Thursday, 19 February 2015

Sitting in the balcony with an RSNO legend

There is electricity in the rehearsal hall today (Thursday). The atmosphere is positively charged with such energy, such emotion. And the focal point, the man wielding this power, is the legendary conductor Neeme Järvi.

As Conductor Laureate, Neeme has a gloriously rich past with the RSNO. Principal Conductor for 5 years from 1984 to 1988, and a regular guest conductor ever since, he holds a special place in the hearts of the RSNO's musicians and audiences alike, and that fact is inescapable in the rehearsal hall. I am not alone in the balcony today; joining me are donors, RCS conducting students, interns...Everyone is eager to see the master at work.

I've had the privilege of seeing Neeme conduct on many occasions, but this is the first time I've sat in on one of his rehearsals. I've often wondered what rehearsals with Neeme would be like, and it's just as I had imagined, only better! He always commands such powerful performances on stage with his inimitable, almost minimal, style of conducting; the slightest gesture of a hand, a finger, a shoulder, a look, the raise of an eyebrow each conjuring an immense sound from the musicians and it is just so in the rehearsal hall.

Sat on the conductor's stool, his voice is gentle and calm as he direct the musicians through Shostakovich's Fifth. From the power and immense wall of sound in the opening movement to the whispering tremolando accompanying the softest of clarinet and flute figures in the Largo, the sound is immediately, unmistakably Järvi. Perhaps not surprisingly given their history of working together, but they have also spent the last couple of days recording together.

Neeme arrived on Sunday and was straight into an evening recording session with the Orchestra which continued on Monday and Tuesday; no less than fifteen works by Julius Fučik were committed to disc for Chandos.  Now, today, work begins for this weekend's concerts.  It is a schedule that would tire most mere mortals, but at 77 years young, Neeme is showing no signs of slowing down...And thank goodness for that, or we would be denied some truly wonderful performances.

Until the next time...


Neeme Järvi will conduct the RSNO in a programme of Rimsky-Korsakov's Capriccio espagnol, Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No3 with Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, and Shostakovich's Symphony No5 at the Usher Hall, Edinburgh on Friday 20 February 2015, then at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on Saturday 21 February 2015. Tickets can be bought online at 

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Sitting in the balcony thinking about love...

Today (Tue 10 Feb) I'm sitting in the balcony thinking about love...or rather, the relationship between love and music!

One of my favourite Shakespeare quotes is from Much Ado About Nothing, when Benedick says to no-one in particular: "Is it not strange that sheeps' guts should hale souls out of men’s bodies?"  And I quite agree...Strings on musical instruments are not generally made from sheeps' guts these days, but there is simply something about music that can speak straight to the soul. There is certain music which can pull on your heart-strings before your ears really have the chance to listen to it, and this rehearsal that I'm currently enjoying is packed full of it.

This week, the Orchestra is going to be performing some wonderfully passionate music in our special Valentine's concert, Latin Passion. But there's very little slushy romantic sentimentalism here; instead this concert is packed with pulsing, swaying rhythms of Chabrier's Habañera, fiery passion in De Falla's El sombrero de tres picos...It's such an inspiring programme!

This concert is not just featuring classical music though. This year we're also having a foray into the world of love themes from the movies: John Williams' soaring Love Theme from Superman, Morricone's heart-breaking theme Gabriel's Oboe from The Mission (featuring our wonderful new Principal Oboe, Adrian Wilson), and Barry's timeless Theme from Out of Africa.

Our conductor this week is our fabulous French-Canadian Assistant Conductor Jean-Claude Picard. Jean-Claude has been with the Orchestra since June 2013 and his rapport with the musicians is clear to see.  I caught up with Jean-Claude after the rehearsal:

"We just had our first rehearsal this morning for this weekend's concerts and it's quite obvious to me and the musicians that this programme is very seductive. I can't wait to share the passion of the music with our audiences in Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow!"

Our soloist this week is harpist Xavier de Maistre. He'll be performing Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez, a piece more commonly associated with the guitar, but the arrangement for harp is quite something. We came across a video of him performing it with Kristjan Järvi and the Orchestre de Paris, so here it is as a little something to whet your appetite... (

The RSNO's Latin Passion concert will take place in Dundee's Caird Hall on Thursday 12 February, The Usher Hall in Edinburgh on Friday 13 February and the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on Saturday 14 February. Tickets are still available for all performances, priced from just £12.50.  Visit to book.

Until the next time...


Sunday, 8 February 2015

RSNO Young Ambassador 14:15 – Rosie Lavery

Yesterday, on Sat 7 Feb 2015, I went to the RSNO concert A French Feast in the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall – and what a feast it was. I had been particularly excited for this concert, as I have a great love of languages, especially French! Taking my seat with the rest of the ambassadors, after our customary meet and greet of the audience, I felt a shiver of excitement as the lights went down and the oboe played it's first tuning note for the rest of the orchestra. In the past couple of years, that lonely 'A' note has become somewhat of a signpost for me of something spectacular to come – especially whilst sitting in the Concert hall.

Once the orchestra had tuned up, and the audience has quietened down, the conductor Gilbert Varga walked onto the stage, smiling and waving, before beginning to welcome the audience to the concert. He then went on to give us some back ground on the first piece – Les Éolides (The Breezes) by César Franck, in which he asked the audience to imagine a light summers breeze gently tapping on our cheeks as the strings began in a delicate surge of sound. It felt quite unusual actually, to have a conductor speak so intimately about a piece to the audience before beginning, but I found it refreshing and very interesting. The rest of the young ambassadors and I had been discussing before the concert about how we could make Classical Music more accessible to people of our age – and one of the ways we all agreed on was giving the music a bit of context. It's all very well to listen to an orchestra playing a piece and afterwards saying "Oh yes, it was lovely" but soon forgetting it. However, what Gilbert Varga did by actually explaining the background of the piece, actually made the piece into an experience. The piece was absolutely exquisite and completely blew away the audience (breeze pun intended...)

After the rapturous applause of the audience died down, there was a slight pause in the programme as the conductor walked off the stage and was replaced by two stage crew carrying what looked like, according to one of the young ambassadors, 'a giant door'. But yet, it soon became clear as the conductor reappeared with a man holding a cello (Daniel Müller-Schott, world renowned cellist, to be more precise) that this 'giant door' was actually an extra stage – the solo cellist had arrived. And so began the second piece, Cello Concerto No.1 by Saint-Saëns. Beginning with a punchy melismatic line from the soloist, the entire audience was submerged in Daniel Müller-Schott's absolute passion for the music, which you could feel as the notes sang from his bow. I think everyone's reaction to the piece, and the night as a whole, was enraptured in the image of a little tiny girl I spotted in the front row with her grandmother, who within three seconds of the cellist beginning to play, turned round to her gran with wide eyes and mouthed "WOW!"

And to sum up, the rest of the concert was just "WOW!". Going from Fauré's absolutely exquisite and "intimately beautiful" piece, according the conductor – which had me and one of the other Ambassadors in tears – to Ravel’s Ma mère l’oye (Mother Goose) which cheered us up immensely, before a rather impromptu and unscheduled performance of a wonderful Benjamin Britten piece, performed solo cello without orchestra, the night was a complete success.

The concert ended with Ravel’s Le Valse, which told the story of a Waltz's birth and then death. The conductor related this to us using a very complicated extended metaphor of a wizard... I don’t know either... but it was clear the audience had an absolutely amazing night. The clapping bounced off of the walls, going on for ages and raining down on the orchestra, and most importantly Varga and Müller-Schott. And, as I travelled home on the train afterwards, I realised that every fantastic musical night I have begins with a lonely 'A' note from an oboe – and ends with aching hands from clapping! Globalement, c’était absolutement fantastique!

Friday, 6 February 2015

RSNO Young Ambassadors 14:15 – Sophie Lewis

Young Ambassadors Forum #3

Today was the third forum for the RSNO Young Ambassadors. Our focus was on connecting young audiences to centuries-old music which is something we all feel is important. We started off with a roundup of all we had done in our communities, which was interesting as everyone had been really busy and had made great progress. We decided that because a lot of us wanted to go to organisations and schools to talk about what we do that it would be a good idea to plan out a presentation that we could all use. This was good fun as everyone had great ideas as to what to put in and it allowed us to get a bit creative. After this, we brainstormed ways in which we thought we could connect young people to old music and turned our thoughts into questions that we could later ask the audience. We also got our Young Ambassador badges from Megan; my blazer will look great now!

During our market research with the audience, we met some really helpful people who had some great suggestions and ideas, which is always encouraging. I love getting out and speaking to the audience and when they are so receptive and willing to chat it makes the experience even better. 

The programme for tonight’s concert – A French Feast – was one that I had been looking forward to a lot! Perhaps, as a cellist, I am biased but it was one of the best concerts yet! Daniel Müller-Schott was incredible; I was completely in awe at the way he played the Saint-Saëns Cello Concerto. The technicality of the piece and the passion he played with both amazed me. When this then led into the Fauré Elégie I thought I was in music heaven. The Elégie is one of my favourite pieces for the cello and as I am currently studying it in my music lessons it was amazing to hear it live and played so beautifully. Being sat close to the stage, you could really feel the emotion, and as a cellist I really connected to that as I’m sure many of the other Young Ambassadors did. The encore that Müller-Schott played was a great surprise and rounded off a beautiful section amazingly. I was inspired to go home and practice myself; much to my families dislike! I loved every part of the first half and would gladly sit through it again and again and again. 

The second half of the concert was equally as amazing. It amazed me how together the orchestra was in Ravel's La Valse. You just got swept up on the music and let the orchestra take over. The conductor's comments on the music really put you in the right frame of mind to listen and this was great to hear. It was a shame to end the concert, to be honest, I could have listened all night!

Sophie Lewis, Young Ambassador 14:15 for North Ayshire

Thursday, 29 January 2015

RSNO Young Ambassador 14:15 – Rachel Hendry

Review of Buniatishvili plays Liszt at the Music Hall, Aberdeen on Thursday 29 January 2015 The concert opened with a piece by Schumann. This isn't a composer whose work I am very familiar with, so I wasn't sure what to expect. The piece was Overture, Scherzo and Finale. I liked the elegant opening section but I really loved the lively Finale. Next was the highlight of the evening. The pianist, Khatia Buniatishvili, played Liszt's Piano Concerto No2 in A major. Again, this piece was new to me, but I really enjoyed it. I loved the way it didn't have 3 separate movements but three contrasting sections with the same beautiful melody running through it. I thought Khatia was amazing I couldn't take my eyes off her hands as she played – her performance was spellbinding! After the gentle opening I was quite surprised by the harsh, crashing style of the finale. After the interval we were treated to two more beautiful pieces of music; Siegfried Idyll by Richard Wagner and Symphony No1, Spring by Robert Schumann. I enjoyed the soft gentle sound of the Idyll, but I really loved the more dramatic Spring, which was a wonderful end to a lovely evening.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

RSNO Work Experience: Chris Wesley, Dunblane High School, Dunblane, Stirlingshire

For the past three days I’ve been at the Royal Scottish National Orchestra gaining valuable insight into the management of an orchestra. The main focus of my short time here has been to create graphics and posts using the social networking site Tumblr for next year’s Springfest, a festival of music in Dundee. I’ve hugely improved my skills in programs such as Photoshop and created promotional graphics and information to inform the public of concerts during the festival. 

I also sat in on an improvisation workshop from musicians of the RSNO. It was incredibly interesting to listen to such unique styles of playing and how each instrument blends together to create beautiful sounding harmonies and rhythms all whilst even the musicians are out of their comfort zone as improvisation is rarely used in their repertoire. 

On my last day, I listened to a rehearsal for the St Andrew’s Party concert with Scottish duo Phil & Aly. This was great to listen to as traditional Scottish music wasn’t a style I was very familiar with. It also included students from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and a drummer, which was quite unique. 

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time at the RSNO and everyone I’ve met has been very friendly and welcoming. I know if I decide to try a career in music or in orchestra management there are great opportunities available such as apprenticeships here at the RSNO.            

Friday, 21 November 2014

RSNO Work Experience: Eilidh Allison, Alva Academy, Alva, Clackmannanshire

RSNO Work Experience, November 2014
by Eilidh Allison, Alva Academy, Alva, Clackmannanshire

Day 1
On Monday, I helped Christine – the RSNO's Chorus Manager – print sheet music and fold them into booklets. It was good to see what is needed to be done to prepare for rehearsals. It has made me appreciate the time and effort teachers put in to preparing our lessons. I also got the chance to listen to the RSNO Junior Chorus.

Day 2
On Tuesday, I created a survey using survey monkey, an online evaluation tool. I then watched the orchestra rehearse. I really enjoyed watching the orchestra as I had never seen a professional orchestra perform live before.

Day 3
On Wednesday, I was given the opportunity to watch Nicola Benedetti rehearsing with the orchestra. Watching Nicola perform was amazing and made me want to go home and practice for hours!

Day 4
For the final day, I helped prepare for the concert in Dundee. I am very much looking forward to the concert tonight to hear the orchestra perform.

Overall I have really enjoyed my work experience at the RSNO and been given many amazing opportunities. I hope to attend a number of RSNO concerts in the future.

Eilidh was part of the RSNO's Work Experience scheme, arranged by the Learning and Engagement Department. All views expressed by Work Experience participants belong to those of the individual and are not representative of the organisation. For more information, visit the RSNO website.