Wednesday 7 April 2010

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra unveil their 2010/11 season (and more)

One of the things on my to do list, following the success of my interview with Donald Runnicles, is to line up a few more. High on my list of potential interviewees is the principal conductor of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Robin Ticciati. One of the questions that I very much wanted to put to him, and one I put to Runnicles, is that given his operatic experience (Ticciati was music director of Glyndebourne on Tour for several years prior to starting at the SCO), is whether he might favour us with some opera in concert during the regular season.


I say wanted to put to him, because it's now rather redundant: Ticciati will open the 2010/11 season with a performance of Don Giovanni. The cast includes Florian Boesch as the titular Don, Kate Royal as Donna Elvira and Susan Gritton as Donna Anna. In the space of a couple of months we're going to be really spoilt for Mozart, as this follows Mackerras's festival performance of Idomeneo. The selection of Mozart is a canny one, capitalising on the legacy of the orchestra's opera recordings with Mackerras. True, it invites comparison to the great octogenarian, but Ticciati has trod this ground already, and generally with success. And, of course, there's the SCO chorus under Gregory Batsleer, who have plenty to sink their teeth into here and elsewhere.

Speaking of Mackerras, his annual in season visits are a regular highlight, all the better then, that this year we get two. Towards the end of November, he is on hand to conduct what promises to be a thrilling Messiah (presumably the original and not the Mozart arrangement he's recorded in both German and English). To make things better there are the soloists, who include Christine Rice and Matthew Rose (readers will remember his superb performance in Berlioz's L'enfance du Christ a few months ago). He returns in May 2011 to close the season off with an all Mozart programme featuring the Jupiter symphony (No.41) and the Requiem (presumably in the Levin completion he has recorded with the orchestra).

Of course, this is Ticciati's first full season as principal conductor - he only took up post in December and has only had five concerts last season. This time round we get a further seven after the opener. There's a lot of Haydn on the menu, which is very nice - he's a composer too often neglected, yet his late symphonies are to die for.

In December there's Ravel's piano concerto and Beethoven's 4th symphony followed by a second programme featuring Webern's concerto for nine instruments, op.24, Mozart's 21st piano concert (with Lars Vogt) and Brahms' 4th symphony. In January we get Britten's Nocturne and Schumann's 4th symphony, not to mention Stravinsky's Jeu de Cartes with Haydn's The Hen (symphony No.83) and scenes from The Nutcracker (perhaps a little too popular a programme, if I'm honest). That said, some of his others are sprinkled more challenging music: in February a programme featuring Haydn's Miracle (symphony No.96) and more Stravinsky also contains the world premiere of Faure's melodies orchestrated by Colin Matthews. The strong Stravinsky flavour is part of a chamber ballets theme for the season.

Perhaps his most exciting programme, though, comes in March: Haydn's Surprise (symphony No.94) opens proceedings, this is followed by Szymanowski's second violin concerto and Stravinsky's Orpheus. The soloist is the superb Renaud Capuçon. Of course, what is especially interesting is that, as the eagle-eyed amongst you will already have noticed, this concerto is exactly what Denève is giving us with the RSNO and Frank Peter Zimmerman in November, which should make for an interesting comparison. His final programme also treads on the toes of Denève (and indeed Runnicles) when he follows Wagner's Siegfried Idyll and Schreker's Chamber Symphony with Faure's Requiem (let's hope he has the good sense to play it last).

Beyond that, come two other main strands. There's Mozart at the piano, which is nice as far as it goes, the more so as I love his piano concertos. It's a slight pity, though, that the selections are the predictable favourites such as 20, 21, 24, 25 and 27. Robert Levin does give us 17, but that's about as brave is it gets. Whither, say, 12, long a favourite of mine, or some of the early teens?

There is also the New Romantics. Readers will be relieved, or perhaps disappointed, to learn that this is not the SCO's foray into the music of Spandau Ballet and their ilk, but rather a selection of music from the last 50 years or so. This is good, but doesn't feel quite so brave as the RSNO's Ten our of 10. Potential highlights include John Adams' Son of Chamber Symphony, Ingram Marshall's Orphic Memories and Albert Schnelzer's oboe concerto The Enchanter. These are generally mixed in with more popular works, the latter, for example, paired with Beethoven seven, so hopefully they can tempt in a reasonable number of Edinburgh's rather conservative audience. Then again, I predict Joseph Swensen's programme of Delius's The Walk to the Paradise Garden, Walton's viola concerto, Adams' Shaker Loops and Copland's Appalachian Spring will not sell well. I hope I'm wrong, because it looks an absolutely scintillating concert.

Some of the most adventurous programmes, though I should probably be a little careful with that wording, since that group of concerts was officially retired at the end of last season, are those under the baton of Gary Walker. In one programme Battistelli's Fair is foul, foul is fair (which had its premiere at last summer's festival), joins a piece from Harper and some Britten.

Walker and Harper also feature in an early afternoon family concert centred on The Voice of a City with a choir of over three hundred drawn from local schools. Harper, of course, was working on a new symphony, due to air this season, at the time of his death last year. Interestingly, Oliver Knussen's doubtless unmissable programme, is a little tame in so far as new music is concerned, not attracting the New Romantics moniker, with only a seven minute Knussen arrangement of Mussorgsky joining Schumann's cello concerto and some Debussy.

Perhaps to make up for the new music, there are one or two programmes that are a little poppy and chunky for my liking. April's Symphonic Opera, features exerts from Figaro, Cosi, Il barbiere di Siviglia and L'italiana in Algeri, albeit bookended by Mozart's Haffner (symphony No.35) and Haydn's Bear (symphony No.82) symphonies. Similarly there is Richard Egarr's visit with Zadock the Priest (though it is perhaps slightly unfair to lump these two programmes together).

On the plus side, I note that for the first time in four seasons, we are not being treated the Mendelssohn's Scottish symphony. Result! Not that I've anything against it, just that you can have too much of a good thing, and in this regard we certainly have.

It's not quite all good. While it's nice that there is no further drop in the number of chamber concerts, this year holding steady at two, it is a pity the number isn't rising back towards former heights. The situation is the odder as the RSNO will actually be giving more chamber concerts in Edinburgh next season! Still, be thankful for what we have. In February comes a programme with pianist Francesco Piemontesi featuring Schumann's Kriesleriana and Beethoven's op.16 quintet. Then in April another pianist, Robert Levin, is on hand for Beethoven's op.11 trio, Mozart's piano sonata K576, his sonata for bassoon and cello, and his quintet K452.

As ever, there is the early evening Cl@six series. And, as ever, they disappointingly continue to be held in the unacceptable acoustic of St Cuthbert's Parish Church. If you don't mind listening to music in a room so reverberant all the musical lines blur into an indistinct and messy soup, then go right ahead. I'll not be wasting my money and I suggest you do the same. It's a pity, as there are one or two interesting things, such as Nielsen's Little Suite, Schubert's 3rd symphony and Haydn's Drum Roll symphony (No.103).

The other major regret is that while we get Mackerras twice, we don't get Christian Zacharias at all. This is a terrible shame as his visits have been a regular highlight, something that will likely be repeated a week on Thursday when, in a fascinating programme, he pairs Schubert's D850 sonata with the Great C major symphony. Another notable absence is Paul Lewis. And, while I'm griping, where's James Lowe? He had a great debut standing in for Franz Bruggen a few years ago but all he got to do this season was the albeit important Masterworks education concerts (hopefully he is again, but that isn't mentioned in the press release). Where is his officially programmed debut? Come on SCO! Lastly, I'll note that with two orchestra's down there's still no sign of Rachel Barton Pine's return to Scotland - will the BBC SSO ride to my rescue in this regard? Still, you can't have everything I suppose.

Speaking of the BBC SSO, they round off the (remarkably well co-ordinated) season launches this year with their effort on Monday. Where's Runnicles will be present to report.

But wait, what's this, the new season isn't all that's new: the SCO has a new 'corporate identity'. I'm afraid that's the sort of phrase that sends a shiver down my spine, bringing to mind millions wasted on things like Consignia or the 2012 logo. True, the new SCO logo looks nice enough, but I thought the old one looked pretty nice too. In some ways I preferred it (somehow it felt more musical - the wavey line perhaps), judge for yourself below. Then:




Though it is true the new one is more easily worked into other words, such as with SCO Connect (the new name for the orchestra's education department):


Nice so far is it goes, I only hope they didn't waste too much money on it. Worth noting that it doesn't have the cleverness of the LSO's conductor/letters. While they're considering identity, they might think about spinning off the eduction twitter into a separate feed (which, important though it is, at present dominates a bit too much - at times I feel I'm tweeting about the SCO's concerts and music more than they are).

Of course, for those without access to the SCO's press e-mails, full details will appear on their website later today (this article will be updated with links in due course - Update: and here they areAberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and St Andrews) and brochures should be dropping through your letterbox anytime soon.

In the meantime, as ever, the comments are available below for your thoughts.

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