RSNO hits a new note in Glasgow

An artist's impression of the RSNO's new home. Picture: Contributed

An artist's impression of the RSNO's new home. Picture: Contributed

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CONCERNS over falling audiences for its main season concerts in Glasgow are governing the RSNO’s future planning

The Royal Scottish National Orchestra is witnessing steady growth in its Usher Hall audiences in Edinburgh, but is facing challenges in Glasgow due to increased competition and the unsettling refurbishments currently underway at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall.

These were the claims of RSNO chief executive Michael Elliott last week, along with expected clarification that building work at the orchestra’s new headquarters, adjoining the GRCH, is running behind time, meaning that the orchestra will not now move in this summer as planned, but will have to wait until October at the earliest to take up residence.

Speaking in advance of last Tuesday’s launch of the new 2014-15 season, Elliott did not see any of that as a reason for long-term concern. “We’re in no rush,” he said of the delayed move. “It’s more important we get the thing finished to meet the requirements we set for it. The current estimate is the middle of October, but that will vary still I think. We’re taking a relaxed view on that.”

Frustrating him more is the fact that some interesting new initiatives that should have been launched with the new season – such as a flexible contemporary music ensemble and new chamber music series, all created out of RSNO players – will have to be announced at a later date.

As for the worries over Glasgow audience figures, these have been caused by a drop in the average attendance figure for main season concerts, but overall attendances at Glasgow concerts have actually risen by a whopping 10 per cent. What that tells us is that the orchestra is presenting more activity out of its main season line-up, but that audiences are spreading themselves more thinly overall.

Elliott says the same challenge will affect others. “We’re all having a tough time,” he says. “There’s a lot of competition in Glasgow, not least with the opening of the Hydro. Numbers are not dipping dramatically, but we can see a trend where it is down. Edinburgh, on the other hand, continues to grow.”

Such concerns are governing the RSNO’s future planning, as Elliott, music director Peter Oundjian and newly-appointed executive programme producer Manus Carey look ahead to new programming models that will bring about gradual change as the orchestra approaches its 125th anniversary in 2016, with celebrations spread over both the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons.

“The idea is to develop models of the past few seasons towards a new concert model in the anniversary season,” Elliott says. These will include efforts to focus on a series of residences – so rather than jetting in and out for one isolated programme, people like principal guest conductor Thomas Søndergård would be programmed for a series of consecutive programmes.

“We often just have Thomas for a week and he’s gone,” Elliott adds. “The more we can group his appearances together, the wider a statement we can make about the artist involved, the repertoire, the composers we’re featuring. The more of a story we can tell.”

Future thoughts lie in wooing wider interest through linked chamber music activity in the new HQ building’s 600-seater auditorium. Elliott is effectively looking to a model that offers multiple-themed packages to the orchestra’s loyal, but often discriminating, following.

That way, he says, he can capitalise on niche interest to pull in new audiences. “Our John Williams film music programme sold out five weeks in advance and 65 per cent were first-time RSNO attenders. That’s all good news,” he says.

Not surprisingly, the John Williams experience, which only happened in Glasgow this season, will be extended to Edinburgh for the new 2014-15 season, with further exploitation of that interest manifesting itself in two similarly themed programmes: a new Hollywood Christmas concert and The Golden Age of Film Music.

As for the traditional symphonic content of the new season, consumer-friendly packaging is also emerging. Stemming from Oundjian’s wish to do Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius (the season’s finale in May 2015), is a series of other Elgar favourites, including the Cello Concerto, played by RSNO principal cellist Aleksei Kiseliov. The latter is part of a theme to showcase classical talent in Scotland – with RSNO principal flautist Kathryn Bryan in the Scottish Premiere of Christopher Rouse’s Flute Concerto; and the young Glasgow conductor Rory Macdonald making his RSNO debut in November’s World War 1 commemorative concert that features Behind the Lines by the Scots composer Cecil Coles, and the Scottish premiere of Sally Beamish’s Equal Voices.

Nicola Benedetti is back with Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No 1, as is pianist Steven Osborne in Ravel’s exquisite Piano Concerto in G. And in a Classic FM-sponsored Hall of Fame programme in late May 2015, Peter Oundjian and former newscaster John Suchet will be joined by the eventual winner of the this summer’s Scottish International Piano Competition.

Otherwise, a typically wholesome season is peppered with the usual mix of rich Russian repertoire, headline soloists and conductors from not-to-be-missed violinist James Ehnes to the eccentric Roger Norrington, big symphonic guns like Bruckner, Shostakovich and Bartok, and a breadth of repertoire that plays safe with musical tastes.

• Full details of the 2014-15 RSNO season are on www.rsno.org.uk

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