RSNO's most ambitious residency goes to Shetland in 2012

by Deborah Leggate -

Scotland's national orchestra connects with Scotland's most northerly communities, from 1 to 5 March 2012

The Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO) embarks on its most geographically ambitious residential endeavour in the UK – Out and About in Shetland – five days of rehearsals and performances, education and community activities, and workshops and masterclasses across the Islands from Thursday 1 to Monday 5 March 2012. In the Year of Creative Scotland, Out and About in Shetland forms the most northerly element of Music Nation, a UK-wide weekend of music-making and the first nationwide countdown event to the London 2012 Festival.

Since 2004 Scotland's national orchestra has been committed to its Out and About programme - annual, week-long residencies in areas of the country which are not frequently visited by a national performing arts organisation. In partnership with Shetland Arts and supported by Creative Scotland; Loganair; TOTAL E&P UK Limited; Capital Solutions; NorthLink Ferries; and Shetland Islands Council, 70 RSNO musicians will journey from the Orchestra's base in Glasgow to the archipelago and integrate with the local communities by learning, creating and performing music.

The RSNO has been preparing for this trip for well over a year. In 2011 the RSNO commissioned Shetland-born composer and award-winning traditional fiddler Chris Stout to compose a substantial work for orchestra which will serve as the centrepiece of the Orchestra's Sunday evening concert. 

Chris also wrote a motif which has been used as the starting point of a composition and performance project, driven by collaboration between RSNO and Shetland musicians. Four groups from the RSNO visited the Islands last October and made contact with a number of Shetland-based traditional musicians, armed with Chris Stout's "musical kernel". Since the initial visit the four groups have worked together with Chris in Shetland, in Glasgow and online, producing four distinct works inspired by his original melody. 

Award-winning traditional musician and composer Chris Stout said: “I'm delighted that the RSNO will be visiting Shetland. It's a nice feeling to know that the excitement and anticipation felt by the visiting musicians will be shared by the local community. This project allows musicians to share ideas on a huge scale and I'm certain everyone will come out of it feeling energised and fulfilled.

“It is this sense of sharing knowledge which has been the main inspiration behind my piece Tingaholm. Although it exists as a complete work it stays true to the tradition that I have been brought up with. It is open to the interpretation of some of the finest musicians in Shetland, in collaboration with members of the RSNO. I can't wait to hear the results!” 

On Friday 2 March the four ensembles will perform their new works as well as traditional tunes and contributions from the RSNO musicians at separate locations in Shetland's outer isles, each marking geographic points of the compass; Unst (Baltasound Junior High School), Out Skerries (Skerries Junior High School), Foula (Primary School) and Fair Isle (Primary School). They will perform concerts connected via live video link to each other as well as transmitted live to the Garrison Theatre in Lerwick. The Outer Isles Project starts at 7.30pm and all associated events in the outer isles are free of charge. 

The RSNO Brass Quintet will present Bigton Brass Concert, an afternoon programme featuring music by Bizet, Beethoven, Gershwin and Mancini, at Bigton Hall on Saturday from 3.00pm. Also on Saturday is Busta Recital; RSNO Violin Paul Medd will be performing a solo recital in the Long Room of the historic Busta House Hotel on the shore of Busta Voe at 2.30pm. Tickets for both events are available from Shetland Box Office.

On Friday RSNO Leader James Clark will provide masterclasses for local young string players before they join the RSNO to perform at St Columba's Church, Lerwick on Saturday night. Members of the RSNO will also be offering mentoring opportunities to members of the Shetland Community Orchestra.

St Columba's Church, Lerwick on Saturday 3 March is the venue for the Big Kirk Chamber Concert, with the Orchestra's Leader James Clark joined by strings, brass and woodwind from the RSNO and local young musicians side-by-side. As part of the programme James will perform Mozart's First Violin Concerto which he previously performed at 2011's Edinburgh International Festival to universal critical acclaim. The concert starts at 7.30pm and tickets are available from Shetland Box Office.

The RSNO returns to its symphonic proportions for The Sunday Symphony, on 4 March at the Clickimin Leisure Complex, Lerwick - for the Orchestra's 21st anniversary since its last full performance in the town. The programme, conducted by Austrian David Danzmayr, includes Britten's Four Sea Interludes, Sibelius's Symphony No1 and the world première of Fair Isle-born musician Chris Stout's Tingaholm.  

On Monday 5 March the full force of the visiting musicians will be heard once more, this time for the RSNO's schools concert Heroes and Rogues. One of the finest presenters and animateurs in the business, Paul Rissmann will guide the young concert-goers through a musical journey, exploring key musical concepts linked to the curriculum. The school groups attending the concert have been preparing for the visit by participating in an online workshop with Paul Rissmann and RSNO musicians using the online community for Scottish schools, Glow.

Two groups of RSNO musicians present specially adapted versions of the Orchestra's award-winning concert programme for pre-school children, Monster Music, at Brae High School, Clickimin Leisure Complex, Lerwick, Sandwick Junior High School and Mid Yell Community Hall.

Working with Shetland's Community Mental Health team, members of the Orchestra have devised a tailor-made creative workshop for patients, to be held at the Clickimin Centre on Saturday. RSNO musicians are also catering for those who are unable to attend the RSNO performances, with a number of informal performances planned in residential care homes across the islands during the visit. 

Ellen Thomson, Director of Education and Community Partnerships said: “Bringing together two fantastic musical traditions was the source of inspiration for the RSNO's Out and About week in Shetland and I am delighted that we've been able to do this in such a creative way. This project brings with it the usual RSNO ingredients, full orchestral concerts, inspirational music making for young people, tailor-made community workshops and small-scale performances as well as collaboration with some of Shetland's finest musicians.” 

Shetland Arts Director Gwilym Gibbons said: “This is a hugely ambitious and exciting project and one that has been a long term ambition of Shetland Arts and the RSNO. I am delighted that Shetland Arts and RSNO are working in partnership to bring the orchestra to Shetland. It is very rare for a full symphony orchestra to commit to overcoming the enormous logistical challenge of getting to an island location like ours, let alone head out to our own outer isles of Fair Isle, Outer Skerries, Foula and Unst."

The RSNO is a national performing company supported by the Scottish Government. In addition to the valuable relationships with Shetland Arts, Creative Scotland, TOTAL E&P UK Limited, Loganair, Capital Solutions, NorthLink Ferries and Youth Music Initiative the RSNO would like to thank the Binks Trust and the Bacher Trust for their generous contributions to the project. 

For more information on the activities of the RSNO during Out and About in Shetland go to www.rsno.org.uk or contact Shetland Box Office on 01595 745555 or www.shetlandboxoffice.org