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Lucky Cheques

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Anthony Sayer Anthony Sayer | 14:02 UK time, Thursday, 10 December 2009

That's it, our Bohemian Rhapsody's over. .....mine'll be a Pils, thank you. Weeks of Dvorak, Martinu and Janacek - and Janacek's Sinfonietta for the final flourish - a musical firework display, one of the most scintillating compositions ever written. Radiant reviews for the whole venture. Every piece in the series resounding with meaning - rejoicing in and celebrating Czech-ness - nationalistic but inclusive, welcoming everyone to the party. Lucky Czechs. The Sinfonietta - still sounding radical and modern - its original narrow agenda was to celebrate Czech liberation after WW1, but it has now become a world-wide party piece. (Incidentally, does anyone remember Crown Court? Daytime reality TV with a difference - fictional villains, but real juries and procedures. Sinfonietta was the theme music.....the arresting brass chords seemed to become the 'sound of justice' ringing out in millions of British households!) Our final concert also marked the anniversary of the re-opening of the Czech border. There is nothing narrow in the nationalism of these composers - their music is played everywhere - orchestras and audiences the world over revel in it. The Soviets scored an own goal in Czechoslovakia in 1968, because they picked on a small country with a world-based cultural identity. Could Scotland field a team of composers like these - composers from an area the size of Scotland with a wide ethnic range? So, who would be in our music squad? Other teams have done well: the Scottish Enlightenment team certainly beat the rest of the World - Robert Burns takes on the World by himself (NB he spoke Lowland Scots, and never wore a kilt) - the scientists started off well, but seemed to end up scattered abroad - the Glasgow Boys and the Colourists packed a punch. What does the SSO play when it wants to celebrate Scottishness?

What if Scotland had a composition of the calibre of Sinfonietta? Think what Finlandia or Karelia achieved for Finnish identity and international relations? Also, that final concert of our series was on the SSO's 74th birthday. Several Scottish founder members of the SSO, here when I joined, expressed a deep frustration over the lack Scottish compositions with which they could identify - compositions that celebrate the kind of 'us-ness' that they actually felt - central belt kids, growing up in the Great Depression, who couldn't believe their fortune in landing a job in Scotland's first full time symphony orchestra. After 40 years in the scene, I'm inclined to agree. Isobel Gowdie is near to fitting the bill - accepted as 'ours' - dramatic, effective, and challenging - accessible to a wide audience - it has already acquired iconic status - but, ironically, it is intended as an 'act of contrition' - hardly celebration. The Bolivars, whether they play Stravinsky or Beethoven in their concerts, have a stack of Latin American pieces with which they can turn their concerts into community events - always ending with celebration. Those kids have made themselves emblematic of their country. Their Sistema founder, Abreu, declares that orchestras are the soul of community. Do you think he's right?

Music works deeper than ideas. Last week's St Andrew's Day TV programme, 'History of Scotland - the Debate', threw some of the Scottish cultural issues into high relief. The panellists identified an identity problem - maybe they even personified it. To summarize in caricatures: There seems to be a choice between 'tartan mush' and lowland head-butting angst. Brigadoon or Red Clydeside. Neil Oliver assures us that Sir Walter Scott cooked up the tartan mush when he was inventing Theme Park Scotland for his pal George IV. This might be great for tourism and Caledonian societies abroad, but does it do it for the real people at home like those founder members I mentioned? Neither option represents enough truth. Neither seems to have nourished the soul enough to produce music of the Czech calibre. Art can celebrate us-ness - ideas tend to be divisive. How about putting a huge amount of money up for prizes for compositions that celebrate us-ness - us-ness that embraces all our ethnic cultures - something that would really do it for the Big Noise kids? (Don't ask me how we'd go about judging it!) If you've read my previous blog, you'll know that I'm echoing Max's point about engaging with the majority non-specialist audience. What would a composition of the calibre of Sinfonietta do for Scottish identity? work of that calibre......strictly no mush, strictly no angst! Then, by the time the Big Noise kids have grown up, they'd have something to go out and wow the World with. We'd all be winners - lucky cheques.


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