Classical music in Scotland is in a very healthy state. The Conservatoire in Glasgow has been rated number three in the world; the University of Edinburgh Reid Music School is one of the top rated in Britain; and folk, jazz and pop music are all in a very healthy state. Tonight at the Usher Hall, we are fortunate to see the cream of young classical musicians in the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland in concert, and they are very good indeed.
Typically these students are between 14-18 and still in school, although occasionally they are in music college and a little older. Part of the reason for their success is they get very good tuition. For example, Su-a Lee, cellist with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, has been coaching the cellists all week. The students are also very lucky to be conducted by Elim Chan, the principal guest conductor of the RSNO, and to be accompanying the great pianist, Steven Osborne, who is of course an old Edinburgh musician having been trained at St Mary’s Music School.
The concert begins with Osborne playing the Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 3. This is one his quieter concertos, although there is still much fire and colour in the work. Since his days at St Mary’s, Osborne has become one of Britain’s leading pianists and is in demand all over the world for recitals. He admits, in an interview before the concert, that he only recently came back to playing the No. 3 concerto. He had tackled it in his youth and found it very demanding, but when he came back to it many years later, he fell in love with it and realised he had missed it.
Certainly, he shows he is totally in command of the work tonight, from the simple opening melody, through the variations of the adagio, to the explosive finale. He is very ably accompanied by the orchestra. The musicians are firmly under the control of conductor Chan and respond well to the piano. The big Usher Hall audience, with many friends and relatives of the musicians in attendance, give them a warm response and Osborne rewards us with a rather quieter work as his encore.
After the interval, the concert continues with a new work by Swedish composer Andrea Tarrodi, called Liguria. It was written in 2012 for Swedish Radio, but since then has been played all over the world, including at the BBC Proms in 2017. It is inspired by a walk along the Ligurian coastline, and evokes the atmosphere of five villages along the way, beginning with a wall of sound evoking the sea, and ending quietly with a clock chiming in a village square. It is melodic and colourful and gives the players a chance to display their skills in solos as well as collectively.
The concert concludes with a great favourite, Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, originally written for piano in 1874, and orchestrated by Ravel in 1922. Mussorgsky wrote it to pay tribute to his great friend Viktor Hartmann, a painter who died in 1873. The following year, an exhibition of his paintings inspired Mussorgsky to illustrate the paintings by piano music. Ravel orchestrated these tunes wonderfully, and it has now become a concert favourite. It also offers a lot of solo performances for the players, as they make their way through the work: perfect to display their skills.
The work opens with Promenade, a very Russian melody, which indeed appears in Mussorgsky’s great opera, Boris Godunov. It recurs several times as he takes us through his tour of the pictures, which offer a wide variety of musical forms and lots of good solos, before ending with the pealing bells, recalling the coronation of Boris Godunov. The young musicians of the NYOS love it, and play it really well, getting a great reception from the enthusiastic Usher Hall audience. We leave convinced that the future of classical music in Scotland is in good hands.