Innovation and collaboration: RSNO announces intriguing new season

From showcasing the work of smaller ensembles to performing with three of the UK’s most exciting young soloists, the RSNO’s new season is full of bold ideas, writes David Kettle

The RSNO and Thomas Søndergård PIC: Sally Jubb

“I’d really like to see the RSNO as a producer, a digital producer, a recording orchestra, even a presenter – as well as an orchestra, of course. All of it comes down to maximising the facilities we have, and maximising our position in Scottish cultural life.”

RSNO Chief Executive Alistair Mackie is doing nothing less than rethinking the role and function of one of Scotland’s flagship orchestras – and, it has to be said, expanding the RSNO’s remit hugely as a result. We’d started with a simple chat about the Orchestra’s 2022-23 season, just announced – and ambitious and varied enough in itself. But we quickly moved on to a bigger story, about a bold expansion of the RSNO’s activities – primarily through a whole range of new partnerships.

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“I’m always excited by partnerships,” Mackie continues, “because they refresh and enrich things – I hope you’ll see them grow in future seasons too.” They’ve already grown in the 2022-23 season. In terms of education, the RSNO’s already established relationship with the National Youth Orchestras of Scotland (whose own Symphony Orchestra is welcomed into the RSNO season in April 2023) has expanded to embrace Douglas Academy and Big Noise Govanhill, who both perform in March and April next year.

“We have a platform as a national orchestra,” Mackie continues, “and we can promote and support smaller organisations. I see that as one of our duties, and also as an opportunity to enrich our own programming. It’s a win-win for everyone – including the audience.” Accordingly, the RSNO hosts the Hebrides Ensemble in the first concert in a new partnership in May 2023. More ambitious, however, is the RSNO’s new relationship with the Dunedin Consort, planned to develop further over the next three years.

“That whole relationship began around a great piece by Jörg Widmann called Echo-Fragmente, which is written for a period-instrument and modern orchestra playing simultaneously.” For Widmann’s epoch-straddling work, the Dunedin players join the RSNO on stage in October, performing a Haydn symphony on their own beforehand, and leaving the RSNO to deliver Beethoven’s Fifth after the interval. The Dunedins have two concerts of their own in the RSNO’s New Auditorium in February and April, with further collaborations between the two ensembles under discussion for future seasons.

Central to Mackie’s ambitious plans is simply making fuller use of the RSNO’s own New Auditorium in the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. “It’s a phenomenal facility, but I really like the idea of a concert hall that’s curated, not just a space for hire. I’d like us to curate some performances beyond the RSNO and help to develop the space.”

There are clearly big ideas behind the new season – but that’s not to ignore the concerts themselves. One of the season’s centrepieces is a new Brahms symphony cycle from music director Thomas Søndergård, based on the conductor’s own re-immersion in the composer’s music during lockdown. “We’re just back from a European tour with Thomas, and the orchestra’s on phenomenal form,” Mackie says. “I think maybe every ten years or so all orchestras should do a Brahms cycle – it’s about recalibrating sound and balance, which are at the heart of any great orchestra.”

Another stand-out event happens in May 2023, when three of the UK’s most exciting younger soloists – Nicola Benedetti, Sheku Kanneh-Mason and Benjamin Grosvenor – come together for Beethoven’s Triple Concerto, as well as performing with the RSNO Youth Chorus. “During lockdown, Sheku and Nicky came along to the Junior Chorus online rehearsals and spoke to the singers, and they were so inspired. Having a chance to share the stage with these superstars should be an experience they’ll remember for the rest of their days.”

Other highlights in the rich season – from Søndergård opening with The Rite of Spring to John Wilson tackling Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances, glass harmonica music by Mozart, and Verdi’s monumental Requiem to close in June 2023 – are almost too numerous to mention. “I think, as a musician myself, I have a short attention span,” admits Mackie. “I like a different challenge every week. And that’s also what we’re trying to put in front of the players and the audiences.”

For full details of the RSNO’s new season, visit https://www.rsno.org.uk/