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Michael Tumelty, one of The Herald’s classical music writers, has written a wonderful outline, and a glowing endorsement, of what to expect from our recently-launched season. It’s great to see journalists and critics such as Michael not only intuitively understanding what we’re trying to do but also celebrating it. So thank you, Michael – and Ken Walton in The Scotsman last week, and the others who have passed on encouraging comments.

“You’ll have noted that this is not a listings blurb for next season. That’s not what this is for; and the details are all in a brochure near you […] There is so much seriously important stuff going on in the Scottish Ensemble that I’m barely scratching the surface here.”

If you do want a ‘listings blurb’, then you’ll find that here.

If you already know what you’re after, here is a list of all the concerts, complete with enticing ‘Book Tickets Right This Very Moment!‘ links.

Otherwise, we’ll leave you with Mr. Tumelty’s thoughts.

Written by Michael Tumelty
Published on Saturday 13 June 2015
Read on The Herald website

Quote-Marks-1I’ve spent much time this week mulling over the Scottish Ensemble’s new season, which was announced on Monday, and which covers a huge amount of chronological turf, with events running from this August through to the end of May next year, thus embracing an unusually long period.

On top of that, the musical and geographical territory which the 12-strong string orchestra will cover over that period is rather extraordinary. But there are other factors too, in considering everything that director Jonathan Morton’s virtuoso ensemble will do next season. This is an organisation undergoing a long-range process of change, development and re-definition (the last phrase is Morton’s own description of what’s happening in his group).

Following and charting the Scottish Ensemble used to be an easy job on the calendar for a scheduler and anyone on this side of the fence who has any administrative responsibilities, as I used to have: the Scottish Ensemble would parcel together packages of concerts, with maybe three, four or five works in each, depending on their length, then allocate a block of time over a week or two and send each of these packages out on a Scottish tour of the main cities – Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Inverness, Dundee and Perth – with occasional forays elsewhere.

It was a good, strong, structural model. It worked well, and it didn’t feel rigid because of the infinite range and variety of music and interesting programmes that could be evolved within each of the touring packages. And, to a degree, elements of that structure are still there, and can be discerned at points in the new season.

But things began to develop 10 years ago on the appointment of violinist Jonathan Morton as artistic director. He, along with his then chief executive Thorben Dittes, began looking at ways forward. There was no dramatic coach-and-horse driving through existing practices and structures but, in recent years, I’ve had a feeling that change was afoot.

Sometimes it was reflected in the repertoire, with Morton beefing up chamber works for a string orchestra performance. (His orchestral version of Grieg’s String Quartet was particularly effective in its big-boned format on 12 strings.) Other times it was more structural as he was clearly raising issues about the very function of the ensemble: what it was about, where it was going, what it should be doing, for whom the group should be doing it, and so on.

All these and more have just risen to the surface in recent years, resulting in a wave of developments, including the fragmentation (as it were) of the group into smaller components to entertain in the informal space of their home base at the CCA in Glasgow; and the introduction and establishment of city residencies, an absolutely seminal development which would see the ensemble move right into the heart of a community. Last September I was explicitly critical of this development, and what I perceived to be its cost on the outfit’s other activities. I was wrong: totally looking in the wrong direction.

And of course the other major development in the 2014/15 season which, like the rest, will be followed-through next season, was the manifestation of Jonathan Morton’s curiosity in expanding the group’s horizons to reach out to other, new and wholly fresh audiences that would probably otherwise not give the “classical music concert”, as a species, a sideways glance. This was done through his interest in cross-art collaboration, which, in its first outing last season, put the ensemble into a derelict commercial/industrial space, employed an architect to redesign and re-define that space around them, then filled it with 20th-century music: modern sounds for a post-industrial environment, so to speak.

There will be more developments on all these fronts, with a deepening of city residencies as a concept, establishment of new “city residencies” in non-city environments, and an ambitious new cross-art exploration where the architectural focus will swing from the environment and buildings to that of the corporate architecture of human bodies, with ensemble players in motion, choreographed with dancers as the musicians play Bach’s Goldberg Variations.

Is this beyond your experience? Mine too; but that’s where Morton and his elite, flexible band are taking us. You’ll have noted that this is not a listings blurb for next season. That’s not what this is for; and the details are all in a brochure near you. You’ll still have your big names: Nicola Benedetti, Gabriela Montero, Maxim Rysanov, Scottish tours, international tours and so on.


But there is so much seriously important stuff going on in the Scottish Ensemble that I’m barely scratching the surface here, and will return to a subject that has real social and musical meat as soon as possible: maybe even next week, space allowing.