As Scottish Ensemble turns 50, Andrew Pringle – one of our dedicated supporters – looks back on half a century of remarkable history…
As Scottish Ensemble (SE) celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2019, it seems like an appropriate time to reflect both on the orchestra’s origins, and the many years it has grown and flourished since then. In that time, the orchestra has seen significant progress, becoming the UK’s only professional string orchestra, and has risen to become one of the leading string orchestras in Europe, performing to high acclaim in the United Kingdom, mainland Europe and many other parts of the world.
Origins – The Scottish Baroque Ensemble
SE’s origins can be traced back to 1969 when it was set up by the publisher John Calder and the violinist Leonard Friedman. John Calder was one of the most influential Scottish publishers of the 20th century, publishing and promoting notable avant-garde writers of the time, including Samuel Beckett and William Burroughs. He also had a great interest in the arts, and opera in particular, and in 1962 he launched Ledlanet Nights which was a series of arts festivals held at Ledlanet House in Kinross-shire. These different festivals, all held under the one roof, encompassed opera, music, theatre and literary readings. From its beginnings, opera gradually became a more important part of the proceedings at Ledlanet. A number of different orchestras had performed with the opera there in the earlier years, but it was in 1969 that Calder was to ask Leonard Friedman to form a regular orchestra. The majority of the operas performed at Ledlanet were from the Baroque period, which led Calder and Friedman to name the group the Scottish Baroque Ensemble – SE’s original name. Leonard Friedman was already an established musician, having been the leader of the Scottish Symphony Orchestra and the co-leader of the Royal Philharmonic under Sir Thomas Beecham.
It was in 1969, at Ledlanet House, that the Scottish Baroque Ensemble was to give its first performance – in the production of Handel’s opera ‘Alcina’. Numerous performances were to follow at Ledlanet, including the Scottish Premiere of Mozart’s ‘La Clemenza di Tito’, a production of ‘The Turn of the Screw’ conducted by Roderick Brydon with Friedman playing the notoriously difficult violin part, and another guest conductor James Loughran dropping in to conduct a programme of Mozart Serenades. On another evening, Leonard Friedman dressed as Ignaz Schuppanzigh, the celebrated Austrian violinist and friend and teacher of Beethoven, and Ledlanet was transformed into 19th century Vienna for a performance of Beethoven’s ‘Rasumovsky’ quartets. It was very clear that Friedman was already beginning to take exciting risks, and the Scottish Baroque Ensemble was starting to forge a unique identity.
These early performances at Ledlanet, which consisted of two operas and four concerts a year, were soon followed by a series of engagements at other venues. The Ensemble began to gradually expand its outlook and impact beyond opera performances and, using 18th century orchestras as its model, it performed without a conductor, usually playing with 12 musicians led by Leonard Friedman from his violin, and specialising in music from both the baroque and classical periods. These very earliest engagements were to see SE embark on its first tour of the Scottish Highlands in the 1971/72 season, and in 1972 it gave its first performance at the Edinburgh International Festival with a live broadcast on BBC Radio 3. This was quickly followed by a first major concert series in Edinburgh in 1973, and in 1974 SE were to be honoured with the Royal patronage of The Duke of Edinburgh. Royal Command performances, in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen, would follow at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh Castle and at Balmoral. The Duke of Edinburgh was to take an active interest in SE during his time as Honorary Patron, and on more than one occasion he would turn up, virtually unannounced, to watch SE rehearsing, when in Edinburgh. This period was also to coincide with a series of engagements in some of the leading country houses, including Hopetoun House, Drumlanrig Castle, Bowhill, and Boughton House in Northamptonshire. SE was also to continue working on commissions with contemporary composers, and in 1976 it released its first gramophone record with a recording at Hopetoun House, which included the works of Purcell, Handel and Haydn. This was to illustrate quite clearly that SE was willing, early on, to move away from the comfort zone of the regular concert hall, and to diversify its activities.
These early years in SE’s history would see a number of musicians staying with the orchestra and becoming regular performers. Apart from Leonard Friedman himself, these early performers included the violinist Daphne Godson, the harpsichordist Michael Chibbett and the violists James Durrant and Cynthia Midgley. Friedman’s son Richard was also a regular violinist with SE in these early years. A number of these musicians were to stay with the orchestra for a long period of time, as SE rapidly moved on from its beginnings at Ledlanet. SE’s administration had been carried out by the Scottish Philharmonic Society, and in 1975 Michael MacLeod was to become the orchestra’s first manager. His appointment would quickly see SE’s first performance in London and a debut tour of Germany. In 1976 the orchestra made its first tour of the United States, and had the honour of performing in several cities as part of the American bi-centennial year celebrations. From this point onwards, touring abroad would become an important part of SE’s work, and the late 1970’s and early 1980’s would see several tours of Europe, as well as multi-venue tours in Canada and the United States. The biggest of all of these was a 24-date concert tour of North America, which was crammed in to only a few weeks
During this time, SE was to remain just as active on the home front in Scotland. The continuing growth of its concert and recording schedule had meant that there was a need for a rehearsal base. The Newington and St Leonard’s Church in Edinburgh had become available in 1976, and it was from then that SE, and the newly formed Scottish Chamber Orchestra, found a more permanent home for rehearsals. It was in 1979 that the church underwent major renovations and was transformed into The Queen’s Hall. This was to become a regular concert and rehearsal venue for SE, and one that it still performs in today. On July 6th 1979 SE performed at the opening ceremony and concert of the Queen’s Hall, in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen. One of the earlier engagements that SE undertook at The Queen’s Hall was their involvement with a group of disabled musicians, in what became known as the AELEPH Project. This resulted in a number of these musicians becoming directly involved with SE during 1981, and it culminated in an international composition competition. Leonard Friedman had been heavily involved in this project from the start, and this can be seen as a very important point in the development of SE’s creative learning and community activities. Indeed, it was in the same year that SE separated from the Scottish Philharmonic Society and was established as a separate company and charity, The Scottish Baroque Ensemble Ltd. This would also mark another important moment, as with the establishment of its own legal entity, SE now began to receive regular public funding from the Scottish Arts Council.
The 1980s – Scottish Ensemble
The early 1980s would see SE continuing to build on many of the important themes that it had already established in its earlier years. Regular radio and television broadcasts continued, as well as further recordings. These recordings were to include many pieces from SE’s repertoire and also LPs of Italian Cello Concertos with Moray Welsh, a new record featuring the music of Sir William Walton, and Mozart’s complete music for strings recorded in Edinburgh’s historic Signet Library. On two occasions SE was invited by the composer Gian Carlo Menotti to appear in documentary films about his work. Menotti was one of more than a dozen contemporary composers during this period that SE had worked with, and whose work had been commissioned. These included Kenneth Leighton and Thomas Wilson whose ‘St Kentigern Suite’ was premiered for Glasgow Cathedral’s 1986 celebrations. At this point SE appeared to be moving further from its roots as predominately a Baroque orchestra, and the decision was taken during its 15th anniversary season in 1984/5 to drop the word Baroque from its title. Leonard Friedman himself had always rather regarded the use of this word as a misnomer, and as far back as the early seventies he had actually heard comments from critics questioning why a Baroque orchestra should be playing the music of such composers as Stravinsky. This decision to drop the word Baroque from the title was seen as a way of better reflecting the breadth of repertoire that SE was now performing and so the new name Scottish Ensemble came in to being, and has continued to this day.
Leonard Friedman had been at the helm since SE’s beginnings in 1969, but after 18 years in his position, he moved on from his role as Artistic Director. In 1987 Jonathan Rees took his place. Rees had already enjoyed a distinguished violin career having played with many of Britain’s leading orchestras, both as a concerto soloist and as a recitalist at many music festivals. He would go on to contribute to SE’s continued development, and under his artistic direction the orchestra set up and consolidated subscription series in Glasgow, Dundee and Aberdeen. He was also to carry on the work begun by his predecessor Leonard Friedman by taking the orchestra to some of the more remote parts of Scotland’s Highlands and Islands. The arrival of Jonathan Rees was soon followed by a new managing director, Roger Pollen. An ambitious series of programming would see the likes of soprano Kathleen Livingstone singing Britten’s luminous setting of Rimbaud’s ‘Les Illuminations’, the grand maestro cellist Paul Tortelier premiering some of his own music and SE playing alongside the renowned jazz saxophonist Tommy Smith, as SE sought to broaden its programming horizons further.
A major development during the time that Jonathan Rees spent as Artistic Director was SE’s relationship with Virgin Records. Virgin went on to make a number of recordings of SE on its Virgo Classics label, and members of SE appear alongside Virgin’s owner Richard Branson on a number of occasions, both in promotional material and at concerts. Sales of these recordings were to prove very strong, with more than one of them individually selling as many as 20,000 copies, and total sales exceeding 100,000.
After spending six years as Artistic Director, Jonathan Rees was to leave his position in the spring of 1993, having made the decision to continue his career as a soloist and chamber music player. Clio Gould, who had already established herself as one of Britain’s most exciting young violinists, was appointed to succeed Rees as SE’s new Artistic Director. Gould had previously played with SE, and having already forged a career which had included making her concerto debut at the Royal Festival Hall at the age of 17, she was seen as the ideal person to lead SE towards the new millennium.
The 1990s – BT Scottish Ensemble
The appointment of Clio Gould in 1993 was to coincide with another major development in SE’s history. SE’s managing director had approached British Telecom in 1992 about the possibility of a sponsorship deal, and he had suggested that they might like to incorporate BT into SE’s name. It was early in 1993 that British Telecom was to establish the largest commercial sponsorship of any arts organisation up to this point, and the orchestra became known as the BT Scottish Ensemble. The initial approach to British Telecom had included a proposal for major support of the orchestra’s touring schedule, and the security that this deal provided was of great help in this, and other areas of SE’s activities. This became a mutually beneficial arrangement for both parties, and this would turn in to a decade where SE really began to flourish. Not long after the BT sponsorship was put in place, Dave Heath was made composer-in-residence to SE. This appointment was fully funded by the sponsorship package, and Heath was tasked with providing SE with two major pieces of music per year, along with a number of shorter works that were to be used as encores. One of his first projects was to provide a new violin concerto for Clio Gould.
From the outset, BT were keen to support the creation of a Young Soloists Platform within SE. Donnie Deacon, a young Scottish violinist aged only 13, was asked to have his first audition with SE in 1994. Clio Gould made the immediate decision that he should be offered the opportunity to give some solo concerts with SE. At the age of just 14, Deacon went on to make his professional concert debut with SE in a concert on the Isle of Bute, firstly accompanying Gould in Vivaldi’s Concerto for 2 violins and then playing on his own in Bach’s Concerto in A minor. 1994 was also the year that marked SE’s 25th anniversary. At around the time that Deacon was to make his solo debut, SE had arranged for a major concert at The Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh to mark the occasion of the anniversary. Leonard Friedman had been invited to make a return to SE as a guest soloist for the night. The celebratory programme included a full range of SE’s repertoire. Very sadly, Friedman was taken ill a couple of weeks before the concert and died a matter of days before the event. His reunion with SE was to have seen him playing as a soloist, as well as in a duet with Clio Gould. The decision was taken for the concert to go ahead, and his place was taken by another member of SE. Just at the moment that SE was celebrating reaching such an important milestone, it was to lose the man who was so instrumental right from the Orchestra’s beginnings, and throughout so much of its first 25 years.
Clio Gould had always had a particular interest in contemporary music. SE had previously been very active in commissioning new works, but this had fallen away somewhat, and she was keen to work with new composers, as well as playing a wider range of repertoires. As well as their more permanent connection with Dave Heath, SE would go on to work with Sally Beamish, giving a world premiere of her ‘Concerto Grosso’, and also giving a premiere of James MacMillan’s ‘The Seven Last Words from the Cross’. This work, with contemporary composers, would continue throughout the 1990s, with SE performing a new piano concerto by Judith Weir and a premiere of Craig Armstrong’s work ‘Night Journey’, as well as collaborations with Piers Hellawell. The orchestra’s association with Dave Heath was to come to an end after 3 years, but his legacy was to live on, with 2 of his works being released by Glasgow based Linn Records on CD. Further recordings included an ambitious project called ‘Follow the Moonstone’ which took SE’s association with traditional Scottish music a step further in a collaboration with the renowned Shetland fiddler Aly Bain. Further recordings were to follow in this period, including collaborating with John Tavener on his work ‘Tears of the Angels’, which was again released by Linn Records and also taken on a nationwide live tour. SE were also to collaborate with the celebrated soprano Patricia Rozario on this project, and it was to become one of the most significant recording projects that SE had undertaken, with a great amount of critical acclaim and a high volume of sales.
In 1998, Heather Duncan took up the newly-named position of Chief Executive. Duncan arrived at the helm 5 years into the period of BT sponsorship, which had already been renewed and increased on more than one occasion. Although in terms of size SE was still a relatively small orchestra, the combination of its funding, both from BT and the Scottish Arts Council, meant that it had rapidly built up a large performance schedule. London’s Wigmore Hall had become a regular concert venue, as had the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow and numerous stately homes and properties owned by the National Trust. SE’s growing amount of education work was also set to continue. This included a regular series of workshops in schools on Arran, which coincided with SE’s annual music festival there. SE had become well positioned at the end of the century, as its concert and recording schedule grew, and its education and broadcasting work expanded.
The Millennium – Scottish Ensemble Again
As the new millennium dawned, SE was to continue its foreign touring engagements as well as its extensive concert schedule at home, which included visits to the BBC Proms and appearances at a number of Britain’s other music festivals. Its Creative Learning work was further developed when Paul Rissmann arrived to take up the role of new education director. Rissmann went on to direct SE’s active learning programme for a number of years. This programme would involve him creating a whole series of learning experiences for different participants, based largely on SE’s performances and covering a different range of musical activities. These included large creative projects for schools, instrumental coaching and interactive concert opportunities. Rissmann’s work with the orchestra would eventually result in SE being nominated for a Royal Philharmonic Society Award for their children’s concerts. The arrival of this new education director had largely been made possible by the continued backing of British Telecom, but after 10 years of involvement the BT sponsorship finally came to an end in 2003. This had been a very important decade in the life of SE, as this sponsorship had helped it to undergo a rapid transformation, bringing with it many new opportunities, as well as considerably raising SE’s profile. From this point on, the orchestra’s name was to revert back to the Scottish Ensemble, and this name has continued unchanged to this day.
This time of transition was to continue in 2005 with the departure of Clio Gould as artistic director, after 12 years in her role. Gould’s hugely talented musicianship not only resulted in a great expansion of SE’s repertoire, but also a deep understanding of her fellow Ensemble musicians, leading to a very democratic way of working. Orchestra members would be encouraged to suggest repertoire for new season’s programming and everyone would be seen to have a direct involvement, both on and off stage. Gould’s departure would see her continuing in her role as the leader of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as appointments with other orchestras including the London Sinfonietta, although even to this day she still makes occasional guest appearances with SE.
It had already been announced, earlier in 2005, that Clio Gould’s 12 year artistic directorship would be coming to an end, and that Jonathan Morton would be taking over her position. This was to happen at the end of the summer of that year, and just after SE had made high profile appearances at the Aldeburgh and Litchfield Festivals, and at the Proms in London. Jonathan Morton had already been a violinist with SE for a number of years. He was to take over the position at a time when SE was flourishing on many levels, and just at the time that it was carrying out many of these important engagements and new activities. Rather like his predecessor, Morton’s artistic instincts had somewhat leaned towards contemporary music and he was keen from the start to continue to build on a more adventurous style of programming. This was, however, still a time of transition for SE as it had continued to seek new ways of funding. In 2006 it was to be awarded Foundation Organisation status by the Scottish Arts Council and the fundraising emphasis gradually moved away from the corporate world and onto trusts and foundations, as well as individuals. It was at this point that Heather Duncan was to leave her position as chief executive of SE, after a period of 8 years, and take up an appointment with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.
Heather Duncan’s place as Chief Executive was to be taken at the end of 2006 by Elizabeth Andrews. Andrews already had considerable experience in the classical music world, having organised several music festivals and helping to run the Thames Orchestra, as well as having performed as a Baroque cellist.
Throughout the 2007/08 season SE was to continue with its concert schedule, as well as its work with education director Paul Rissmann. Apart from its usual series of engagements in Scotland there were four appearances in London, at both the Wigmore and Cadogan Halls. Rissmann was to introduce an exciting new project for 3-7 year olds which involved him writing a new piece for SE in collaboration with the leading Gaelic singer, Mairi MacInnes. This project premiered in Glasgow and went on to tour Scotland with the full orchestra, as SE continued its important education work. It was in 2009 that SE was to mark its 40th anniversary, as another important milestone in the orchestra’s history was reached. An ambitious series of programming was launched for this anniversary season and started with a tour named ‘Side by Side’. This tour was to see the return of Clio Gould to play alongside orchestra leader Jonathan Morton in Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins, and then for her to play the solo part in Luciano Berio’s extraordinarily complex work ‘Corale’. The anniversary season was to continue with further performances at various festivals, including the Proms, as well as a 50th birthday concert for the composer James MacMillan.
It was in 2010 that Elizabeth Andrews left her position as chief executive of SE and the position of chief executive was taken by Thorben Dittes. Dittes had previously worked with Sir John Eliot Gardiner at the Monteverdi Choir and Orchestra, as well as in many other positions prior to that. He was seen as the ideal candidate to help drive SE forward with its continued development, and also to work alongside Jonathan Morton in producing ever more innovative programming. It was in the same year that SE was to work with the world renowned trumpeter Alison Balsom, accompanying her in the EMI recording of the CD ‘Italian Concertos’. This CD, which consisted of trumpet concertos from Italian Baroque composers, was to prove immensely popular and was to become EMI Classic’s top-selling CD of 2010. 2010 would also to see another significant development in the Scottish arts world with the newly formed body Creative Scotland taking over the functions of the previous Scottish Arts Council. In early 2011 that SE was to be awarded with a 21% uplift in its core funding from Creative Scotland.
The new chief executive’s first full season of concerts, in 2010/11, would see the cellists Peter Wispelwey and Natalie Clein making their debuts with SE, as well as the performance of four world premieres and one UK premiere, which included works by Aulis Sallinen, Joe Cutler and James MacMillan. This season would see the continuation of the regular touring pattern that SE had built up over a number of decades, and which had gradually seen the growth of a core loyal audience in each of its regular concert playing venues.
2012 – Developing SE’s Residencies
However, these were times of evolving audience demands as well as competition from other Scottish orchestras and the problem of SE’s relatively limited repertoire to work from. As a direct response to this challenge, 2012 was to see a change in SE’s main concert provision with the implementation of a new touring model and the launch of a new City Residency Programme. This major Residency programme would involve bespoke four-day Residencies in the main Scottish Ensemble touring venues outside Scotland’s central belt. This would help to make greater connections with local communities and organisations in these venues, and events were to include masterclasses, pop-up performances, coaching sessions, free community performances, collaborative cross-genre projects and participatory events, including tea dances and ceilidhs. The Residency programme has continued until this day and has become a major part of SE’s outreach, community and creative learning initiative. As well as this transformational new programme, 2012 would also see SE touring China and playing in 3 of its major cities, as well as continuing to commission new music, including working with composer Luke Bedford whose work was premiered by SE in a tour accompanied by the internationally renowned violist Lawrence Power.
This touring and residency model was to continue in 2013. An international tour of the USA was quickly followed by another tour of China, as well as Taiwan. Both of these tours would see SE continue their association with the trumpeter Alison Balsom, who was to accompany SE on an 11-date tour of the USA and a somewhat shorter tour of both China and Taiwan. Further ambitious programming was to continue at home, with celebrations of the work of Benjamin Britten on the 100th anniversary of his birth, as well as performances of new music from the Scottish composer Martin Suckling. This busy year would also see SE delivering a Residency in Shetland where the orchestra teamed up with the renowned folk duo Chris Stout and Catriona Mackay in a performance which included ‘Seavaigers’, a contemporary work by the composer Sally Beamish. The level of activity seen in 2013, which had included 46 concerts, several multi-event residencies, 2 international tours, broadcasts and further recordings with Linn records, was to continue into the following year with further performances of Sally Beamish’s ‘Seavaigers’, a tour with soprano Sophie Harmsen and a performance with the celebrated Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti. After 4 years in his post as chief executive, Thorben Dittes left the Scottish Ensemble to take up a position with the Royal Northern Sinfonia, at Sage Gateshead. His many significant achievements had included not only the introduction of the City Residency programme, but also the further development of SE’s touring profile and a strengthening of their relationship with Creative Scotland. His final engagements with SE would see the orchestra performing at the 2014 Edinburgh International Festival with mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly and the start of a cross-artform approach that would go on to become a core part of SE’s identity. During this time Dittes had built up a strong management team around him, and from this excellent team Fraser Anderson was chosen by chairman Ian Dickson and the board of directors to take over the running of SE, with Jenny Jamison stepping up as Director of Artistic Planning. Together they continued, and expanded upon the inspirational work of their predecessors.
2014 – Cross-Artform Collaborations
As this transition was taking place, SE was performing in Glasgow, in a collaboration with artist Toby Paterson, called ‘20th – Century Perspectives: City Spaces & Strings’. This would see SE performing in an abandoned section of Glasgow’s Anderston Centre, one of the city’s well-known modernist landmarks, and playing to capacity audiences on 2 successive nights. This project had come about after a decision had been taken to introduce a series of cross-artform collaborations in Scotland’s central belt. This highly successful pilot project was to pave the way for future projects of a similar nature, as SE took its experimentation and flexibility a step further. It was just after this, at the end of 2014, that SE was awarded a second uplift to its funding from Creative Scotland. The result of this was that SE was to see a 14% increase in its funding, covering the period from 2015-18. The newly appointed Fraser Anderson was keen to emphasise right away that he would be looking to focus on more of these larger, cross-artform projects. These sorts of projects were capable of attracting new audiences, helped SE work with international partners, and raised its profile abroad. Anderson now appeared to have the perfect platform to take SE forward, and this position was even further enhanced by the fact that Jonathan Morton was still in his role as artistic director, and about to celebrate his 10th anniversary season with the orchestra.
Despite these new and innovative ideas, SE was still very keen to continue with much of the formula which had proved so successful in the past. The regular annual concert series continued into 2015, when SE toured with the Classical Brit-winning Australian saxophonist, Amy Dickson. This tour took place at a number of venues, and also saw Dickson carrying out charity work in her role as an ambassador for the Prince’s Foundation. International touring was also set to continue, and in the spring of 2015 SE was to make its first visit to Brazil. This would see the orchestra taking part in the British Council Transform Programme which was an arts and creativity project, led by the British Council. SE was invited to perform two of their recent cross-artform and cross-genre projects – ‘20th-Century Perspectives: City Spaces & Strings’ and Sally Beamish’s ‘Seavaigers’, in Rio de Janeiro. 2015 would also see a change to the orchestra’s City Residency programme with an expansion to more places, and also the change of name to ‘SE Residencies’, which would see the dropping of the name ‘City’. This change of name was seen as a more accurate way to reflect the function of the residencies, which had gradually become a very important part of SE’s work, and had resulted in significant rises in audience numbers, in participating venues. The same year would also see the release of SE’s next recording on the Linn Record label with a CD of Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich, and a first appearance at the Enescu Festival in Bucharest, performing alongside the brilliant Moldovan-Austrian violinist, Patricia Kopatchinskaja.
Just as SE continued with this sort of more familiar work, it was to launch one of its most ambitious international cross-artform projects. This would see the orchestra collaborate with the contemporary Swedish dance company Andersson Dance, in a new project called ‘Goldberg Variations – ternary patterns for insomnia’. This project would involve the integration of music, movement and dance in order to create a contemporary response to J.S Bach’s great masterpiece, and had been originally conceived by Jonathan Morton and Andersson Dance’s founder and choreographer, Örjan Andersson. Here we would see SE playing Dmitry Sitkovetsky’s arrangement of Bach’s ‘Goldberg Variations’. This was to involve the choreographing of musicians, along with dancers, which would ultimately see them performing as one. This exciting new project was to make its premiere in Stockholm in September 2015 and then in the UK later in the same year, to great critical acclaim. This was yet another example of SE not being afraid to push the boundaries, and one which would see 11 of the orchestra’s musicians honing their dancing skills and performing alongside 5 professional dancers, in a very different live acoustic setting to what they were normally used to. It was as early as the beginning of 2016 that this collaboration was taken back to Sweden again, and this time on a more extensive tour. 2016 would also see a continuation of SE’s regular touring schedule, which was to include a tour with the world-renowned Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Montero and a concert series with Nicola Benedetti in Edinburgh, Aix-en-Provence and Istanbul. The SE Residencies were also to play a big part, as SE continued with their aim of bringing music to people who might not otherwise have been able to experience it, and also to those who were in need of coaching and support. These Residencies, which were held in Shetland, Dundee, Inverness and Dumfries, included a new commission with the composer James Redwood and also an expansion of the new Residency ‘Immersion Days’, which had started the previous year. This new concept would see the residencies expanded to include pre-concert talks, as well as the inclusion of further work during the day of concerts, with local partners. This busy year would also see SE working with composer Anna Meredith, in a new cross-artform collaboration, ‘Anno’. This was an Ensemble co-commission with Spitalfields Music, and would see the electronic-classical crossover composer Anna Meredith combining movements from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons with new short pieces for electronics. All of this was set in a circle of screens where a series of visuals were projected by Anna’s sister, the visual artist Eleanor Meredith. This was premiered at the Spitalfields Music Festival in the summer of 2016, and was performed in Scotland at the end of the same year.
In 2017, the regular touring schedule would see SE performing with one of the world’s leading violinists, Alina Ibragimova. Further concerts were held at many of SE’s more regular venues, as well as in less familiar surroundings. ‘Goldberg Variations’ was performed across Europe, with appearances at the Bach Academy in Bruges, the Thuringia Festival in Germany, a short tour of Norway and 2 performances at the Shanghai Concert Hall in October 2017. Further events throughout the year would see the orchestra appearing again at the Edinburgh International Festival, making appearances with the percussionist Colin Currie and performing at James MacMillan’s annual festival of music, the Cumnock Tryst. SE’s next cross-artform collaboration was a co-production with leading Scottish theatre company Vanishing Point, centered around and named after Arvo Pärt’s ‘Tabula Rasa’. This was a new theatrical work, centred around a live performance of Pärt’s 1977 musical composition. Indeed, SE had given previous performances of this piece at the time that Pärt had written it, but this was clearly a rather different interpretation of the work, some 40 years later. Again this performance, which was held in several Scottish cities, was much heralded in the media.
2018 saw the continuation of many of SE’s more accustomed programming and outreach work. At the beginning of the year the orchestra carried out another of its coaching weeks for students at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Further concerts were to follow in the spring, including performances with the celebrated Scottish mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill and Scottish folk duo Chris Stout and Catriona Mackay also toured a number of venues in Scotland. In April 2018, ‘Goldberg Variations’ travelled across the Atlantic to Washington D.C and this was soon followed by a London premiere, when 3 performances were given in the summer at the Barbican Centre. Even as these London performances were happening, SE and Andersson Dance were collaborating on a second project, ‘Prelude – skydiving from a dream’. Development days and rehearsals were held over a number of months, culminating in world premiere performances in Glasgow, towards the end of the year. Extracts of Bach’s ‘Art of Fugue’ and Lutoslawski’s preludes were combined with Beethoven’s ‘Grosse Fugue’ and again this collaboration of music, movement and dance was met with critical acclaim. In Autumn 2018, Fraser Anderson made the decision to leave his position. Throughout the 4 years in his post Anderson had expanded the orchestra’s international profile, its connections and collaborators, developed cross-artform activities into a proven successful creative avenue, as well as continuing to develop the group’s outreach and education work, and many other areas of SE’s activities. The organisation is extremely fortunate, that at the time, he decided to stay on with them in another capacity, as well as pursuing other interests in the arts world. The decision was taken by SE’s board of directors to appoint Jenny Jamison as the new Chief Executive. Jamison had already been working with SE for a number of years, having started as SE’s Administrator, and having spent the more recent four years as General Manager.
2019 – Scottish Ensemble at 50
As we enter the Scottish Ensemble’s 50th anniversary year, it has been an opportune time to reflect back on these 5 decades. After it all began at Ledlanet House in 1969, SE has gradually grown to become one of the most important organisations in the Scottish arts world today, and with an international reach well beyond Scotland’s shores. Clearly a huge debt is owed to John Calder, who sadly died in the summer of 2018. His bravery and innovation in starting an arts festival, at a time when the arts were going through a difficult period, would eventually see the emergence of the Scottish Baroque Ensemble, under the leadership of Leonard Friedman. It was Friedman who would then carry SE on beyond the walls of Ledlanet, and help to shape the identity of the orchestra that we know today. There are many other people who have played their parts throughout the orchestra’s existence, many of whom have been mentioned here, but there are also countless others who have helped to make the Scottish Ensemble what it is today, not least a number of the orchestra’s musicians who have now been with SE for up to 25 years. The dedication of these particular musicians has been immense as, of course, has that of the orchestra’s other more recent members. Jonathan Morton has remained in his position as orchestra leader and creative director for 14 years. His leadership and creativity has proved to be an immense driving force for SE over this period. Indeed, it is surely a great testament to SE, and their work, that over these 50 years there have only been 4 different creative directors, as each of them in turn has sought to spend a sustained period of time building on something so special.
As Scottish Ensemble now enters its second half-century, it would appear to be in as strong a position as it has ever been. Exciting plans have already been drawn up to take the orchestra forward into this new period, and with the help of its dedicated team of staff and the continued support of Creative Scotland and many others, the future of the Scottish Ensemble continues to look extremely bright– ready to pursue new goals at the start of its next 50 years.