IT WAS an epic undertaking planned with all the logistical detail of a military operation.
And last night, an ambitious programme of events to take the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO) to the furthest flung reaches of the country came to a climax with its first major concert in the Shetland Islands for 20 years.
Last night’s concert, the northernmost performance in Music Nation, a UK-wide weekend of music-making as part of the build-up to the Cultural Olympiad, was to feature Britten and Sibelius as well as Tingaholm, a new work by Chris Stout, the Shetland-born composer and fiddle player whose band Fiddler’s Bid has played worldwide. The concert was the pinnacle of a weekend of events which saw the orchestra’s musicians fan out to the remotest parts of the islands.
On Friday, small groups of RSNO musicians were dispatched across the islands from Fair Isle to Unst.
They played a joint concert with local musicians, with four islands linked live via broadcast screens to each other, and a theatre at the capital in Lerwick.
An air sea rescue helicopter was put on standby to bring the Fair Isle group back after the weather threatened to leave them stranded.
“We are a national orchestra and this is proving it to the extreme,” said Davur Juul Magnussen, the orchestra’s lead trombonist, a Faroe Islander who joined after training in the UK.
He was flown to the island of Foula, 20 miles west of Shetland, with tuba player John Whitener, and French horn player Alison Murray, to play for the island’s 31 inhabitants in a primary school hall alongside musicians from the Shetland group Bongshang. “Having concerts in small places has an effect. Every little thing makes a difference, it’s very important to maintain those places,” Mr Magnussen said.
All but one of the islanders turned up to watch.
Four musicians were dispatched by car and ferry to Baltasound on Unst, Britain’s most northerly island, to play with musicians at the community’s school, mixing classical music and accordion and fiddle tunes.
“It’s very important because we do get forgotten about,” said Baltasound Junior High school music teacher Alison Martin. “I’ve got tickets for all concerts. I can go to all week.”
The Foula trip was cleared after forecasters predicted a break in a weather, with the concert nearly ditched after a two-hour power cut.
Bryan Peterson, Shetland Arts music development officer, said: “It’s not just getting people in, it’s the weather can turn so quickly, you’ve got to get them all out again for the next concert.”