One of the UK’s most pioneering string orchestras, the Scottish Ensemble, is marking its 50th anniversary by taking music to an even wider audience in its new season.
The programme of events for 2019/2020, launched this week, celebrates SE’s distinctive, open minded music making, which has established the group’s reputation in Scotland and across the world.
The band was founded in 1969 by violinist Leonard Friedman and publisher John Calder because Calder’s Ledlanet Nights, an arts festival at Ledlanet House in Kinrosshire, needed an orchestra to perform in its 18th century opera productions.
Even then, the Scottish Baroque Ensemble (as it was called from 1969 to 1984) traversed musical genres, and took classical string music out of the concert hall and into public spaces.
In the past seven years, SE has embarked upon a further journey of transformation, driven by a desire to keep the music it champions – music for strings – relevant.
Now, the ensemble is increasingly known for its cross-artform productions, as well as its unconventional approach to where, how and with whom it performs classical music.
This is reflected in its upcoming season, which features a broad mix of disciplines and artists, including theatre company Untitled Projects, Icelandic composer/producer Valgeir Sigurðsson, harpsichordist and Arcangelo artistic director Jonathan Cohen, and social enterprise Social Bite.
SE artistic director Jonathan Morton said: ‘It’s such an exciting time for Scottish Ensemble and, looking back over 50 years, it’s fascinating to see how far it has come.
‘SE has shared the power and enjoyment of music with a whole range of people, not only in Scotland, but across the world – and it’s showing no signs of stopping any time soon.
‘I am really looking forward to a season that pays homage to some of our roots – be that getting back to baroque music or telling stories through song.
‘But perhaps more so, I am hopeful this season will light up our collective curiosity with its mix of different perspectives, vivid musical voices and intriguing ideas.’
Highlights from SE’s 2019/20 50th Anniversary Season include:
- A new theatrical co-production with Untitled Projects. Directed and conceived by Stewart Laing (Untitled Projects/National Theatre of Scotland), with text from Pamela Carter and a bespoke score from Icelandic composer/producer Valgeir Sigurðsson for string orchestra and two vocalists, We Are In Time explores the journey of a transplanted heart through the voices of both the donor and the recipient.
- A collaboration centred around a new commission by fiddler Aidan O’Rourke and pianist and organ player Kit Downes, inspired by Edwin Morgan’s 1984 poem Slate and exploring its themes of Scottish landscape – both politically and environmentally – and the processes of change and time.
- A promenade concert with harpsichordist and Arcangelo artistic director Jonathan Cohen, exploring baroque concerti grossi and sonatas across two contrasting venues to explore the effect of our surroundings on the way we hear.
- The performance James MacMillan’s Seven Last Words From The Cross, with Dunedin Consort, another leading Scottish ensemble celebrated at home and abroad.
- Concerts celebrating virtuosity and talent of SE musicians and its collaborators, including a performance of Mendelssohn and Enescu octets with guest director Marianne Thorsen (Nash Ensemble/Trondheim Soloists).
- A celebratory musical feast in collaboration with Scottish social enterprise Social Bite, in which audience members and musicians will enjoy a meal together (provided by Social Bite) before an evening of musical entertainment featuring special guests.
- The Bridge: a new four-day festival of music for strings, featuring three of Europe’s leading string ensembles – Scottish Ensemble (UK), Ensemble Resonanz (Germany) and Trondheim Soloists (Norway).
- A programme taking music out of the concert hall, with partners including hospitals, primary schools and youth orchestras.
- RCS Week: five days of intensive coaching at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, culminating in a public concert. Following the week of coaching, SE will then select its Young Artists for the following year – a small group of students who are chosen to join SE on tour, gaining invaluable practical experience of life as a professional musician.
- International performances, including the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival (Germany, August 2019); the multi-arts Yokohama Music Festival (Japan, September 2019); and the Baerum Kulturhus’s Scottish Season (Norway, January 2020).
- SE is also taking Prelude – its second collaboration with Swedish contemporary dance company Andersson Dance – to Manchester’s Royal Northern College of Music and the Sage Gateshead, as well as a performance in Glasgow as part of The Bridge festival.
Jonathan Morton, artistic director for 13 years, said he was looking forward to ‘venturing out into both familiar and new places, guided by our instinct to balance tradition with innovation, and a desire to create events that grip all of us’.