Don’t miss the Royal Scottish National Orchestra Christmas program
THE festive season is a busy time for many Scottish arts organisations. Christmas and the New Year are a time for our performing arts companies to welcome loyal patrons, reconnect with old friends and, perhaps most importantly, attract new audiences.
There may be few, if any, Scottish companies for whom this is truer than the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO). The orchestra has an incredibly diverse program – made up of reinvigorated favorites and a new offering – lined up for the winter season.
When I catch up with the orchestra’s general manager, Alistair Mackie, I find him more than happy with the festive fare he and his colleagues have programmed. He is rightly pleased with the balance of the company’s winter schedule.
Things begin in earnest on December 4, with the opening performance of RSNO’s popular Yuletide show, The Night Before Christmas, at Usher Hall in Edinburgh. The production – which will continue at the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow the following weekend – brings together the orchestra, under the direction of Ellie Slorach, with the Children’s Classic Concerts, the RSNO Children’s Chorus and the Manor School of Ballet.
No sooner have the orchestra performed this family show than they are organizing a tour of their ever-popular Christmas concert to Aberdeen, Dundee, Glasgow and Edinburgh (December 15-18). As always, the show incorporates the magnificent animated film of the great snowman by the late Raymond Briggs.
Christmas Concert performances will have an added thrill this year as The Snowman’s guest narrator will be none other than Aled Jones. Although Jones notoriously wasn’t the original singer of the film’s most beloved song, Walking in the Air (that honor goes to acclaimed opera singer Peter Auty), the Welshman rose to fame for his performance of childhood topped the number charts in 1985. .
This much-loved part of the RSNO’s repertoire is, according to Mackie, “a great way to attract new audiences. It’s a great way for our regular audiences to bring their kids or grandkids. It has become a real family celebration.
If the memory of the general manager is good, this is the 20th year of the Christmas concert. “It’s great to have Aled Jones,” he adds. “He’s a great presenter and has a unique history with the play.”
Always keen to innovate in its constant quest for involvement with young audiences and families, the RSNO is adding a new show to its Christmas repertoire this year. Following the success of its school production Gaspard’s Foxtrot, the orchestra presents a festive new tale about the titular fox adventurer.
Gaspard’s Christmas (playing in Edinburgh on December 23 and Glasgow on Christmas Eve) features narration by Classic FM presenter and author Zeb Soanes, musical score by Jonathan Dove and live big-screen drawings by renowned illustrator James Mayhew . Audiences can expect a warm and very contemporary Christmas story, as well as popular festive songs such as When Santa Got Stuck up the Chimney and Jingle Bells.
Mackie is understandably proud that Gaspard’s Foxtrot has been seen by 108,000 Scottish schoolchildren. In the best traditions of music for young audiences, each of the characters in the show is associated with a different instrument of the orchestra.
For example, the fox itself is represented by a bassoon. The cat is, quite rightly, a clarinet. “We were so delighted with the first Gaspard that we asked Jonathan Dove to write a second,” the general manager tells me.
The show is based on a Christmas book that was released last month. Mackie loves this story of Soanes and Mayhew.
“Animals find this homeless person and they think it’s Santa Claus,” he explains. “They are starting to worry about not getting their Christmas presents.
“So they take him to a shelter and figure it out, and slowly they realize he’s not Santa Claus. It’s a beautifully written story. »
The show is, explains Mackie, “our biggest order of the year by far. This is the biggest investment we have made in a new work”.
“We did this because we saw the success of the original[Gaspard show] was to engage children across Scotland.
As if this full Christmas program weren’t enough, the orchestra returns in New Year’s with its annual performance of Handel’s Messiah at Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall on 2 January.
The RSNO choir led by Nicholas McGegan is joined by soprano Mhairi Lawson, countertenor William Towers, tenor Jamie MacDougall and bass-baritone Stephan Loges to perform Handel’s timeless classic.
Finally, between January 6 and 14, the orchestra travels to Dumfries and Galloway, Inverness and many places in between with its Viennese gala. Set to music by Johann Strauss and his contemporaries, the concert, conducted by David Niemann, aims to evoke the magic of the famous New Year’s Eve concert in Vienna with such well-known pieces as the overture to Die Fledermaus, On the Beautiful Blue Danube and the polka of thunder and lightning.
Mackie remembers her late father enjoying the concert every year.
“It was one of my dad’s favorites,” he says. “He has an enduring fascination with people. It’s just good music. Even if you don’t get up and dance, something inside of you lights up.
“I have images of Vienna on New Year’s Day. It captures that moment and that era, it’s such evocative music.
Ultimately, for Mackie, this year’s festive program is proof positive that we as a society are emerging, despite our troubles, from the darkest days of the pandemic.
“The most important thing for me is just people doing stuff together again.
“Going out and sharing experiences with other human beings, because we’ve all gone digital, we’ve all been on our couches watching TV. It is not the same as shared experience.
“Music is communal. Music is about engagement and communication. If you don’t have people around, that’s different.
Details of the RSNO festive program can be found at: www.rsno.org.uk