BBC BLOGS - Scottish Symphony Orchestra blogBBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra homeScottish Symphony Orchestra blog home

Archives for September 2008

on the bill with Beethoven 9

BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra | 10:46 UK time, Wednesday, 24 September 2008


The final grab for something summery - Proms in the Park - is over, and we're into autumn. The high heid yins in London insist that this Last Night binge is to be done in the open air, but none of them did enough geography at school to understand that the climate up here is different from London....... However, thousands turn up to Glasgow Green and have a great time. Simple maths (the kind that even I can do) tells me that the vast majority that come to Glasgow Green don't normally come to indoor symphony concerts. There must be a powerful appeal - more than just to sit in the rain for four hours. It must also be about the worst way to see and hear the actual music. What is it that is so appealing? Doesn't that appealing element happen in our everyday concerts in the City Hall? If you're coming to Beethoven 9 this week (you won't be if you haven't already got a ticket), would you want the Red Hot Chilli Peppers as a supporting act, or vice versa? (Mind you, I would welcome their dancing girls to accompany anything that we do!) As players, we can't avoid being a bit detached from the big tribal gathering experience that is going on out there in front of us - we are more than pre-occupied trying not to make complete arses of ourselves playing in horrendous conditions. We're there, but we don't belong - wandering minstrels? I wonder if any of you noticed: in the main BBC 1 broadcast, during the rousing rendering of Rule Britannia, there was a sequence of shots showing the various crowds at Proms in the Park venues around the land, all waving flags and shouting. You saw Glasgow Green, you heard Rule Britannia......we were actually singing Highland Cathedral! Oops! Is the BBC colluding with our English overlords? A head should roll.

Enough levity. Back to Beethoven 9. What a piece. We don't often get a bash at it, and this Thursday it launches our season, the Merchant City Festival and it's live on TV. Did Beethoven realise what he was doing when he wrote this? He kicks down the walls of his deafness, bulldozes away the colonnades of tradition, and shouts out something that will go on to echo around Europe, and the whole world. Schiller's Ode might seem a tad effete.......until Beethoven put boots and dungarees on it. The audience at the first performance got the message - though legend has it that LvB couldn't hear them raving, and he had to be turned round to see. What sort of an artist do you have to be to achieve something like that? What sort of authority and credibility must you have? Did he have any vision of the place that he was taking in the history of art, if not in European politics?

Our warm up act in Glasgow is Janacek's Taras Bulba. I've raved about this before. All human life is there - and more. And it is just the warm up. The story makes me feel weepy even before the music starts; though I've never seen the graphic details mentioned in a programme note. You don't want to know. Suffice it to say that it shows the futility of violence, the endless cycles of pain, the cruelty and loss - unleashed if we can't tune in to ideals of brotherhood and equality. The lessons have never been more urgent, and the problems no less intractable. Some aspects have struck me. Janacek was writing in the aftermath of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo. The assassination blew the gasket on the pressure cooker of Balkan hatred, and launched WW1 (not to mention WW2 and all that came after that). The assassin, Princip, is quoted as taunting his captors to "nail him up and set light to him so that he can become a beacon for freedom". That is what happened to Taras Bulba. Did Janacek know this about Princip? Maybe Princip knew Gogol's story as well as Janacek? Also, Janacek's infidelities had led to his wife's attempted suicide - he was just embarking on a madly obsessive love for another married woman. The most touching and plangent moment in Taras Bulba is at the beginning, and it depicts Taras' son's traitorous love for a Polish girl. We repeat Beethoven 9 in Aberdeen, and the warm up act there is Elliot Carter's Three Illusions - three fantasies about what will make our lives better. The rare contra-bass clarinet appears again (see my last blog, '.....mutter.....mutter...'). This piece was premiered in Boston, on the same day that Soundings (wot we done the other day at the Proms) was premiered in Chicago - so there must be at least two contra-bass clarinets in America. There is no doubt about the respect that Carter commands, but can he prove that Janacek was wrong to say that "There is no music without key"? He is 100 in December, and so may not have too much time left to make his case.

Scary Mary

BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra | 16:32 UK time, Friday, 19 September 2008


Thanks all for your comments, let's get as many of us as possible blogging!

So...hands up who was scared to play in front of Ilan? I think Louise did an absolutely fantastic job; I can't think of two people for whom I would find it more scary to play for than my mother and Ilan Volkov! Anyway Ilan was very impressed with us and is looking forward to the gig, and in reply to is Jeremy Bushell!! It's a fantastic opportunity for us to perform with a professional soloist, but I also think Jeremy should feel very privileged to play with the most enthusiastic and sociable orchestra in the land!

I skived early from the pub so see a certain sociable trombonist for all the news....

I'll only be popping in briefly this week as I'm doing my real job looking after the SSO!

Ciao amici, Sally :)

Clarinet on the Town....

BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra | 11:04 UK time, Friday, 12 September 2008


Hello! For those of you who don't yet know me, I'm Sally, the Orchestra and Auditions Administrator for the SSO and occasional member of the Merchant Sinfonia clarinet section. I'm going to be giving a clarinettists-eye view of the rehearsals each week, and sharing your views and (clean) stories from the pub as well :)

What a fantastic sectional with Barry Deacon last week! I could hear the difference almost immediately - the section was playing as one; breathing together, moving together and generally making a lovely sonorous sound. I was very proud of us all! There are some really tricky sections in the Offenbach, namely clarinet cadenzas and fast passages in f# major, but the section is certainly coping admirably - pats on the back all round!

As for pub stories this week.....lovely to see a member of the April term come and join us for a drink afterwards - that's true MS dedication! Any other April attendees who fancy popping in after a rehearsal: you're all welcome. I also have a recollection of a lot of photos being taken. Perhaps we need a group on a certain social networking site so we can share and comment on photos and arrange socials? Let me know what you think next week.

Well I'm off just now to practise my f# major scales.....

'Lock and loll'

Sally :)

Triangle the Day Job!

BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra | 16:03 UK time, Thursday, 11 September 2008


Another week gone and we're nearly halfway through our first rehearsal period with the Merchant Sinfonia. As I don't have a triangle at home, I can't do any personal practice for my new role, but everyone else seems to be working hard. I also migrated back towards the Bass Drum this week and gave them all a wake up call/scared the living daylights out of them, depending on your point of view!! Well, what can I say? When a girls sees f written on her music, she's going to give it a bit of welly, isn't she?!

The wind section had a great time under the cheerful baton of BBC SSO Clarinettist, Barry Deacon. He hi-jacked them for an hour or so and with metronomic precision, got their 'off-beats' back on again, and their 'down-beats' back up. It's amazing what people can do with some gentle encouragement. I'm certainly hearing a difference.

And what else is going on in the land of BBC SSO Learning? Well it's a period for meetings, chatting to colleagues and learning new things. Us BBC Learning Managers have to keep up to date, not only with developments in music education, but also with broadcast and technological developments, which can be a bit tricky when it isn't your particular area of expertise! My last couple of days have been spent at BBC Scotland's fantastic Muliplatform Festival where I heard all about podcasts, vodcasts, mobiles, rights, commissioning, websites, vision, audio........the list goes on. Never a day goes by when I don't think we're on one of the steepest learning curves ever!

I think I need a lie down!

Jennifer Martin
Learning Manager BBC SSO

Merchant Sinfonia

BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra | 14:01 UK time, Friday, 5 September 2008


If you saw the fantastic article in last week's Sunday papers, then you'll know exactly what the Merchant Sinfonia is. If you didn't, then read on!

We are the community orchestra founded by the BBC SSO 6 months ago, to encourage anyone who plays an orchestral instrument to be part of the orchestral experience. We don't audition (but we do ask that you apply to join) and anyone, from beginners to advanced players, can come along and play under the supportive baton of Louise Martin. This term is pretty special as we're working towards our first ever concert, which will be conducted by the BBC SSO's Chief Conductor Ilan Volkov on Sunday 7th December 2008 at City Halls. In addition, guest appearances from Elizabeth Layton (Leader of the BBC SSO) and Jeremy Bushell (BBC SSO Horn) as soloists, will give the Merchant Sinfonia an experience, that I think I can say, not many amateur orchestras get these days.

Each week members of the BBC SSO take sectional rehearsals and encourage everyone to develop their skills and experience of orchestral playing. Last week, Mark O'Keeffe, Principal Trumpet, had the whole brass section breathing in perfect unison and playing exactly in time without him having to move a muscle. His exercise in ensemble awareness nearly made our Louise redundant, such was their new-found ability to listen to each other and think as a team.

And my role.....? Well, last week I got to play the triangle and the week before that, the bass drum. So this particular Learning Manager is a very happy amateur percussionist indeed!

If you'd like to book tickets for our concert on 7th Dec, call the Box Office on 0141 353 8000. If you think you might like to join the Merchant Sinfonia, give me a ring in the BBC SSO Office, 0141 552 0909 or e-mail

Jennifer Martin
Triangle Player - Merchant Sinfonia and Learning Manager - BBC SSO

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.