SHETLAND has been a “gift and an inspiration”. That was the résumé of Ellen Thomson, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra’s director for education following a hugely successful four day visit to the isles.
Her view was echoed by guest conductor David Danzmayr when he addressed the 700-strong audience ahead of Sunday night’s symphony concert that featured works by Britten, Sibelius and Shetland’s very own Chris Stout.
And there was general agreement that it will not take another 21 years before audiences in Shetland will again be able to enjoy the delights of listening to a full symphony orchestra.
During their five day visit – an advance party of musicians had already flown in on Thursday to be ready to embark on their journey to the outer isles on Friday morning – close to 2,500 islanders, more than 10 per cent of the population, attended the 15 performances and concerts.
The visit of the 80-strong orchestra had been in the planning for about two years with the hot phase of preparation starting about six months ago. Planes needed to be chartered, accommodation for musicians and support staff had to be found and booked while the programme for the extended weekend grew larger and more complex by the day.
When partner Shetland Arts had the idea to take the RSNO’s Out and About project to the four compass points of the islands, and also broadcast the four resulting concerts live via the internet, the logistics became challenging.
At the end it all worked out fine, initial technical problems were overcome and the musicians in the four village halls/schools were able to see and listen to each other’s arrangement of a Chris Stout musical theme.
The only slight, and predictable, hitch was caused by the weather when the three musicians visiting Fair Isle were unable to return to the mainland on Saturday and had to stay for another day. The three are said to have made the most of their extended visit to the island.
There is no doubt that the musicians have enjoyed their visit to the far north as much as local people have appreciated the chance to see Scotland’s national orchestra performing on their islands.
The RSNO’s concert and tours manager Nick Lander said: “It has been great to be in one place for three or four days. You get really close to many areas and connect with the local community.”
And speaking during Sunday afternoon’s rehearsal for the symphony concert, conductor David Danzmayr said: “This concert is obviously the culmination of the whole visit, but we also did so many smaller projects.
“I think it has been a massive chance of bringing what we love to do to these islands, and hopefully people here have enjoyed it as much as we have.”
So, when will they be back? Taking a full orchestra to a small island community such as Shetland is a logistical nightmare but it is not impossible as the last few days have proved.
Ellen Thomson said that everybody at the RSNO was keen to maintain the many new relationships formed over the last few days and to learn from Shetland’s own distinctive musical traditions.
She said the RSNO’s leader James Clark was “blown away” when introduced to a few Shetland fiddle tunes by young local musicians Sophie Wishart and Hannah Adamson.
She said there were “lots of possibilities” particularly with Mareel opening at some stage this summer. “This visit has sparked a relationship and I intend to build on that,” she said.
Speaking for Shetland Arts, who have been praised by the RSNO for their professionalism and resourcefulness, Bryan Peterson added: “The best thing for me has been taking the musicians to all four corners of Shetland, giving local musicians the chance to play with the RSNO, as well as local audiences having the opportunity to witness a full orchestra.
“I very much hope it will not be another 20 years before we have another full orchestra back in Shetland again.”
And for those who can’t wait to see the RSNO again; they are heading north in June as guests at the St Magnus Festival, in Orkney.
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