First published in The Herald on 19 September, 2018
The dawn of a new era for the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, with fresh management on the way (yet to be appointed) and a promising reshuffle on the podium. We already know how sleek and energised and generally alive the orchestra can sound under Thomas Sondergard – he was principal guest conductor for six seasons, always getting the best from the band – so it’s tantalising to hear how he’ll develop the ensemble now he’s been promoted to music director. And as if to cement the new role, Sondergard will be in Scotland a lot before Christmas: he opens the season with Mahler’s Fifth Symphony (4 October, Dundee; 5 October, Edinburgh; 6 October, Glasgow) then turns to Ravel’s sultry, lambent Sheherazade with mezzo Catriona Morrison (12 October, Edinburgh; 13 October, Glasgow; 14 October, Aberdeen), Poulenc’s grandiose choral Gloria (8 November, Perth; 9 November, Edinburgh; 10 November, Glasgow) and Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra (23 November, Edinburgh; 24 November, Glasgow).
Meanwhile, don’t miss a giant of Polish music, Krzysztof Penderecki, conducting the RSNO in his own Violin Concerto and Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony (30 November, Edinburgh; 1 December, Glasgow) and the bright-spirited Elim Chan – who fills Sondergard’s shoes as principal guest conductor – conducting Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances (1 November, Dundee; 2 November, Edinburgh; 3 November, Glasgow).
The Scottish Chamber Orchestra voyages forth without a principal conductor until 30-year-old Maxim Emelyanychev takes up the baton next September. More on him another day. Highlights of the autumn chez SCO include period specialist Kristian Bezuidenhout conducting Mozart (31 October, Dumfries; 1 November, Edinburgh; 2 November, Glasgow), the incisive Karina Canellakis – newly appointed Chief Conductor of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra – conducting Mendelssohn and Bach (13 December 13, Glasgow; 14 December, Edinburgh) and the season opens with violinist Vilde Frang, she of the most astute and charismatic interpretations, playing Beethoven’s Violin Concerto (26 September, Perth; 27 September, Edinburgh; 28 September, Glasgow).
The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra kicks off its season tomorrow night with an all-American affair but it’s the following week that I want to flag up here: Thomas Dausgaard championing the music of Danish maverick Rued Langgaard with a surround-sound performance in Glasgow Cathedral of Langgaard’s heady, celestial, whole-heartedly apocalyptic Music of the Spheres (26 September, Glasgow). Also clear your diaries to witness Ilan Volkov conducting Frank Zappa – a nervy, zany, multiform jamboree called The Perfect Stranger (25 October, Glasgow) – and for a portrait concert devoted to Gloria Coates (17 November, Glasgow).
The Dunedin Consort, Edinburgh’s world-class baroque ensemble, go roaming in their repertoire this autumn, tracing historic links between Scotland and the Continent. They explore the music of a Monsieur Georg Muffat: he had Scottish ancestry but was born in France in 1653 and was known, thrillingly, for his “remarkably articulate and informative performance directions” (17-21 October in Kendal, Edinburgh, Aberdeen & Glasgow). A second programme luxuriates in the opulent glories of the Spanish Golden Age – Tomás Luis de Victoria in the company of his Scottish contemporaries David Peebles and Robert Johnson (29 November, Inverness; 30 November, Edinburgh; 1 December, Dunkeld). And should you need a top-up of John Butt, the visionary music director of the Dunedin Consort, don’t miss him conducting Handel & Telemann with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall (29 November, Glasgow).
The Scottish Ensemble teams up with clarinettist Matthew Hunt, whom you might have caught at the Proms as star principal clarinettist of Paavo Jarvi’s hand-picked Estonian Festival Orchestra. This autumn he tours Scotland playing clarinet quintets by Brahms, Mozart and John Luther Adams (7 – 12 October, Dumfries, Perth, Edinburgh, Inverness, Glasgow). Later in the season, look out for a new music/dance multiform piece from the Scottish Ensemble based around the music of Beethoven, Bach and Lutoslawski (9-15 November, Glasgow, Dundee, Inverness).
The gutsy Sound Festival finds a sweet spot between local, international and community contemporary music making; this year’s opening weekend includes a formidable concert from Red Note Ensemble with the Scottish premiere of James Dillon Tanz/haus: triptych 2017 – a piece of melancholia and grit, an intoxicating swirl of languid psych-rock and nostalgic arch-modernism – plus new work for viola d’amore and band by Argentinian composer Oscar Strasnoy (26 October). Elsewhere there’s a portrait concert focusing on the composer Diana Burrell (25 October); pianist Matthew Schellhorn plays music by Irish composer Deirdre Mackay and the world premiere of a newly discovered piece by Herbert Howells (26 October); Sally Beamish performs in her own new work for six violas (3 November), and throughout the festival you can experience a new version of Thomas Tallis’s towering Spem in Alium — a 16th century masterpiece for 40 voices, now arranged by violist Nic Pendlebury of the Smith Quartet in an installation for, obviously, 40 electric violas. Sound runs 24 October – 4 November in Aberdeen and environs.
There’s a few more days to catch the Lammermuir Festival, which runs until the weekend in East Lothian’s most genteel enclaves. The ten-day programme is notably devoid of a single work by a woman, but otherwise the lineup is classy and wide-ranging. Catch the superlative, super-stylish Danish String Quartet playing Bach, Mendelssohn and Beethoven (20 September, Port Seton); clarinettist/composer Mark Simpson directing the Scottish Chamber Orchestra Winds in Mozart’s sublime Gran Partita (22 September, Haddington); harpists Emily Hoile and Marion Ravot giving the Scottish premiere of Stockhausen’s mesmerising Freude (22 September, Haddington); and the festival closes on a serene note with the voices of Stile Antico surveying 18th century Lutheran funeral music (23 September, Haddington).
Finally: prize for most seductive selling point goes to NOISE (New Opera In Scotland Events), whose latest endeavour, Navigate the Blood, tells the story of a husband and wife who run a small independent distillery in rural Scotland. With music by Gareth Williams in collaboration with indie folk-rock darlings Admiral Fallow, the opera works as a site-specific booze cruise, touring distilleries throughout Scotland. 2 November – 25 November at a distillery near you.