Published: 26/08/2014 13:07 - Updated: 25/08/2014 13:24

Scottish Ensemble's Commonwealth strings reach around the world

The Scottish Ensemble will be joined by musicians from around the globe.
The Scottish Ensemble will be joined by musicians from around the globe.

COMMONWEALTH athletes may have returned to their home countries after last month’s Glasgow Games, but it is a different matter for Commonwealth musicians.

As part of its contribution to the Commonwealth Games cultural programme, the Scottish Ensemble is teaming up with young musicians from around the globe in a special concert that comes to Eden Court Theatre in Inverness on Wednesday fresh from its appearance at the Edinburgh International Festival.

"We have been working with young people for a long time, but this is taking it on a much more global level," Scottish Ensemble artistic director Jonathan Morton said.

The Ensemble was looking for a project that would celebrate the Glasgow Commonwealth Games and with a partnership already established with the Edinburgh International Festival, it turned to the Royal Over-Seas League (ROSL) for helping in finding talent from around the world.

"They have a very long track record of working with musicians from the Commonwealth," Morton said.

"It was very much a collaborative effort between the three parties."

With the help of the ROSL, the Ensemble sent out a call for musicians playing at a pre-professional level to join them in Scotland this August.

Responses were soon on the way back to the Ensemble in Glasgow with Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Singapore, Malaysia and Sri Lanka just some of the locations musicians auditioned from.

"Through the wonders of the internet and YouTube, people sent what were quite often home made videos of themselves playing in their rooms. It felt like a very honest and direct way to audition," Morton said.

"The audition requirements were quite loose because we wanted as many people to audition as possible. I had a great time watching a lot of entries on my computer screen.

"It’s an ambitious thing in itself, the fact that I haven’t met any of these players directly — very exciting and slightly scary."

Because of this, the Ensemble has factored in a slightly longer rehearsal time than usual with the 14 Scottish-based musicians working very closely with their 14 visitors.

"Every Scottish Ensemble player will be standing next to a Commonwealth player," Morton added.

The Commonwealth element in the concert is not confined to the musicians.

Along works by British composers Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Michael Tippett, there will be pieces from Australia and New Zealand, including a sonata from Tasmanian composer Peter Sculthorpe, who died earlier this month at the age of 85.

"I’ve admired Peter Sculthorpes’s music for many years and never had the opportunity to programme his music and this is ideal," Morton said.

"He is a real national treasure in Australia. We are playing one of his pieces and then, for Edinburgh, a new commission, which is an Edinburgh Festival Commission, by New Zealand composer Gareth Farr. He is writing a piece for mezzo soprano Sarah Connolly which fits in with the whole theme about conflict and war, which is what the festival is about this year. A whole number of themes and strands come together in this programme.

"We are very committed to expanding the repertoire for string ensembles which have traditionally not been given a lot of weight and time by composers. It’s important that we are advocates for this sound and have a long and excellent history of commissioning new pieces."

Among the Commonwealth musicians taking part is cellist Edward King from Auckland, New Zealand.

"It was a surprise to be asked, but it sounds like a really fun project," he said.

"It’s very cool that it’s the year of the Commonwealth Games and there’s a cultural celebration going on as well. And, of course, there is a premiere of a New Zealand work, which I’m always interested to do and I’ve played works by Gareth before, so that’s going to be really exciting.

"Playing at the Festival in Edinburgh is pretty massive. That’s the most high-profile performance as well, so that’s the one I’m really looking forward to."

As well as working with his fellow Commonwealth musicians and the Scottish Ensemble’s home team, of course.

"That’s one of the joys of playing music, getting together with people you don’t really know and collaborating," King added.

• The Scottish Ensemble’s Commonwealth Strings tour comes to Eden Court Theatre, Inverness, on Wednesday 27th August at 7.30pm.

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