts.co.uk

Nevis Ensemble picks its carols

Nevis Ensemble has selected the professional and student composers winning its fleet-footed 2020 carol competition, whose works will be recorded by the travelling orchestra and mezzo-soprano Andrea Baker for broadcast online on Christmas Day.

Balfron High School’s Harry Baines, who also studies at the Junior Conservatoire of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland with Nicholas Olsen, is the under-18 winner. Mentored by composer Stuart MacRae, he will set a new Scots language text by poet Stuart Paterson, A Blythe Yule.

The parallel open call to established composers has selected Ailie Robertson, harpist and composer-in-residence at Glyndebourne Opera and Aberdeenshire’s sound festival. She will set a new Gaelic text by Marcus Mas an Tuairneir, An Dubhlachd.

Both new carols will be recorded alongside a new commission from British-Chinese composer Alex Ho at Adelaide Place Baptist Church in Glasgow for the December 25 broadcast. In the run up to the event, Nevis Ensemble will share snippets from its musical history in an Advent Calendar, accessible through its website.nevisensemble.org

Image: Composer and harpist Ailie Robertson

Madrigirls Advent concert

What this year has clearly lacked is a new wassail, but fortunately Glasgow University-based choir Madrigirls and Glasgow-based composer Emily Dolittle have stepped up to supply just that.

Dolittle’s new wassail, The Wren King, will be premiered during the choir’s annual Advent concert, entitled A Light in the Darkness, which is being streamed on YouTube on Sunday December 6 at 7.30pm.

The Madrigirls seasonal event, usually held in the University’s Memorial Chapel, where conductor Katy Lavinia Cooper is director of music, will this year be a filmed event celebrating the choir’s 20th anniversary, combining new video and audio recordings with archive material. As well as Dolittle’s work, the recital will include a new setting of medieval text There is no Rose by American composer Frank La Rocca. Both pieces are the fruits of crowdfunding campaign earlier this year to commission pieces to mark the choir’s birthday.

Cooper and Catriona Downie formed Madrigirls in 2000 when they were both undergraduates at the university. Initially a female group, it is now an inclusive upper-voice choir of around 40 members, and more than 250 singers have passed through its ranks in the past two decades.

As well as music, the Advent concert will feature visual art by Odeta Brazeniene and readings submitted in response to an open call to writers from Paul Cuddihy, Rosemary Gemmell, Freya Holliman, Susan Mansfield, Claire Quigley, Kate Robinson, Denise Steele and Siobhan Walsh.

madrigirls.org.uk  

Image: Madrigirls 2019 credit Harry Campbell

Online Cosi from Scottish Opera

Scottish Opera continues to set the pace with filmed productions online, announcing a new Cosi fan tutte, built around its current posse of Emerging Artists, available to view online from December 13.

Filmed on the stage of the Theatre Royal in Glasgow with music director Stuart Stratford conducting the Orchestra of Scottish Opera and chorus, Roxana Haines’ new production references reality TV. Soprano Catriona Hewitson, mezzo Margo Arsane, tenor Shengzhi Ren and baritone Arthur Bruce are joined by 2019/20 Emerging Artist Charlie Drummond and Royal Opera House Jette Parker Young Artist Michael Mofidian.

In the first month of the new year, the company follows that with a concert performance of Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel, also filmed at the Theatre Royal, directed by Daisy Evans, who was responsible for this year’s Edinburgh International Festival production of Menotti’s The Telephone.

Using David Pountney’s translation and a reduced orchestration by Derek Clark, David Parry conducts and the cast includes Kitty Whately as Hansel, Rhian Lois as Gretel, Nadine Benjamin as Gertrude and The Witch, Phillip Rhodes as Peter and Charlie Drummond as Sandman and Dew Fairy.

2021 is the 50th anniversary of Scottish Opera’s education and outreach department, in its various guises, and that will be marked by what the company intends as live performances by Scottish Opera Young Company next summer. Already meeting for rehearsals via Zoom, they are preparing for the world premiere of Rubble, composed by Gareth Williams with a libretto by Johnny McKnight. Soprano Shuna Scott Sendall will join the young singers for the show, which will be conducted by Chris Gray and directed by Roxana Haines.

Image: Shengzhi Ren, Arthur Bruce and Margo Arsane in Opera Highlights. Scottish Opera 2020. Credit Colin Hattersley.

Scottish Ensemble Scoops RPS Award

The Scottish Ensemble has triumphed in the ensemble category of this year’s prestigious Royal Philharmonic Society Awards. The full list of prizes, which also included success for the Virtual Benedetti Sessions, was announced in a virtual awards ceremony presented by BBC Radio 3’s Georgia Mann on the RPS website on Wednesday evening. 

The highly-contested Ensemble Award was conferred on the Scottish Ensemble “for sheer quality and innovation in their 50th birthday year [2019-20], and for showing us all how an ensemble can serve its community yet still have a striking international impact”. The Ensemble beat off stiff competition from fellow category nominees, the City of London Sinfonia and Manchester Collective.

The announcement also coincided with the launch of the SE’s new digitally focused autumn/winter season, which opened last week with Songs of Life, featuring mezzo soprano Karen Cargill (see Keith Bruce’s review on VoxCarnyx).

Responding to the RPS announcement, SE artistic director Jonathan Morton acknowledged the challenges facing the classical music world during a year that has sharpened ingenuity in the fight for survival. “Like many in our field, we have tried to stay connected with our audiences by creating new work and sharing it digitally, and we have enjoyed establishing new relationships with some exciting collaborators along the way,” he said.

“I very much hope that these experiments will be able to sustain performers and audiences alike, keeping our common musical spirits alive until the time when we can once again look forward to live performances.”

The Ensemble was also delighted to announce it has been awarded financial support from the RPS Audience Fund. “This will enable us to further develop our work finding a new filmic language for classical music and could not have come at a better time,” said SE chief executive Jenny Jamison.

Also among the recipients with a Scottish connection were the Benedetti Foundation’s Virtual Benedetti Sessions, one of several winners in the new Inspiration category, and soprano Natalya Romaniw in the Singer category for, among other achievements, her title role as Tosca for Scottish Opera. 

Tenor Nicky Spence, guitarist Sean Shibe, Scottish Opera’s Nixon in China production and Scots-based composer Errollyn Warren were also among shortlisted nominees. The RPS’ Gold Medal, recognising outstanding musicianship, went to legendary Hollywood composer John Williams. 

View the complete awards ceremony on www.royalphilharmonicsociety.org.uk/awards

BBC Radio 3 presents a musical celebration of the winners on 23 Nov, 7.30pm

Opera North streams Sins

The proposed tour by Opera North of a concert performance of Wagner’s Parsifal, which was scheduled to visit Edinburgh’s Usher Hall on June 2, 2021, has been postponed. The company says it is committed to revisiting the project in a future year, but the scale of the forces required, with 130 musicians on stage, make it impossible with social distancing in place for the performers.

The company intends to fill the dates booked for Parsifal with an evening of music from the Ring cycle, conducted by Richard Farnes and using Jonathan Dove’s orchestrations, intended as a companion piece to the 2016 Opera North Ring cycle, currently free to watch online.

Ticket-holders for Parsifal may choose to apply for a refund.

Opera North has two livestream performances scheduled before the end of the year, beginning on Saturday November 21 at 6pm, when Gary Clarke’s new production of Kurt Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins will be available to watch for £10. The production was to have opened in Leeds in a double bill with Handel’s Acis and Galatea and will be the company’s first staged show since March. Conducted by James Holmes, it will be available on demand for 48 hours only.

Opera North’s The Seven Deadly Sins by Kurt Weill ©Tristram Kenton

In December Mark Wigglesworth conducts a dramatic concert performance of Beethoven’s Fidelio, directed by Matthew Eberhardt with a cast including Rachel Nicholls, Toby Spence, Robert Hayward and Brindley Sherratt. Originally due to run at Leeds Town Hall for four performances from November 29, it will now livestream at 7pm on Saturday December 12 and be available on demand for seven days at a ticket price of £15.

operanorth.co.uk

Main Image: Seven Deadly Sins credit Tristram Kenton

Volkov’s New Commission Body

Ilan Volkov, principal guest conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, has teamed up with violinist Ilya Gringolts, currently a Violin International Fellow at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, to launch a new Zurich-based Foundation that will offer worldwide support for the composition, performance and funding of new music.

The I&I Foundation will aim to commission up to 20 new works each year from emerging composers from around the world beginning in 2021. Among the first five recipients is the young Manchester-based composer and improviser Lawrence Dunn, who is joined by others from Russia, Israel, Japan and the USA. 
Among the key aims of the initiative are commitments to streamlining the commissioning process, shortening the usual delays between commission and performance, and offering financial payment to composers at the start of the commissioning process rather than just at the end. The emphasis, according to Volkov, will be on shorter “micro-commissions” so that the process is as fast, efficient and effective as possible.

Volkov, who founded and curates the global contemporary music phenomenon Tectonics, that has an annual festival residency in Glasgow, is well known in Scotland for his championing of progressive new music with the BBC SSO ever since his original appointment as its principal conductor in 2003. 

“I love performing works by established composers, but for me, my most important role is to look towards the unseen,” he says. “With the foundation I look forward to starting a long and positive process of working with composers, helping them develop their careers, having their music heard, recorded and better known. If we then see some of these names suddenly being commissioned by huge organisations, then we’ll know we’ve done the right thing at the right time.”

Further information on www.iandifoundation.org

Familiar faces with Dunedin Consort

Edinburgh’s Dunedin Consort will be broadcasting from Greyfriar’s Kirk again this month with an all-vocal progamme, How Lonely Sits the City, streamed from Thursday November 19. (Those who haven’t yet caught its predecessor, Nature’s Voice, with soprano Rowan Pierce, have until Saturday November 14 to do so.)

The recital, which takes its title from Rudolph Mauersberger’s lament on the destruction of Dresden in 1945, will be conducted by tenor Nicholas Mulroy, who has just been named the ensemble’s first Associate Director. Mulroy’s association with the choir goes back 20 years and he has recently combined the role of soloist with directing.

The concert will also feature the debuts of the Consort’s new Bridging the Gap recruits, young singers making their first steps in the professional arena. They are baritone Tim Edmundson, tenor Sam Leggett, mezzo Hannah Leggatt and soprano Sally Carr. The young women are both alumni of the National Youth Choir of Scotland, and the men are currently studying at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

The programme also includes the Lamentations of Lassus, MacMillan’s Miserere, Cecilia McDowell’s I Know That My Redeemer Liveth and a new commission from Edinburgh-based Ninfea Crutwell-Reade, Vigil 1, based on a text by Rilke.

www.dunedin-consort.org.uk

Image: Nicholas Mulroy

Scots to the fore at The Ivors

The annual Ivors Composer Awards will be announced on December 1 and the recently announced shortlist reveals the health of the Scottish scene across the musical spectrum.

Nominations in the Community and Participation category include Judith Weir for The Big Picture, which celebrated the re-opening of Aberdeen Art Gallery at Sound Festival, and Bute-born educator Paul Rissmann for the multi-faceted What Do You Do With An Idea?. Stuart MacRae’s  Prometheus Symphony, co-commissioned by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra as the culmination of his work as the Lammermuir Festival’s composer-in-association, is among the five works in the Chamber Orchestral category, alongside Hover by long-time Scottish resident Sally Beamish.

The other three works with Scottish roots are by composers nominated for an Ivor for the first time. Timothy Cooper’s “ . . . Shadows that in darkness dwell . . .” was commissioned by Matthew Whiteside’s contemporary chamber music initiative The Night With . . . and features on its first album, Live Vol One, performed by the group formed to do that, Ensemble 1604.

Aberdeenshire’s Claire M Singer is a composer putting the organ back at the heart of contemporary music, including partnerships with post-rock groups Low and Stars of the Lid. Her work for organ, strings and horns, Gleann Ciuin, in nominated in the Large Chamber category. Completing the line-up is bassist Calum Gourlay, from Glasgow, whose New Ears Suite, recorded with saxophonist Helena Kay, trombonist Kieran McLeod and drummer James Maddren is in the Jazz Composition for Small Ensemble category.

www.ivorsacademy.com

Image: Composer Claire M Singer

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