RSNO 24/25 season announced, with Patrick Hahn as new principal guest conductor

In spite of severe financial challenges, the RSNO is showing impressive resilience, writes Ken Walton

As with many major arts organisation these days, running the RSNO is mostly a question of choices and creative initiative. Key public funding is effectively stagnant. “The impossible thing is we get the same now as in 2011, while what we’re expected to do to justify that subsidy is growing and growing,” says chief executive Alistair Mackie. “Resources are spread thinner, so we have to be much more imaginative.” Add to that the recent decision by Glasgow City Council to axe its annual subsidy – currently £150,000 – over a three-year staged withdrawal, and it’s clear the orchestra is facing considerable challenges.

Indeed, it ought to be an unsustainable position, but Mackie and his team refuse to sit still, reassessing the status quo, applying corrective action, and more importantly seeking new streams of income. “It might feel at times we’re running at a standstill, but turnover is actually going up,” he insists.

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The orchestra’s recent venture into TV and film recording has helped, facilitated by its enterprising state-of-the-art studio facilities. “Already this year we’ve had 17 major projects, and have further extended the studio facility to attract top clients.”

But what about the orchestra’s bread and butter, the mainstream concert seasons? The launch today of its core 2024/25 Glasgow and Edinburgh seasons is a clear reflection of realigned priorities packaged in response to changing audience demographics (traditional subscription buying giving way, especially in Glasgow, to younger, more speculative attendees), not to mention funders’ expectations.

Regular Classical Concerts (17 symphonic programmes) still dominate, but other satellite categories – RSNO at the Movies, Pops Concerts, Family Concerts, Educational Showcases, collaborative initiatives and, in Glasgow, the popular Sunday Chamber Series – are gaining increased prominence in the overall mix. That’s reflective, says Mackie, of a fundamental question currently facing the RSNO board: “how do we cut the cake?”

“It’s just as important for us to programme big and exciting symphonic works as to let our expanding education programmes spill on to the main stage,” he says.

Even so, the central symphonic repertoire and the personalities delivering it remain the ultimate benchmark, which the new season conspicuously delivers. Two epic Mahler symphonies mark the latest chapter in music director Thomas Søndergård’s unfolding Mahler cycle. Symphony No 2, the mighty “Resurrection”, with the RSNO Chorus, opens the season, the valedictory Ninth following in February. Søndergård also marks the 50th anniversary of Shostakovich’s death with the Eighth Symphony in April 2025 and a “Shostakovich Spectacular” as season finale.

Patrick Hahn, the RSNO's newly-announced principal guest conductor PIC: Kow IidaPatrick Hahn, the RSNO's newly-announced principal guest conductor PIC: Kow Iida
Patrick Hahn, the RSNO's newly-announced principal guest conductor PIC: Kow Iida

Then there’s the mouthwatering announcement of 28-year-old Patrick Hahn as the RSNO’s new principal guest conductor. He was an instant hit last November as an emergency stand-in. Mackie wasted no time snapping him up. “We caught him just at the right moment,” he says. Hahn directs two programmes, including Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony and Mozart’s Requiem.

American violin sensation Randall Goosby also returns as artist-in-residence, with two concerto appearances (Barber and Mendelssohn) and a starring role in the Glasgow Chamber Series. His “hip-swinging” jazz encore a year ago had audiences literally jumping to their feet. Meanwhile pianist Ethan Loch, the blind 20-year-old Scots keyboard category winner of the 2022 BBC Young Musician competition, makes his RSNO debut in Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto. Other soloists lined up for the new season include veteran pianist Elisabeth Leonskaja, violinist Isabelle Faust and German cellist Daniel Müller-Schott.

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Besides the core repertoire, a beefed-up focus on new music includes the Scottish premieres of Anna Clyne’s Glasslands, with saxophonist Jess Gillam, and Helen Grime’s Trumpet Concerto night-sky-blue with soloist Håkan Hardenberger. Emily Langer’s Edward Lear-inspired The Dong with the Luminous Nose promises a playful partner work to Orff’s steamy choral blockbuster Carmina Burana.

In another Scottish premiere, Jonathan Dove’s opera Uprising, which addresses young people and climate change, features the community-based RSNO Chorus Academy. More new music, too, from Edinburgh-based Neil T Smith (a world premiere forming part of the RSNO’s Dunedin Consort partnership) and Scots-born Hollywood composer Lorne Balfe. For film buffs, four live-accompanied movie screenings, including Top Gun: Maverick and Home Alone, add to the glitz.

These might seem like impossible times, but the RSNO is showing resilience in the face of tough challenges.

Full details of the RSNO’s 2024/25 Season are available on Booking for multi-buy customers is now open.

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