EVER since the Royal Scottish National Orchestra abandoned its weary old Proms formula a couple of years ago, it has been looking at new ways to fill the tail-end-of-season spot.
Last year, it turned to Rachmaninov as a serious-minded theme with a tuneful allure, but still the hackneyed spectre of weary old days cast a sentimental shadow. This year, the solution could hardly be more radical. What used to be the domain of white-tied classical stars and operatic divas has been given over to DJs, video games and crossover rock stars.
Where the RSNO used to do Mozart with candelabras, it is going garage with scratching and turntables. Where it once played Hollywood soundtracks to the plummy, sophisticated narration of Honor Blackman, it is going big and brash with video games soundtrack composers Tommy Tallarico and Jack Wall, creators of music for games such as Myst and Tony Hawk Pro Skater. And then there’s an evening with the characteristically lugubrious Elvis Costello, whose talent for crossing musical borders without getting caught is genuinely novel and interesting.
But is this all just a gimmick? RSNO chief executive Simon Woods – who openly expressed his doubts about the old-style Proms after his first season with the orchestra, but gave them a chance nonetheless, only to be convinced that they were indeed past their sell-by date – believes that this early summer slot in the calendar is exactly the right time to experiment with the kind of activity that has Scotland’s national orchestra providing “something for all musical tastes”.
This latest adventure is called “orchestra+”, and explores the potential of mixing the traditional symphony orchestra with club music, rock and pop, and the infectious musical wallpaper of video games.
Don’t be fooled, for instance, by the presence of Prokofiev, whose Concerto for Turntables features in next Thursday’s opening concert. This is Gabriel Prokofiev, grandson of the Russian composer of Peter and the Wolf, who is now one of Britain’s hottest producers of garage music, though much of that has been written under various pseudonyms to counter the inevitable charges of “classical grandson goes pop”. For this performance, eclectic DJ Beni G of the Mixologists takes centre stage with the RSNO.
Two days later, Elvis Costello is the star attraction, partly in a duo with his long-term keyboard collaborator Steve Nieve, but more intriguingly as composer of extracts from Il Sogno, a full-scale orchestra work he wrote originally for Italian company Aterballetto’s ballet adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
But the biggest spectacle promises to be Video Games Live on 26 June, in which the RSNO is joined by the RSNO Chorus and a multimedia showcase of video projection, synchronised laser beams, special effects, and – here’s a way to get Playstation junkies out of the house without succumbing to finger-twitching withdrawal symptoms – interactive audience participation. Tallarico and Wall will present and conduct the programme, which will contain their legendary soundtracks to The Prince of Persia, Splinter Cell and much more besides.
If that all seems too much for nostalgic lovers of the old Proms, fear not. As an appendix to “orchestra+”, a somewhat singular sounding vestige of the old Last Night, called the RSNO Scottish Prom, will mark the formal end of term for the band. Garry Walker conducts a programme that combines such trusty old lollipops as a pyrotechnically enhanced 1812 Overture with the gauche and eccentric HK Gruber’s Radio City from Manhattan Broadcasts. Pipe band and flag waving are obligatory. Jonathan Watson will provide the patter. But more importantly, this Last Night will be a whole lot better for also being the Only Night of the Proms.
• For further information on the RSNO’s orchestra+ series and the Scottish Prom, visit www.rsno.org.uk