Declaration of Arbroath to inspire work for orchestra

Glasgow’s Celtic Connections festival has been awarded £100,000 by the Scottish Government to create a new body of orchestral work inspired by the Declaration of Arbroath.

Eight of the nation’s leading folk, jazz and classical musicians will be charged with compos&ing new pieces which will be premiered together months before the 700th anniversary of the signing of the document next year.

They will be given “complete freedom” in their compositions for the Grit Orchestra, which was originally instigated by the festival to perform live versions of work by the late composer and musician Martyn Bennett, who died after a battle with cancer in 2005.

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It is hope the project – which will be launched to coincide with the 15th anniversary of Bennett’s death – will inspire a new generation of composers to emerge and create “extraordinary symphonic pieces with a Scottish voice that is not patronising or backward”.

Grit Orchestra - at Celtic Connections

Two gala concerts are being planned at the Royal Concert Hall and Barrowland Ballroom at next year’s Celtic Connections under the backing secured from the government’s Festivals Expo Fund.

Donald Shaw, creative producer of Celtic Connections, said: “Martyn Bennett was very much the catalyst for the whole Grit Orchestra project happening. But we felt we needed to try and find the other Martyn Bennetts who are alive and kicking in Scotland.

“The funding will allow eight musicians from the orchestra to write new pieces which we’ll workshop with the orchestra throughout the year. I want to be in place where, in five years’ time, people will come to see them without knowing what they’re going to play.

“It’s very strange that a country like Scotland, which absolutely has its own musical identity, hasn’t had big symphonic pieces rooted in the folk tradition like those from Bartok, Shostakovich and Stravinsky. This project is a declaration of intent to grasp the thistle and give a sense of confidence to orchestral works from Scottish composers. It’s about freedom, exploration and intent. The Grit Orchestra is a fantastic vehicle to achieve that.”

Composer and violinist Greg Lawson, who has masterminded the previous Grit Orchestra performances, said he envisaged it becoming a “self-composing beast” which would also tour regularly around the world.

He said: “In many ways, this project is about what freedom really means – release of potential. It’s also about building a whole repertoire of work.”