Alchemy: Scotland’s new New Music Ensemble

RSNO’s new contemporary music group to challenge the nature of conductor, performer and composer

This September the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO) launches RSNO Alchemy, a new music ensemble, developed in conjunction with composer/conductor Peter Wiegold, with a mission to explore new works, methods of performance, improvisation and collaboration.

RSNO Alchemy will work with contemporary composers, exploring established repertoire and newly-commissioned works. A principal goal of the new ensemble is to meld structured performance with elements of improvisation, a departure for many orchestral musicians, expanding the responsibilities of participants and blurring the boundaries between conductor, performer and composer.

RSNO Alchemy will venture beyond the restrictions of its expected genre, and incorporate influences from jazz, folk, dance, and theatre to present a culturally diverse experience. Moreover, it will be a flexible group in terms of size and style, working on a project-by-project basis, collaborating with a selection of guest artists suited to the nature of each project.

This is the first ensemble from a UK orchestra to be established with these goals, further illustrating the RSNO’s intention to be one of the nation’s leading innovative performing arts institutions.

Developed in conjunction with composer/conductor Peter Wiegold, in its first year RSNO Alchemy will give three performances, the first held at the Tramway, Glasgow, on Wednesday 10 September at 7.30pm. The evening’s theme takes its inspiration from 20th century Italian writer Italo Calvino’s 1972 novel Invisible Cities, which depicts over fifty views of the city of Venice, as described by Italian merchant traveller Marco Polo to Mongol emperor Kublai Khan. RSNO Alchemy will take its source material from one-page scores by James MacMillan, John Woolrich, Peter Wiegold and Aidan O’Rourke amongst others, interspersed with narrated extracts from Calvino’s book, read by Deacon Blue’s Lorraine McIntosh.

RSNO Alchemy Director Peter Wiegold:

I am so pleased to be asked to work with the RSNO on launching RSNO Alchemy. We tested the water with this ensemble in February of this year, and it was a complete delight to work so closely and fruitfully with the imaginative musicians and everyone was keen to continue.

I would describe RSNO Alchemy as a directed ensemble with a heightened sense of chamber music, in which the players are always creatively responding. In Invisible Cities we will begin with concise source material. Then indeed an alchemical mix of direction, realisation and improvisation begins. Some music written, some from hand signals, some free. One signal might mean copy someone else, another means perform a solo, and so the audience and the musicians actually experience music being created before their eyes.

RSNO Associate Leader William Chandler:

The idea is to give participants the freedom to explore some avenues of music-making that might be off the path of what orchestral musicians are normally used to. As someone who is specifically trained to interpret written music, the prospect of not fully knowing what the music will turn out like is thrilling, if a little daunting.

RSNO Alchemy, with Director Peter Wiegold and narrator Lorraine McIntosh, will appear at the Tramway, Glasgow, at 7.30pm on 10 September 2014. For more information please visit www.rsno.org.uk.