Category Archives: News

Scottish Ensemble takes its season online

After its proposed return to live work with a socially-distanced performance of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons was stymied twice by the return of restrictions to combat the pandemic, the Scottish Ensemble has announced an ambitious slate of work online and on film that attempts to reach the broadest constituency, and particularly those most in need of the sustenance of music.

As well as work specifically aimed at school-children, and tailored to the needs of different ages and abilities, the string orchestra is providing, via digital broadcast, Music & Mindfulness sessions for users of Maggie’s Centres supporting those affected by cancer diagnoses. Like others with health conditions that make them particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, they are particularly isolated in the current crisis, and other strands of the Ensemble’s programme aim to meet those needs in the wider community.

On November 4, the group relaunches its Musical Book Club, with sessions exploring works of music with the help of experts in composition, performance and research. Guests in the coming series include composers Craig Armstrong and Dobrinka Tabakova and writer and broadcaster Tom Service. The online sessions will happen every second Wednesday, priced at £5.

Mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill joins the Ensemble for an evening of Songs for Life, premiering online on November 13, and available to view thereafter, tickets £10. The programme of music and conversation will travel from Purcell to contemporary composition and embrace songs of love, lament and celebration.

The group’s school concerts begin on October 30 with half-hour lunchtime performances available online, in both primary and secondary school versions, aimed at all pupils rather than those specifically studying music. Specialist students will be showcased later in the year when SE releases a video made with the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland that uses the first two movements of Philip Glass’s Symphony No 3.

As well as a Solo Collaboration between principal viola Jane Atkins, artist Jyll Bradley and composer Anna Clyne, the whole Ensemble will provide an online version of its popular annual Concerts by Candlelight in December, in which Clyne’s music will also feature, in the company of Bach, Part and Crumb. Tickets to view that are also £10. Despite recent disappointments, the group has its fingers crossed that it may even be permitted to play that programme live if restrictions are lifted later in the year.

Virtual Sound

Like everyone else, Aberdeen’s contemporary music Sound festival has gone digital this year. But instead of the usual single autumn event, its organisers have opted for two shorter weekend packages, one running this weekend from 22-25 Oct, the other from 28-31 January.

The first of these is remarkable for the volume of streamed activity crammed into four days, which will be a blend of streamed online performances and films, and real-time talks/Q&As by composers and performers, including Master of the Queen’s Music Judith Weir. 

Thursday opens with a concert of five world premieres featuring flute and electronics from young Scots-based composers commissioned through Sound festival’s composer development initiative. All in all, 15 premieres will be given over the weekend, including the world premiere of Makem composer Ben Lunn’s new festival commission, “Th’first munth is th’wurst iv awl”, based on letters from prisoners. 

Key events also feature 2016 BBC Young Musician finalist Ben Goldscheider and Pip Eastop as part of this year’s “endangered instrument” focus on the French horn.

Other highlights include organist Roger Williams’ recital of music by Scottish composers written especially for the organ of Aberdeen University’s King’s College Chapel, a programme of vocal music by members of EXAUDI, “lockdown” commissions performed by the north-east’s new music ensemble Any Enemy, and the film Grey Area by Cork composer Sam Perkins in which his passions for skateboarding and music collide.

Sound festival runs 22-25 Oct. Full details on events and how to access them on

Image: Any Enemy Ensemble

Council Rethinks Practice Ban

Following Monday’s report in VoxCarnyx of a practice ban facing wind and brass players and young singers at Douglas Academy’s specialist music unit, East Dunbartonshire Council has written to parents reassuring them that urgent action is underway to resolve the situation.

The ban, which applied to individual practice rooms at the Milngavie school and its pupil residence in Knightswood (which falls under Glasgow Council Council jurisdiction), meant that the affected boarders – most of whom are in the process of preparing for A level and SQA practical music exams and conservatoire auditions due to take place with the next few months – were left with nowhere to practise other than their family homes during weekends.

A letter sent by parents on Monday to the Scottish Government and relevant local authorities calling for a reversal of the ruling, claimed that the ban “disadvantaged their children in the competitive field of music and also for other careers, as their preparation for SQA Music exams is being adversely affected”.When approached on Monday by VoxCarnyx, East Dunbartonshire’s Depute Chief Executive, Education, People & Business, Ann Davie said that “a comprehensive risk assessment for the provision of music within the Music School” was under way. “The risk assessment also includes provision for pupils who stay in the residence and require to practice in school,” she added.

On Tuesday, relieved parents received an email from the Council stating that measures will now be put in place to allow students to practice again in school. The issue affecting the pupil residence has still to be resolved, but East Dunbartonshire has told the parents it is now in discussions with Glasgow City Council to seek a positive outcome.

Royal Philharmonic Society Awards

The latest shortlist for prestigious awards features another strong showing from Scots and Scotland, as the Royal Philharmonic Society champions the highest achievement in music.

The award for opera and music theatre includes a nomination for Scottish Opera’s revival of John Adams’ Nixon in China, while the singer award pits Scots tenor Nicky Spence against sopranos Natalya Romaniw and Lise Davidsen. In the ensemble category, the ever-inventive Scottish Ensemble is nominated, while guitarist Sean Shibe is shortlisted for instrumentalist alongside pianist Yuja Wang and violist Lawrence Power. The concert series and event award includes a nomination for the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, which is directed by Scot Graham McKenzie.

Alongside the 11 categories, digital broadcast of the award winners on Wednesday 18 November will also include the presentation of the RPS Gold Medal to a distinguished international musician, and a new Inspiration Award recognising a particular achievement in music-making during the current health

Distant Voices at St Andrews

The 8th edition of St Andrews Voices, Scotland’s festival of vocal and choral music, is inevitably very different from its predecessors, but the programme on Saturday October 17 – which is designated World Singing Day – is an epic undertaking, with online happenings every hour from 7am to 10pm.

As well as events from St Andrews University, which hosts the festival, and particularly the new Laidlaw Music Centre, this St Andrews Voices links up with Glasgow and London, where The Sixteen under conductor Harry Christophers are the Virtual Ensemble-in-residence. The choir and associate conductor Eamonn Dougan will lead workshops as well as performing in St Augustine’s in Kilburn.

Other artists featured in the programme include folk singers Iona Fyfe and Hannah Rarity and beatboxer SK Shlomo. Tenor and broadcaster Jamie MacDougall will launch a two year project to create a new St Andrews Scots Songbook, honouring former Professor of Music Cedric Thorpe Davie and collectors of Scots songs including George McPhee, George McVicar and Frank Spedding.

The full 2020 programme of St Andrews Voices is available to view and experience at

Scottish Opera Highlights online

With a new opera film – of Sam Bordoli and Jenny Fagan’s The Narcissistic Fish – already in the can before lockdown, Scottish Opera has been ahead of the game in making work during the pandemic since before COVID-19 struck.

The company followed that with one of the highlights of the Edinburgh International Festival’s online programme in an updated location-shot film of Menotti’s The Telephone, and then brought the Lammermuir Festival to a memorable conclusion with Janacek’s The Diary of One Who Disappeared, filmed in Glasgow’s Theatre Royal.

All of these are still available to view on the Scottish Opera website, and they will be joined on October 25 – World Opera Day – by the autumn production of Opera Highlights.

The four-singers-and-a-piano show, stitching together arias well-known and less familiar with an invented narrative, usually tours across Scotland, visiting small theatres and community halls from the Borders to the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland. With that commitment currently impossible, the show has been filmed at The Beacon in Greenock and will premiere online.

The playlist has been selected, as usual, by Head of Music Derek Clark, and the show is directed by Rosie Purdie. It has some fun and games with the strictures of social distancing and other current rules in a story of four singers meeting up to perform together for the first time in months. Verdi, Bizet, Mozart, Lehar and Arthur Sullivan are among the composers providing the soundtrack.

Susannah Wapshott is at the piano, and the cast is the latest line-up of Scottish Opera Emerging Artists: soprano Catriona Hewitson, mezzo Margo Arsane, tenor Shengzhi Ren and baritone Arthur Bruce.

Director Rosie Purdie says: “I wanted this production of Opera Highlights to feel bright and merry, provide a few much-needed laughs, and exhibit some wonderful music.”

Picture, of Catriona Hewitson by Colin Hattersley

Changes to RSNO Digital Season

The Royal Scottish National Orchestra has announced changes to two of its upcoming Digital Season concerts as a result of COVID-19 travel and quarantine restrictions. 

The rising Norwegian conducting star Tabita Berglund (pictured) will make her unexpected Scottish debut replacing Carlos Miguel Prieto on Friday 6 November. The Mexican conductor is now unable to travel to Scotland. Berglund, who won the 2018 Gstaad Conducting Academy’s Neeme Jarvi Prize, will conduct Sibelius’ Symphony No 7 instead of the advertised Variaciones Concertantes by Ginastera.

On Friday 20 November, with RSNO principal guest conductor Elim Chan now unable to attend, soloist Jorg Widmann will double up as player-conductor in Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, and in changes to the original programme perform his own Fantasie for solo clarinet, and direct Mendelssohn’s “Reformation” Symphony. 

Updated details on the full Digital Season available here.

Practice Ban for Music Students

Parents of music students at Douglas Academy in Milngavie are petitioning a local authority over a ban on practice by young singers, wind and brass players that they say is harming their children’s education.
The ruling will particularly affect weekday boarders at the specialist music unit, some of whom are set to sit their Grade 8 Associated Board exams or undertake music college auditions in the coming months. These are critical, having a bearing on college and university applications to study music, to which the majority aspire. 

Senior pupils will also be gearing up for A level performance submissions, and for Higher and Advanced Higher practical exams, which normally take place in Feb/March for Higher and May/June for Advanced Higher, and account for 60% of the overall subject marks.

The pupils express deep concern for their future prospects. ”Many of us have come to Douglas hoping to become professional musicians but this is impossible if we can’t practise.”

Now parents have stepped up the campaign with a letter today to the Scottish Government and respective local authorities – the student residence falls under Glasgow City – calling for a creative solution that would especially allow the small number of boarders access to the individual practice rooms at both Douglas Academy and the Knightswood residence.

They believe such a solution need not infringe the most recent Scottish Government COVID-19 guidance, which, they say, states: “Young people should not engage in […] singing or playing wind or brass instruments with other people […] However, this does not mean that these activities cannot take place at all, it simply means that a more creative approach should be taken to providing such lessons.”

Parents of affected children claim that failure to allow their children to practise will deeply impact their future prospects. “These young people have mostly joined the Music School in order to try to become professional musicians.  They should be practising for up to three hours a day, yet they are now banned from practising at all, from Sunday evening to Friday evening”.  

“Several of them are auditioning for conservatoires this year, as well as studying for AH and Higher Music and this is impossible if they can only practise for two days a week,” the letter continues. “ These pupils are being disadvantaged both in the competitive field of music and also for other careers, as their preparation for SQA Music exams is being adversely affected.”

As for the pupils, their petition sums up their frustrations. “Lots of kids don’t want to do their music practice. But we really do. Please help us!”

In request to a statement from East Dunbartonshire Council, Depute Chief Executive, Education, People & Business, Ann Davie told VoxCarnyx: “The Director of the Music School has been working with officers from the Education Service and the Council’s Health and Safety Officer to agree a comprehensive risk assessment for the provision of music within the Music School.

“This includes provision for brass, woodwind and singing and takes account of the Education Scotland Guidance. The risk assessment also includes provision for pupils who stay in the residence and require to practice in school.

“We understand this has been a particularly difficult time for the pupils at the Music School due to the Infection Control arrangements that are required for the playing and teaching of certain musical instruments.

“The risk assessment will support pupils to continue to study music with the appropriate Infection Control arrangements in place.” 

Read the full petition here.

New Voice for Classical Music and Opera

As Scotland’s classical music scene copes with the restrictions imposed by the current health emergency, through streamed concerts and outdoor opera productions, a new website Vox Carnyx ( is launched to celebrate the wealth of globally-recognised talent involved in the creation, promotion and delivery of classical music and opera in Scotland.

Vox Carnyx will be a platform for the latest news, reviews, interviews and features about those playing, singing, conducting, composing, creating events and teaching young people in the world of classical music and opera. Co-founders Ken Walton and Keith Bruce bring to Vox Carnyx many years of experience as writers and critics with The Scotsman and The Herald in Scotland, and share the aim of providing an online destination for all lovers and supporters of Scotland’s classical and opera scene.Make a visit to a regular stop in your online day and join Keith and Ken in supporting and debating Scotland’s rich musical life.

“With the media world now in a constant state of change there were bound to be implications for serious arts coverage. So it’s exciting to hear of this new venture aimed at the entirety of classical music activity in Scotland. Between them Keith Bruce and Ken Walton have huge experience of covering classical music for Scotland’s two main publications, and I’m sure their new project Vox Carnyx will attract a lot of curiosity and attention, both here and internationally. I wish them well.”
Sir James MacMillan

“Serious journalism is so important and in Keith Bruce and Ken Walton we have two hugely experienced and knowledgeable writers and critics. I am so pleased to see that they are starting a new website dedicated to covering classical music and opera across Scotland. At this most challenging of times which has affected all corners of our sector including the media, it is so heartening to see this new venture starting which will ensure that musical creativity across Scotland is getting the exposure it so richly deserves.”
Nicola Benedetti CBE

For further information email Vox Carnyx at

Canadian soprano Erin Wall

Soprano Erin Wall, who made regular appearances at the Edinburgh International Festival and was a featured soloist in the seasons of both the RSNO and BBC SSO, has died at the age of 44. She had been suffering from breast cancer in recent years but continued to work during much of her treatment.

A regular choice of soloist for big orchestral pieces including Mahler Eight, Britten’s War Requiem, and the Four Last Songs of Strauss by conductors Sir Andrew Davies, Sir Donald Runnicles and Peter Oundjian, Wall’s performance as Ellen Orford in Britten’s Peter Grimes is one of the highlights of the new Chandos recording of Peter Grimes reviewed elsewhere on Vox Carnyx.

Conductor Ed Gardner’s concert performance of Grimes was a highlight of the 2017 Usher Hall programme at EIF, a festival in which Wall also sang in the rather rarer King Olaf by Elgar. She returned in 2019 to appear as one of the Norns in Gotterdammerung, the culmination of Wagner’s Ring cycle, alongside Karen Cargill and Ronnita Miller. In between she sang Britten’s War Requiem with the RSNO at the end of the 2018 BBC Proms at the end of the tenure of music director Peter Oundjian.

A finalist in Cardiff Singer of the World in 2003, Wall’s big break came a year later when, as understudy, she was called up to replace Karita Mattila as Donna Anna in Mozart’s Don Giovanni in Chicago on the opening night. It was a role she would go on to play at the Met in New York.

Birthday Honours Hat Trick for Scots Musicians

Three prominent classical musicians with direct Scottish associations feature in the latest Queen’s Birthday Honours list. Edinburgh-born conductor Donald Runnicles has received a knighthood, composer Sally Beamish an OBE, and Royal Scottish National Orchestra timpanist Paul Philbert an MBE, all for services to music.

Many will argue that, at 65, Runnicles’ knighthood is long overdue. But as current general music director of Deutsche Oper Berlin (since 2009) and having held previous posts as music director of the Grand Teton Music Festival, San Francisco Opera and principal conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra (2009-16), his home and career have centred mostly in continental Europe and the USA. Runnicles’ “repatriation” as a conductor in the UK began in 2001 with Sir Brian McMaster’s invitations to appear at the Edinburgh International Festival and his subsequent leadership of the SSO, with which he maintains an association as conductor emeritus.

Sally Beamish moved to Scotland over 30 years ago to become principal viola of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, but soon turned exclusively to composition. Her music, distinguished by its poetic warmth and textural definition, and ranging from large-scale opera (Monster for Scottish Opera) to instrumental miniatures, has been performed and recorded extensively around the world. Her output includes over 20 concertos written for some of the world’s leading soloists. Beamish recently moved to Brighton where she lives with playwright husband Peter Thomson.

Commenting on the news, she said: “It means a great deal to me that creativity, and the role of the creator in society, have been recognised as important to all of us, and vital to the wellbeing of a healthy society.”

Paul Philbert, charismatic timpanist of the RSNO, receives his MBE in recognition of a colourful international playing career, but especially for his involvement in championing inclusive music education. He was a founding member of the Chineke! Orchestra, Europe’s first majority black, Asian and ethnically diverse ensemble, whose artistic and executive director Chi-chi Nwanoku said in response to the news: “Paul’s exceptional musicianship and peerless standards are an inspiration and shining beacon to all who work with him”.

Opera North’s switched on in Edinburgh

While many companies go outdoors, online or dark, Opera North has ambitions to tour a large-scale concert version of Beethoven’s Fidelio, with soloists including soprano Rachel Nichols and tenor Toby Spence, no strangers to Scottish audiences, before the end of the year, ultimately dependant on the situation regarding COVID-19. 

Conducted by Mark Wigglesworth, this marks the highlight of Switched ON, a seven-programme season largely centred around Leeds Town Hall, though it is expected that ON will take Fidelio north of the border. Dates and venues are yet to be confirmed. 

The majority of Opera North’s 20:21initally intended season, announced in the spring, has been postponed. However, it is currently possible to book tickets for the company’s scheduled performance of Wagner’s Parsifal, on Wednesday 2 June 2021 at the Usher Hall, Edinburgh, on the venue’s website,

Home wins at the Gramophone Awards

Soprano Natalya Romaniw, a favourite at Scottish Opera with her Tatyana in Eugene Onegin and the title role in Tosca, was named Young Artist of the Year in this year’s Gramophone Awards. Most recently seen as Mimi in English National Opera’s Drive-In La Boheme at Alexandra Palace, and televised on Sky Arts, she prepared for the role by visiting Scottish Opera’s car park Boheme in Glasgow as a member of the socially-distanced audience.

Scotland was well-represented on both the short-list of the awards, with nominations in four categories, and among the winners, where two of those romped home: the RSNO’s recording of the Chopin Piano Concertos under the baton of Elim Chan, accompanying soloist Benjamin Grosvenor, and tenor Nicky Spence for his recording of Janacek’s The Diary of One Who Disappeared with pianist Julius Drake. Spence was to have sung the role with Scottish Opera for the company’s filmed contribution to the Lammermuir Festival, but was taken ill and replaced by Ed Lyon in Rosie Purdie’s production. It can still be viewed on the Scottish Opera’s YouTube site.

Image: Natalya Romaniw ©Patrick Allen

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