RSNO on Tour: follow along! - Royal Scottish National Orchestra
RSNO on Tour: follow along!

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RSNO on Tour: follow along! Posted Tue 16 January 2024

RSNO on Tour: follow along!

We’re travelling to 6 cities in 8 days, with 90 musicians and staff, Music Director Thomas Søndergård and soloist Ray Chen, as part of a Winter Tour of Europe. Follow along on our social media channels and on this page as our musicians share what they get up to, both in and around each of the concert halls.

Concert 6: Lucerne – RSNO Associate Principal Cellist Betsy Taylor

Fast and Lucerne!

I can’t believe it’s the last night! We’ve been in 6 cities in 8 days and now that our whirlwind tour of Europe draws to a close, we find ourselves in the stunning city of Lucerne, Switzerland, a fitting finale to our musical journey. Lucerne, with its breathtaking Alpine backdrop and the serene Lucerne Lake, feels like stepping into a living postcard.

Luckily we made good time on our coach journey from Ludwigsburg so were able to soak up the sun and scenery in Lucerne for a couple of hours before our rehearsal. We walked across the Kapellbrucke wooden bridge which was like something out of a Harry Potter movie, and also enjoyed some delicious coffee and cake whilst admiring the stunning views.

Then the whole orchestra gathered at the KKL Luzern for our final tour seating call, a marvel of modern architecture juxtaposed against the city’s historical tapestry. The acoustics of the concert hall, renowned as one of the best in the world, added an extra layer of excitement to our performance in the concert. You only have to lightly touch the bow on the string for it to spring to life. This allowed for a greater variety of dynamics which was inspiring.

The audience enjoyed it so much they clapped after every movement in Scheherazade. As usual, we had a standing ovation after our Eightsome Reels and it was lovely to see a large Scottish banner waving from the crowds!


Usually, the last night of the tour is our party night – sadly not so this time as after the concert we are coached to Zurich airport for our flight home on Monday morning. (But never fear – we got our tour party a couple of nights ago so we didn’t miss out!)

And finally – to continue the supportive theme, no bras tonight, not even a candela-bra, but we have appreciated all the Bra-vos received throughout this jam-packed tour!

Concert 5: Ludwigsburg – Rosie Clark (Communications and Marketing)

There are 6 members of RSNO staff on tour with the Orchestra this January: Alistair Mackie (Chief Executive), Tammo Schuelke (Planning), Xander Van Vliet (Orchestra Management), Ashley Holland (Stage Management), Jim O’Brien (Stage Management) and me, Rosie. On this tour, I am looking after all External Relations activity including this blog, social media, receptions and meetings with ambassadors and local officials, on top of any urgent parts of my regular day-to-day responsibilities I can find time for. It’s busy! We’ve been very lucky to perform with Ray Chen on this set of concerts and as certified royalty of classical music social media he has certainly made my job easier.

We arrived into Ludwigsburg with a couple of hours before the rehearsal began. After an hour or so of editing photos and posting yesterday’s blog and social media, I ventured out into the cold for a quick walk around the icy gardens of the Residenzschloss Ludwigsburg. It was all very grand and just gorgeous in the frosty sunshine.

The concert hall itself was quite unique with a skinny little passageway to access the stage. At one point after the rehearsal, I found myself on stage as the local stage team brought down the solid iron fire defence with sirens blazing, separating the strings and winds on either side. Quite a sight!

At last night’s concert in Ludwigsburg, we luckily avoided any further drama with broken strings and Ray treated our audience to a second encore of Paganini’s Caprice No21 to celebrate. Ray was also gifted a plushie from the front row at the end of the concert – scroll to see ‘Boba’ with Ray and Pei-Jee!

Until yesterday, Ray has been playing his own arrangement of the Australian classic ‘Waltzing Matilda’ as an encore, for which the original melody was actually written by a Scotsman! Now we know he’s got another encore up his sleeve, it’ll be interesting to hear which he chooses for our final concert tonight in Lucerne.

Free day in Mannheim

Friday was a free day for the Orchestra and it was well needed. After four consecutive nights of concerts in Antwerp, Eindhoven, Munich and Mannheim, a day to explore Mannheim’s culture, entertainment and restaurants was welcomed. We started off with a leisurely breakfast before going our separate ways into the city (and beyond!)…

Our first group of Caroline, Veronica, Paul, and Lisa travelled the 20 miles to nearby Heidelberg to scale Der Könogstuhl (568 metres) for amazing views over the Rhine plain and the Neckar Valley, and to treat themselves to a hot beverage and a slice of cake at the top!

Others also visited Heidelberg, some like Jacqui, Pippa, Alison, Lorna, Paolo and Nigel by train…

Although trains haven’t always been the most exciting of our journeys so far, particularly for Marion and Harriet…

Adrian even made his own way there along the banks of the Rhine, running an impressive 26km for a well-deserved reward and making a new friend on the way.

Many a coffee was had yesterday as it was below freezing for most of the day. Here, a lovely-looking example from John.

On a different schedule, a group took themselves off to their home-from-home – the football! Karlsruhe played Osnabrück as part of Bundesliga 2 (finishing 2-1) and they even got to meet Willi Wildpark, mascot to the winning team. Well wrapped up against the elements, it was a successful trip made all the better by meeting Willi the warthog.

Others went out into Mannheim to sample the local cuisine. Last night was notable as the first lower brass section night out and with a combined total of 107 RSNO years between them, you could say it’s been a long time coming!

Exploring instead the local entertainment Patrick, Rosalie, Liam and Robin did an excellent job at finding their way out of an escape room.

Finally, some of our double bass section decided to brave the snow on the local transportation and, impressively, all made it back to the hotel in one piece!

Concert 4: Mannheim – RSNO Cellist Robert Anderson

Mannheim: the city that gave the world the automobile, rocket-powered aircraft and Steffi Graf. Way back in 2008 I had a great year studying a bit further north, in Bremen, and I always really enjoy coming back to Germany; Konzerthallen and Bierhallen are both taken extremely seriously, which makes it a fantastic touring destination for the discerning orchestral musician.

There was a fair amount of snow on the ground when we arrived off the train from Munich. The previous day had been a long one, so it was great to have a few hours of downtime to relax. I like wandering around cities that I don’t know and getting a feel for the place, but for a bit of inside knowledge I asked the RSNO’s very own Associate Principal Bassoon Luis Eisen, who is an ex-Mannheimer, for some tips. He recommended checking out Luisenpark (possibly just because it’s got his name on it) and the Kunstehalle for a bit of culture. After that it was time for some hearty traditional German fayre (i.e. pre-concert stodge).

Mannheim’s concert hall is a fantastic modern space inside the Art Nouveau “Rosengarten” building. During the gig we had another broken E string from Ray Chen (he did a frankly incredible job of finishing the Tchaikovsky concerto on Leader Maya’s violin), but today no underwear was thrown at the stage at any point, as far as I could tell.

Next up the band has a rare free tour day; more than 24 hours off before the bus to Ludwigsburg. What’s the Wurst that could happen?

Concert 3: Munich – RSNO Violinist Ursula Heidecker Allen

The day in Eindhoven had finished with a slight headache for our organisers. Due to a horrendous weather forecast of freezing rain, one of our two flights from Düsseldorf to München was cancelled, so 20 people had to be rebooked onto our flight, or a train. Against all the odds though we all arrived in München on time and had a wee hour to check into the hotel and relax a bit. Then we took the bus to our concert venue, the beautiful shoe box shaped Herkulessaal in the Münchner Residenz. It derives its name from 12 large tapestries all around the walls showing the labours of Hercules, has a beautiful warm sound and is also the venue for the Bavarian Radio Orchestra. A huge thanks here to our stage crew Ashley and Jim! They had planned to set up from 2.30pm onwards, but due to an afternoon rehearsal of our Bavarian colleagues were only able to go in at 4.30pm. Enter Ronnie Herd who used to be the Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s roadie but who’s now with the BR. He knows the hall’s many backstage nooks and crannies and helped our crew negotiate their way round a tiny lift and many different floors and find spaces for our instrument boxes. It was quite a challenge for them but by the time we arrived everything was ready and set up for us. They’re amazing – we wouldn’t be able to do our jobs without them and they make our stage lives possible no matter where we are. Thank you!

Mentioning stage lives, we had a big programme to play – James MacMillan’s Britannia plus Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. After Ray’s rock-star moment the night before we had been jokingly wondering what else might be thrown off or onto the stage, but we certainly weren’t prepared for a black bra being hurled from the upstairs gallery in Ray’s direction! It caused huge hilarity on stage once we realised what it was, and you can already admire it on Ray’s Instagram page! What on earth will be next, we wonder!? The rest of the concert went well, it was a huge honour to be able to play in this beautiful hall, and the audience was very enthusiastic!

To show my colleagues at least some of our Bavarian hospitality I had organised (with the huge help of my cousin Gerhard who lives in München) a visit to the Franziskaner Brewery for after the concert.  As it had been a really long day not so many people came but those who went loved it! The atmosphere is lively and fun, the beer delicious, the food nice and even vegetarians stand a chance these days, so it was the perfect way to round off a busy day.

Now we’re on the train to Mannheim and as I write this we’re passing through my home town of Augsburg, near München. It feels seriously weird not getting off here and visiting home! But the sun is out and there’s a concert to be played in Mannheim tonight. Robert will tell you what we’ll be up to for the rest of the day in tomorrow’s post.

Concert 2: Eindhoven – RSNO Violist Francesca Hunt

I feel so fortunate to be taken to so many new places on RSNO tours that I may not otherwise have the opportunity to visit. Wandering around Eindhoven, we were taken by surprise when the cathedral bells started playing the theme tune to the film ‘The Godfather’. We’re still not sure what that was all about! I also love watching everyone living their lives on their bikes in the Netherlands, it’s so well set up for it. I’m not brave enough to attempt it in Glasgow, but I love the cycling vibe here.

I’m a big art fan and any free time we have in a new city I like to use to check out local galleries and squeeze in some art between travel and rehearsal. Yesterday, I went to Eindhoven’s Van Abbemuseum, a modern art gallery a short walk from the concert hall. This gallery had some interesting Picasso, Mondrian and Chagall on offer, so I’m happy to have ticked those off my list. The building itself had artwork on the roof stating the words ‘Turn Panic into Magic’ which I thought may be a useful mantra to use before any particularly tricky moments in concerts!

Concert two of our tour was rather eventful last night in Eindhoven. The audience was very enthusiastic, so much so that they were all singing along when Ray Chen played his rendition of the Aussie classic ‘Waltzing Matilda’ for an encore. I’m not sure they knew all the words but they were definitely getting into it. Although, apparently the audience in Eindhoven always receive a free beer in the interval so maybe that’s why they were so up for a singalong! Everyone (orchestra and audience alike) also enjoyed the drama caused by one of Ray Chen’s strings snapping in the final bars of the Tchaikovsky concerto, especially when he threw the broken string into the stalls to his fans as if at a rock concert and then casually put a new one on while explaining the story behind the encore to come. The Eindhoven concert hall was great to play in and we particularly enjoyed the huge green room backstage complete with a football table that kept our woodwind section entertained in a tense match during the interval. Reckon you can tell who won? Answers on a postcard!

Concert 1: Antwerp – RSNO Principal Tuba John Whitener

Hallo en welkom in Antwerpen!

The RSNO kicks off our first tour of 2024 in style via one of Europe’s greatest cities, Antwerp Belgium. The ton was abuzz as we all coalesced at Glasgow airport in preparation for our first flight to London. Tours are always an exciting venture for musicians and staff alike as we not only get to play in some of the world’s best concert halls, explore new places and rediscover old favourites, but often find ourselves engaged in fantastic conversation with colleagues whom we rarely get a chance to know better… Let’s just say we’re only one day in and I already know a lot more about bees than I thought my life had in store, courtesy of percussionist/apiarist John Poulter.

From London we had a short flight to Brussels followed by a coach to our hotel in Antwerp. This time I had quite a lot to carry: not only did I have my normal carry on and luggage, but I was taking one of my tubas along with me as well (with only the slightest bit of embarrassment, I must admit to having 5 tubas – and a cimbasso on the way, however for this tour only 3 of them are required. I know, right?).

After a bit of orchestra bonding that evening, followed by a free morning with some taking in the sights between snowflakes, and others relaxing in the hotel, it was time for us to get to work. I believe this might be our second visit to the Queen Elizabeth Hall since I joined in 2009 and this fantastic venue never gets old. It sounds as beautiful as it looks, and it was clear the orchestra revelled stretching their musical legs in this space. As there’s no tuba in the first half of the concert (MacMillan’s “For Zoe” and Tchaikovsky’s “Violin Concerto”), once we finished rehearsing Scheherazade and former RSNO principal horn Chris Gough’s flashy encore “Eightsome Reels 2.0”, the start of the 2nd half of rehearsal had me braving the slushy sideways rain back to the hotel for a rest, followed by dinner with colleagues before the show.

Our concert that evening went off without a hitch; the orchestra sounding absolutely brilliant if I do say so myself, and set a high bar to open our city hopping series of performances. If this is “start as we mean to go on”, we’re in for a doozie of a tour.

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