Appsolutely revolutionary concerts for primary schools

New interactive app, audience-controlled composition and new work about Sauchiehall Street featured in Scottish Orchestra’s latest concerts for primary school pupils
The Royal Scottish National Orchestra’s (RSNO) new concerts for primary schools merge a live orchestral music experience with technology and gaming.
Five sold-out performances of RSNO 360 Live, which runs from Tuesday 22 November to Thursday 24 November, feature popular classical works alongside two new commissions from Scottish-based composers, a free interactive app for digital devices and one of the world’s most successful video games ever, Minecraft, being played live on a cinema screen.
Nearly two thousand primary school pupils will attend RSNO 360 Live over three days at the RSNO’s new home in Glasgow, having participated in pre-concert workshops with RSNO musicians visiting the schools in previous months.
The new concerts will feature two commissioned works, Oliver Searle’s Sauchiehall, written to celebrate the Orchestra’s 125th anniversary and its move from Glasgow’s West End to the City Centre, a journey that can be made directly along one of the city’s main thoroughfares, Sauchiehall Street.
In addition to Oliver Searle’s Sauchiehall, Glasgow-based composer Jay Capperauld’s new work Terrarium has been written with a set introduction and coda but with five interchangeable central sections which can be performed in any order, to be determined by the audience at each concert. Terrarium will be performed while the audience explore five distinct worlds on the big screen, through the medium of Minecraft.
The new app, developed by the RSNO Learning and Engagement team and supported by Creative Scotland’s Innovation Fund, which will be utilised as a supplementary training aid, is available on a variety of formats. Taking the poster of the orchestra with its separately-highlighted sections many school music departments displayed on their walls as inspiration, the app, RSNO 360, presents the opportunity to view and listen to the RSNO from any chosen section in the Orchestra. Oliver Searle’s specially-commissioned work Sauchiehall was recorded for RSNO 360 using binaural microphones which mimic human hearing and the resulting recording provides an audio-3D experience when listened through headphones. RSNO 360 will be available on general release from the Apple App Store from Tuesday 22 November.

RSNO Associate Leader and Learning and Engagement Artistic Director William Chandler
, who will be presenting the programmes, said: “We have purposefully designed a concert platform to appeal to what young people love most, technology. By incorporating the most successful video game ever into our presentation we will introduce a new generation to the ultimate live music experience and plant the seeds of a lifelong relationship with the dynamic and colourful world of the symphony orchestra. Never before have we provided this level of interactivity, both in the pre-concert workshops and the performances themselves.”
RSNO 360 Live is generously and vitally supported by Foyle Foundation, The Hugh Fraser Foundation, The McGlashan Charitable Trust, Glasgow City Ward Areas and George and Mary Firth Bequest. RSNO 360 Live starts on Tuesday 22 November and runs until Thursday 24 November at the New Auditorium at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. These performances are all sold out. Further schools performances by the RSNO will be announced in due course. For more information visit

Young composers vie for national prize

Composition competition for 12-18 year olds in partnership with National Trust for Scotland
The third annual national competition for 12-18 year-olds, Notes from Scotland, invites applications from the countries’ budding composers.
In partnership with the National Trust for Scotland and as part of the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra’s (RSNO) Notes From Scotland invites young composers to write a two-minute work for an instrumental trio, quartet or quintet. Following the closing date for entries in May, five works will be selected, to be performed by an RSNO ensemble at the Orchestra’s New Auditorium in Glasgow.
The themes for the third annual Notes From Scotland are taken from five distinct National Trust for Scotland heritage sites: Culzean Castle, Ayrshire; Glencoe, Highlands; Hill House, Argyll and Bute; Newhailes, Edinburgh and House of Dun, Angus.
Last year, James Nicolson’s work White Oasis, inspired by the architecture of the recently-restored Pier Arts Centre in Stromness, as the winning entry. Fellow Notes From Scotland competitor Tom Aitken’s Piano Quintet No1- which was inspired by the Scottish Parliament building - subsequently received a Royal audience as it was performed by RSNO musicians at the official opening of the fifth session of the Scottish Parliament in the presence of the Orchestra’s patron Her Majesty The Queen and Members of the Scottish Parliament last July.
Prior to the final concert of this year’s Notes From Scotland Jennifer Martin will host free workshops for entrants at each of the inspiring locations across Scotland. The participants will be given tours of the sites before receiving an introductory guide to composing to a theme.
Composer Jennifer Martin: “I've been delighted to have been part of the RSNO's Notes From Scotland initiative from the beginning. As a judge in the first two competitions, I'm now looking forward to helping inspire another generation of young composers through this workshop series. And what better inspiration for a new piece of music than the properties and landscapes managed by the National Trust for Scotland. This opportunity is open to young people writing music in any genre and I know they are out there, in every corner of the country!”
Rhiannon Naismith, Property Manager (Newhailes) for the National Trust for Scotland: “Like many of the National Trust for Scotland’s places, Newhailes was a focus of inspiration and creative engagement over the years. We hope that the next generation of composers find their creativity is unlocked by the heritage in our care and can’t wait to hear their compositions.”
Entrants do not have to attend the workshops to enter the competition. The Notes From Scotland website includes video resources featuring introductions to each of the Trust properties across Scotland and insight and advice from some of the country’s greatest living composers.
BAFTA, GRAMMY and Ivor Novello award-winning composer Craig Armstrong OBE, famed for his soundtracks to blockbusters such as Moulin Rouge!, Love Actually and The Great Gatsby, welcomed the initiative: “This is a fantastic idea to engage young people in composition and to bring them together with existing composers and musicians to pass on their knowledge and skills. I’m sure it will be an invaluable experience for all concerned.”
For more information visit the competition website,, or contact the RSNO’s Learning and Engagement team on 0141 225 3557 or email

A Conflict of Interests

A blog by Benjamin Graves, RSNO Composers’ Hub 2016:17
When one thinks of war music it is usually the descriptive nature of the pieces themselves that comes to mind: an incessant “andante marziale” or absurdist scherzo. What one doesn’t immediately think of – in comparison to, say, the war poets – is how directly conflict has affected the life of the composer, and affected they were: Stockhausen’s parents disappeared during the Second World War and only much later did he learn of their murder; Ligeti’s entire family, except his mother, were killed in concentration camps and George Butterworth and Ivor Gurney never returned from World War I.
So bearing this loss in mind, how does, or can, a composer who has never seen action, except on television, and unburdened by war’s emotional baggage set about composing a piece evoking war? How can the music he or she writes – music having the potential to be the most direct form of emotional expression – be seen as anything except passing off the turmoil of others: an appropriation of emotion?
Consider contemporary warfare: the constant bombardment of Aleppo, the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan or the struggle against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. What these conflicts all have in common is an advancement in remote warfare.
An interesting approach could be to draw parallels between contemporary artistic portrayals of war by disconnected composers and those that fight remotely. They, like the composers, live at home, perhaps with their boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, wives and children, they walk out of their front door each morning, get into their cars and drive to work, some have never seen a battlefield.
The potential controversy surrounding the composing of a piece reflecting on the cost of war, emotional or otherwise, by a composer who has never seen it is paralleled in the eventual scrapping of the Distinguished Warfare Medal, a medal introduced for remote warriors. What right, argued members of Congress, veterans and serving combatants, do individuals who have never set foot in a war zone, let alone risked life and limb in service of their country, have to receive a medal for valour? Likewise, what right does a composer have to receive a grant and all the congratulations and adulation that comes with composing a work for a world class orchestra, all for a piece about a war he/she has never entered?
One could argue further parallel: studies have shown drone pilots suffer similar emotional damage to fighters on the ground, they are acutely aware of the lives they end and the cities they destroy, despite attempts at desensitising. But this does not seem to resonate with many active personnel: remote warfare is held in much lower esteem, due to a lack of direct action. In fact, The RAF claim it is in fact workplace stressors such as overwork or a poor working environment that affects drone operators, rather than post-traumatic stress disorder.
A young composer could claim a deep, potentially damaging, feeling of emotional connection with the images he/she sees in the news, or perhaps knows someone at war, but surely this pales into insignificance when compared to the losses Stockhausen, Ligeti, Butterworth and Gurney suffered, but is it any less valid?
The main difference is, of course, that by composing a work for orchestra a composer is not directly or indirectly involved in the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, of people, many of whom are innocent casualties, and so my comparisons shall go no further.
Personally, without wishing to tie myself down to too rigid a narrative, the main approach I believe to be the most appropriate is to display, in musical form, a level of detachment to the subject I’m dealing with, a potentially tricky solution and one I’m still contemplating. One option is to compose a piece which employs (musical) drones. These, if by name alone, could represent, well, drones, but the problem is that a musical drone only represents a flying one because I, the composer, said so. Another, and the option I am exploring at the moment, is a musical representation of bombed out buildings: think Coventry Cathedral. Remnants of conflicts past inhabiting a contemporary, largely war free, space. These husks are what war has left me: they represent stories of war told to me by my grandparents, wars fought years ago spoken of in history textbooks and the images that flash up on news programmes of wars being fought thousands of miles away. All of which punctuate the contemporary landscape of my everyday life.
Ultimately in addressing the issue of so called emotional appropriation, the question I have to ask myself is: if by writing a piece of music about war is it only me who stands to benefit from its production? If so that piece should not be written. If instead I can encourage even one member of the audience to ask questions, whether moral or otherwise, of themselves, me and others then I believe the piece was worth writing.