Today I'm back in my favourite seat in Henry Wood Hall; up in the balcony listening to the first rehearsal of the week. As poppies start appearing on lapels across the land, the RSNO will be performing a very special programme to commemorate Remembrance Day in Edinburgh and Glasgow.
This week's concerts are conducted by Rory Macdonald – a young Scot who is establishing a great career conducting in the likes of Covent Garden, Vienna Konzerthaus, Sydney Opera House and the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing. Earlier this week he spoke to Kate Molleson of The Herald:
"There's a special kind of nervousness that applies to performing at home. How can there not be? I'll have friends, family, my old music teachers in the audience. They'll all be remembering me as a wee boy."
And he was right, in a way. When Rory arrived last week for an RSNO chorus rehearsal with Sally Beamish (for the Scottish Premiere of her new work Equal Voices), I realised we were seeing each other for the first time in about 14 or 15 years. You see, Rory and I played in West of Scotland Schools Symphony Orchestra (WSSSO) together between 1996 and 1998, under the baton of William Conway. But I wouldn't say I remember him as a "wee boy". Even back then, I realised that Rory was an immensely talented individual. When we first met, I was in 3rd year at school sitting in the second violins; he was in 5th year – the leader of the Orchestra, and an incredible violinist. (Incidentally, it turned out that his then desk partner, Martin Suckling, would go on to great things too. His compositions have been performed by orchestras such as the LSO, BBC SSO, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, London Sinfonietta, Scottish Ensemble and Hebrides Ensemble and he is currently the Composer in Association with our colleagues at the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.)
I mention my time at WSSSO not simply because it's how I knew Rory back in the day, but because in our second year at WSSSO –Rory still leading, me now in the ranks of the first violins – we performed Elgar's Enigma Variations, one of the pieces he will be conducting with the RSNO this week. I still have very fond memories of the residential week of rehearsals in Castle Toward and the performances that followed so this is why, when I saw Rory's name on the Season planning documents alongside the Enigma Variations, I just knew within myself that this week's concerts were going to be great.
I had to just stop writing there. The orchestra had just got to that amazing bit where the last note from the eighth variation leads into the ninth... Nimrod. I just had to stop and listen. My heart is thumping and I don't mind admitting that my eyes are welling up. Wow.
Right, where was I? Ah yes, the concerts. Elgar's Enigma Variations are simply stunning. And I'm not just talking about Nimrod. My personal favourite is actually the twelfth – B.G.N. The soaring cello line is so intense; hesitant in places, insistent in others. It has an inherent sadness, and yet, so beautiful...
It's little wonder that this piece, alongside his Cello Concerto which Aleksei Kiseliov performed so wonderfully a couple of weeks ago, is considered one of Elgar's best compositions and is a firm favourite amongst British Orchestras and audiences alike.
You can hear Elgar's Enigma Variations, conducted by Rory Macdonald, on Friday 7 November in the Usher Hall, Edinburgh and on Saturday 8 November at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. Both concerts start at 7.30pm.
If you haven't got your tickets yet, please visit www.rsno.org.uk/whatson
Until the next time...