Sibelius Family Grant Permission to RSNO Musicians

Early Piano Quartet to be performed by RSNO Chamber Group will reveal composer’s classical tradition

A Scottish chamber group will perform a 19th century rarity from the predominantly 20th century composer Jean Sibelius this coming Sunday, after permission from the composer’s family was sought before the sheet music was released.

Sibelius and Strauss Piano Quartets at the New Auditorium, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall presents a chamber ensemble assembled from Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO) musicians, violinists Sophie Lang and Lorna Rough, cellist Betsy Taylor and pianist Edward Cohen to air a rarely performed early work by Jean Sibelius, his Piano Quartet in D minor.

Unrecognisable when compared to his later, romantic works, the four movement quartet for two violins, cello and piano has been described as an accomplished pastiche of one of Mendelssohn’s Piano Trios. Those familiar with Sibelius’ soundscape may be surprised at the composers’ leaning towards a classical tradition at this time, this work composed when he was eighteen. Many composers had already found their voice by this age but it may surprise those familiar with his later expansive sound world to hear that he started off very much in the more contained, classical tradition.

RSNO Violin Sophie Lang: “We couldn't believe it was Sibelius when we started playing it! It sounds far more like Mozart, though there are glimpses in the harmonies of his later style. It's fascinating to see where he started, and to play off copies of the parts which we think were hand-written by him. They are full of inconsistencies, so rehearsals have been pretty pain-staking as we try and reconstruct what we believe he wanted, but that's actually made us feel closer to the composer. The parts were sent from the National Library of Finland after we had been granted permission to perform the work from the Sibelius family.”

The concert also features a performance of Richard Strauss’ early work, the substantial Piano Quartet in C minor, composed in the same year as Sibelius’ piano quartet, sixty years prior to Metamorphosen and reminiscent of the work of his idol, Johannes Brahms. The quartet will open the programme with a work by contemporary American composer Michael Daugherty, Diamond In the Rough, Daugherty’s nine-minute homage to Mozart.

Sibelius and Strauss Piano Quartets will appear at the New Auditorium, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, on Sunday 5 February (2.30pm). Tickets cost £12.50 and are available from the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall box office (0141 353 8000). You can book online by visiting www.rsno.org.uk.

Scottish composer fulfils promise to friend with new work

New Flute Concerto for 2017 marks 20-year friendship between composer and soloist

This week Scottish audiences will be treated to the première of a new Concerto for Flute and Orchestra, written by leading Scottish composer Martin Suckling, inspired by the obsessive characteristics of one of the UK’s leading conceptual artists’ work, and borne from a teenage promise to one of the UK’s finest flautists.

Martin, who has been described by the national media as “..probably the most important figure in Scotland’s music scene since James MacMillan.”, dedicates The White Road, a title inspired by ceramicist Edmund de Waal’s 2015 travelogue, to his long-time friend RSNO Principal Flute Katherine Bryan. Martin had promised a concerto to Katherine while they were musicians in the National Youth Orchestra, and Katherine will perform the piece as soloist at Edinburgh’s Usher Hall on Friday 3 February and at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on Saturday 4 February.

Composer Martin Suckling: "I've known Katherine since we were teenagers and we've long wanted to work together on a flute concerto.  Katherine's glorious tone and Edmund de Waal's beautifully austere ceramic art were twin inspirations for this piece, in which solo flute melodies lead the orchestra in antiphonal exchange through a landscape of rich, gleaming microtones and strange dances."

Katherine Bryan, who has been described by one of the country’s leading music critics as having “…intellect and comprehensive musical resource, including expressivity, in endless supply…” welcomes the challenge of performing this new work written especially for her.

RSNO Principal Flute Katherine Bryan: "Martin and I have been friends for over twenty years. He knows me very well, and it had always been a hope for both of us that he would one day write something for me. The challenge of bringing any piece to life for the first time is huge, but the fact that it is written by him makes it even more exciting for me. The piece is alluring, stirring, tender, ardent... all in a 15 minute package. I cannot wait to capture people's imaginations with it."

Paired with the new concerto is Katherine’s interpretation of Ralph Vaughan-Williams’ The Lark Ascending, transcribed from violin to flute by Katherine herself. It features on her most recent album The Silver Bow (Linn Records) which was Classic FM’s Album of the Week following its launch last year. Furthermore, Katherine’s version has received full endorsement from the Vaughan Williams Society.

RSNO Principal Flute Katherine Bryan: "Transcribing this beautiful piece was a dream I had had for some time. I'd grown up listening to it and still it melts my heart with its poignancy. I hope that my transcription brings new and interesting sounds and colours to this work which is so well known and loved."

The Lark Ascending, a Sir Alexander Gibson Memorial Concert, was due to be conducted by RSNO Music Director Peter Oundjian but has had to withdraw from the week’s performances for personal reasons.

RSNO Music Director Peter Oundjian: “It is with enormous regret that I cannot be present for the upcoming concerts in Edinburgh and Glasgow. This is a wonderful programme, including an exciting premiere by one of Scotland’s major composing talents and featuring one of our own exceptional soloists. It promises to be a memorable event.”

Norwegian conductor Arild Remmereit returns to the RSNO in his place. The Lark Ascending concludes with Maurice Ravel’s pictorial symphonic vision of ancient Greece, the ballet music Daphnis et Chloé.

For tickets or more information please visit www.rsno.org.uk.

Rare performances of Double Bass Concerto

RSNO Principal performs Koussevitzsky showpiece for audiences in Musselburgh and Kirkcaldy

The Royal Scottish National Orchestra’s (RSNO) Principal Bassist Ana Cordova will take centre stage to perform Serge Koussevitzsky’s rarely performed Concerto for Double Bass, to audiences in Musselburgh and Kirkcaldy at the end of this month.

Infrequently utilised as a solo instrument Koussevitzsky wrote this showpiece for the bass to demonstrate his virtuosity when he was a touring bassist, before embarking on one of the world’s most successful conducting careers and becoming a fierce supporter of 20th century music. Koussevitzsky was even conductor of the then Scottish Orchestra, now RSNO, in 1923. He went on to champion and commission works from composers such as Prokofiev, Ravel, Gershwin and many more. Koussevitzsky moved to the USA in 1924 to become conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, a post he held for 25 years, building the BSO’s reputation as one of America’s leading ensembles.

The Concerto for Double Bass is included in a programme that also features two works by German romantic Felix Mendelssohn, Symphony No4 Italian and the Hebrides Overture, written by the composer following a visit to the island of Staffa off the west coast of Scotland. The orchestral version of Maurice Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin opens the programme.

RSNO Principal Bassist Ana Cordova: “The Koussevitzky concerto is a fantastic Russian romantic piece. It is short but very intense, passionate and touching. I am really excited to perform this concerto and have the chance to show to the audience what a double bass can do outside of the orchestra role. I hope everyone will enjoy it as much as I will."

RSNO In Concert presents Hong Kong-born conductor Elim Chan, the first female winner of the Donatella Flick Conducting Competition, making her RSNO debut. RSNO In Concert appears at the Adam Smith Theatre, Kirkcaldy on Friday 27 January (Box Office: 01592 583302) and at The Brunton, Musselburgh on Saturday 28 January (Box Office: 0131 665 2240). Both concerts start at 7.30pm. For more information visit www.rsno.org.uk.

A Celtic Challenge

A blog by Philip Ashworth, RSNO Composers’ Hub 2016:17

Embarking on any new composition requires a goodly deal of planning and preparation. With a wholly original piece, one generally has carte blanche and can pretty much do whatever you like. However, arranging or transcribing existing music carries with it a different set of possibilities and, indeed, responsibilities.

Transcribing a piece would keep the entire melodic and harmonic shape intact, and merely set out to present the tune for a different group of instruments. In this case, voices to orchestral instruments.

Arranging a piece allows for a great deal more artistic interpretation, and one is less constrained by the source material. However, the listener must be able to recognise that this is the same tune: Jingle Bells arranged for full orchestra or for solo piano is still Jingle Bells.

Of course, one could choose neither route and embark on a work that uses the original piece in a most oblique manner, perhaps not even incorporating any musical elements at all, using the original simply as a source of inspiration.

There are pros and cons to all three routes, and it was fundamental to establish where I was going and how I would approach the work at hand.

I felt it important from the outset that the original tune should feature prominently in my piece. (It is, after all, the reason I chose it.) But more importantly, it is a tune firmly entrenched in the aural tradition; passed down through generations only by ear, without need of notation and a feel some responsibility in preserving our heritage.

Given that this a single line melody with no accompanying harmony, I elected to create harmonies of my own to suit the ensemble for which it was now being arranged. So this would be a new element.

The other thing to consider was the fact that the original is a vocal piece. The melody repeats and relies on the text being sung as its means of achieving variety. This textual element would not be possible for orchestra, and so I would need to invent another way to create contrast and variety: whatever I was going to create had to stand up in its own right.

Waulk is based on a melody taken from a Cloth Waulking Song, performed by Mrs Kate Nicolson, South Uist, and recorded by the University of Edinburgh School of Scottish Studies in 1982. This working song serves two primary purposes ­– entertainment for the task in hand, and a more practical function of keeping the 'mechanics' of the operation in time. In my arrangement of this tune, I felt it important to keep something of the 'call and response' idea. However, I have attempted to introduce two further elements. The first is a sense of harmony, translating the notional harmony of the working group to a musical sort. The other is intended as a comment on the rise of industrialisation that has all but wiped out traditional working practices such as hand-washing tweed.