A new venue, new initiatives and new energy mark the RSNO’s new season, writes Ken Walton
The RSNO may be looking to next season as the historical celebration of its 125th birthday, but there’s a sense of rejuvenation within the orchestra as it sets out plans for its superb new headquarters adjoining Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. That’s what gives next year’s Glasgow season – announced last week – an excitement all of its own.
For besides the rich core of traditional Saturday night symphonic programmes – which are equally the sole constituent of the RSNO’s 2016-17 Edinburgh season – are a host of new satellite initiatives being developed that will hugely increase the orchestra’s presence and profile in Glasgow city centre.
There’s the occasional lunchtime option to sample a Symphony, Soup and Sandwich – a formula unashamedly pinched from Òran Mór’s highly successful A Play, A Pie and A Pint – in which the orchestra will perform midday music ranging from Beethoven and Dvořák to Schwertsik and Ligeti.
And for those who like their music dissected, discussed and reassembled, two Under The Skin evenings with RSNO music director Peter Oundjian delve deep into the world of Rachmaninov and Beethoven. The centre’s fantastic new auditorium will also feature a series of chamber music concerts performed by members of the orchestra, including classics by Schubert, Beethoven, Sibelius, Nielsen and Berio.
The RSNO’s programming guru, executive producer Manus Carey, has also added to the mix a series of performer residencies, which feed into the main symphonic season. Pianist Nikolai Lugansky will make a welcome return in three of Prokofiev’s piano concertos (Nos 1, 3 & 5) over two weeks in November. Another fascinating pianist, Jonathan Biss, couples Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto with a partner concerto specially commissioned from Sally Beamish. He also features in a new-look Sunday chamber music series.
So does the much talked-about Sicilian cellist Giovanni Solima, whose main concerto appearance is in Dvořák’s Cello Concerto and with the RSNO’s own principal cellist Aleksei Kiseliov in Solima’s own composition, Violoncelles, vibrez!
Kiseliov isn’t the only RSNO principal to appear solo in the main concert series. Flautist Kathryn Bryan premieres a new flute concerto by Martin Suckling, and oboist Adrian Wilson performs Vaughan Williams’ Concerto for Oboe and Strings.
Otherwise, the season is awash with old and new faces, and a typical symphonic cocktail that ranges from Rachmaninov, Brahms and Mahler symphonies to plenty of Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev and Stravinsky. Conductors range from Thomas Søndergård and Neeme Järvi (celebrating his 80th birthday with Tchaikovsky’s “Manfred” Symphony) to newcomers Nikolaj Zanier and the young Lahav Shani in Beethoven’s “Eroica”.
The list of soloists is no less impressive, from pianists Ingrid Fliter and Paul Lewis in Beethoven, to mezzo soprano Jennifer Johnson in Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder. As for perennial crowd-puller Nicola Benedetti, she makes two appearances, opening the season with Tchaikovsky’s virtuoso Violin Concerto, and returning in March when she’ll perform Brahms’ concerto in Glasgow and Bruch’s in Edinburgh, prior to taking both works to Florida with the RSNO.
Seven months into the job as new chief executive, Krishna Thiagarajan sees that US Tour as symbolising the RSNO’s newfound optimism. “There are 11 million Scots in the US, and five million of them here. I look at this tour as a key extension of our natural market,” he says.
The Scottish Chamber Orchestra also announced its 2016-17 season plans this week. Besides a concentration on Mozart – the later symphonies under the sensitive baton of principal conductor Robin Ticciati, piano concertos with soloists as diverse as the seasoned Maria João Pires and fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout, and the Coronation Mass with the SCO Chorus – and plenty new repertoire (Meredith, Suckling and MacMillan) mixed with staple Beethoven and Schumann, there are more bold moves into untypical chamber orchestra territory, including Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony, which Ticciati programmes along with Richard Strauss’ Oboe Concerto.
And the ever-popular Benedetti is there too, in an all-Beethoven programme conducted by the effervescent Joseph Swensen.