The value of a calm head in the ever-changing world of the arts
LAST night the Scottish Chamber Orchestra played the final concert of its 2015/16 season in Glasgow’s City Halls. Although we bad farewell to chief executive Roy McEwan in The Herald on Wednesday, and this week’s concerts featured music he had particularly chosen to hear, it is not as if anyone involved is exactly idle in the coming months. Before the end of the month, the SCO starts its summer concerts, either entire or as groups of string or wind players. Coming up, before the musicians’ contribution to the Edinburgh International Festival, are gigs in (deep breath) Castle Douglas, Duns, Largs, Stirling, Kingussie, Findhorn, East Neuk of Fife, Paxton, Drumnadrochit, Dundee, Skye, Blairgowrie, Callander, Musselburgh, Inverness, Cults, and Blair Atholl. All the right notes, in precisely that order. Selkirk, Helensburgh and Lanark have to wait until September, by which time McEwan will really have gone, handing over to current director of the BBC SSO Gavin Reid after the Festival’s closing Virgin Money Fireworks Concert.
That summer schedule represents a mighty effort of organisation, not just by the orchestra’s admin team, but individually by all the players who, as freelances, have other work on their agendas, as soloists, chamber music group members and teachers for example. What has struck me as I looked at the past year of work by the SCO, was how that relatively small organisation – by comparison with our other national companies – has coped with a recent run of enforced changes with the absolute minimum of fuss. McEwan’s schedule for retiral was surely well-known internally, but a successor for the man who has run the show for almost a quarter of a century still had to be found. Less predictable was the loss of Principal Conductor Robin Ticciati earlier this year, hospitalised by a herniated disc in his spine, and now recovering after surgery. He is due to return to the podium for the orchestra’s Edinburgh Festival concert of Berlioz’s Romeo and Juliet on August 18, and the conclusion of his survey of the works of Johannes Brahms this season was assumed by the happily-available Principal Guest Conductor Emmanuel Krivine (even if the performance of the Requiem needed another late substitution of Roland Wood for Matthias Goerne).
The orchestra has recently lost a very close associate in composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, whose composition Ebb of Winter marked the SCO’s 40th anniversary in 2014, one of a score of works commissioned or premiered by the SCO, including the 10 Strathclyde Concertos written to showcase the talent within this particular ensemble. There was to have been a brand new accordion concerto in the 16/17 season, but “Max” did not complete it before his death, so the concerts at the start of December will now feature the second of those Strathclyde Concertos, for cello, played by the soloist at its 1989 premiere, William Conway. Before then, Linn Records is to release a disc of some of the last recordings the composer oversaw, with young guitarist Sean Shibe as well as the SCO playing Ebb of Winter and the ever popular An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise, which will also feature in the December concerts.
Crisis? What crisis? one might observe. McEwan came to the SCO from an arts management rather than an academically musical background, while his successor is a musician who has moved into management, but however different the two men are, I suspect that the SCO board may have noted in Reid something of the same unflappability that has distinguished the tenure of Roy McEwan. These past months have shown the value of that.