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The strange case of the disappearing Naked Classics

I gave myself a bit of a jolt this week.

Having filed last Saturday's column, my mind turned immediately to what I call the Weekly Worry: what on earth to do for today's column? In an idle moment, I unearthed all of the brochures I've received so far for the 2014/15 season and took my first proper look at them. In an earlier era, this would have happened the day after each organisation launched its new series. But since the present era of semi-retirement began, there's no longer quite the same urgency to get to grips with every nut, bolt and crotchet of what everybody's doing.

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As I leafed casually through the RSNO's flashy and colourful new brochure, which is filled with what looks like very expensive photography of members of the band off duty, in the kitchen, on the golf course, jogging in the countryside and so on, something leapt out and brought me smartly to attention: there was no sign of the Naked Classics series. That's the one where a single piece of music is dissected by animateur Paul Rissmann, with the aid of the orchestra, conductor, individual players and Rissmann's skilful deployment of computer graphics and pictorial displays, before the whole piece is then performed, uninterrupted, by the RSNO.

Having run multiple checks to ensure I hadn't simply overlooked the presence of the series in some form or another, I phoned the orchestra and asked what was going on. I was informed that I was correct: there will be no Naked Classics next season. "We're resting it for a season, then re-formulating it", was the official response.

And that was all the communications department could say. I have a notion what might be going on here. There is a new executive management team in place at the orchestra, new strategies are evolving rapidly, and every conceptual and operational aspect of the RSNO's purpose and function is under scrutiny.

When Naked Classics was launched, its content was drawn directly from the mainstream winter season programme. You would go to experience one work in a Naked Classics presentation on a Thursday. For the Friday Usher Hall concert and the regular Saturday concert in Glasgow, that work would be re-integrated into that week's full programme, along with the regular overture, concerto or whatever, and played without any presentation. So there was a specific winter season context.

But Naked Classics took off like wildfire. It was a huge success. It became big; very big. Audiences loved it. Folk would go to Naked Classics without any intention of returning for the Full Monty classical music programme on the Saturday. It developed its own identity and its own, and new, audience. It was described openly by management and players as "the way forward". And then came a critical moment, when it was decided by the management that Naked Classics had become an entity, something very special. So it was detached from the main winter season programmes, and bespoke orchestral works, not part of those winter season programmes, fuelled the Naked Classics series. I actually remember vividly the excitement of former chief executive Simon Woods on the day he told me of the new independence of Naked Classics, and the potential for audience building.

Clearly, under the present management, priorities have changed, and I have noticed Naked Classics slipping, as it were, to the back of the book, and looking a bit lonely on its own, distant from the bulk and thrust of the main season programmes. I'm not even sure that current music director Peter Oundjian has ever mentioned it. If and when Naked Classics reappears, and one can only hope that it does, I imagine it will be re-integrated somehow into the main winter season. I hope the management "re-formulate" the series with great care. Naked Classics is unique and very precious. And what the current thoughts of Naked Classics creator and guru Paul Rissmann might be at the moment, I cannot guess. He is a one-off. Is he involved at all, I wonder?

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