“One of our most successful residencies ever.” That was the verdict of Royal Scottish National Orchestra’s director of education and community partnership Ellen Thomson, who said the orchestra’s long weekend in Shetland had been “an amazing experience”. All the concerts had been sold out, she said, and in the interactive events orchestra members had been “blown away” by the local musical talent.
The visit of Scotland’s premier orchestra was its first for 21 years. And with its mission to take its music to far-flung places and as one of the first Music Nation countdown events prior to the London Olympics, it had been planned with military precision.
The orchestra’s programme reached a climax in The Sunday Symphony, in which the 70-strong orchestra performing to over 700 people in the Clickimin Leisure Complex. The programme of Britten’s Four Sea Interludes, Sibelius’s Symphony No1 and the world premiere of Fair Islander Chris Stout’s symphony Tingaholm. One audience member said: “It was a good night’s entertainment, the audience was very appreciative and it’s a shame we don’t get to see more music of this standard.”
Prior to the full-strength performance the orchestra members had been busy with community events – and started playing as soon as they arrived at Sumburgh Airport on Friday with the travellers being treated to a rendition of the Can Can.
Later that day the orchestra split into four groups to go to the geographical points of Unst, Fair Isle, Skerries and Foula. They played a joint concert with local musicians with the islands linked live via broadcast screens to each other at the Garrison Theatre.
In Fair Isle the musicians got stranded and had an unexpected extra night in the isle, which ended up with an impromptu concert in the school.
In Foula almost all the isle’s 31 residents turned out the see the orchestra members, who performed alongside members of local group Bongshang.
The outreach continued on Saturday when the orchestra’s brass quintet performed at Bigton Hall and there was a solo violin recital at Busta House.
That night St Columba’s Church was the venue for the Big Kirk Chamber Concert, with RSNO leader James Clark joined by strings, brass and woodwind from the RSNO and young local musicians. He said he was impressed by the standard of their playing.
Before leaving Shetland on Monday the orchestra put on a schools programme at Clickimin, attended by 770 upper primary pupils. In the interactive concert they were treated to music from the overture to the Marriage of Figaro and Bizet’s Carmen as well as music from Tam o’Shanter and The Simpsons.
Assistant Clickimin manager Robbie Leask said: “I didn’t know how it would be received but the kids loved it.”
The visit will leave a lasting legacy, said Shetland Arts’ Richard Wemyss. Orchestra communications officer Daniel Pollitt agreed. “We’ve had a wonderful time, the collaboration’s been an outstanding success and we can’t wait to come back.”