AS a native-born Tynesider, resident in Scotland for 60 years, I have often crowed about the remarkable musical resources in my adopted land.
For all the size of our country and its population, our strength, especially in Glasgow, lay in the fact that we had one of everything, unlike London, where five big premier-league orchestras battle for public attention, to say nothing of myriad chamber orchestras and specialist ensembles, choirs and chamber groups, all clamouring for acknowledgement.
In Scotland, things were easier to identify and define. We have a full-size symphony orchestra in the RSNO, an increasingly elite and world-acclaimed chamber orchestra in the SCO, and a broadcasting orchestra in the BBC SSO, which hauled itself back from the brink of extinction some 30 years ago to become the mighty and fearsome outfit it is today.
Loading article content
Scottish Opera, much depleted now in musical staff, is no longer the force it once was, and it must do the best it can with its few remaining resources. The smaller ensembles – including groups such as the amazing Scottish Ensemble, Cappella Nova, Dunedin Consort, the rigorous Hebrides Ensemble and more – have fleshed out Scotland's musical profile and added their respective layers of excellence to the country's musical pedigree.
The RSAMD, now the Royal Conservatoire, has itself added lashings of variety and quality to the Glasgow and Scotland rich-mix, turning itself into a performance factory and an assembly line for producing superlative young composers, standing proud alongside contemporary greats in all walks of music, from James MacMillan and Sally Beamish to the film and TV soundtrack magicians John Lunn and Craig Armstrong.
Then along came Svend Brown, who, as artistic director of Glasgow's Concert Halls, threw several spanners into numerous works by announcing that, in Scotland's busiest city, he proposed to identify gaps and fill them. Hence the appearance, in recent years and sometimes in unexpected venues, of groups as diverse as the Academy of Ancient Music, the Kronos Quartet and the London Sinfonietta; from the Tallis Scholars and the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir to a vast survey of minimalism, and of festival-type composer portraits and intensive focuses such as offered in last month's piano festival.
So is that it, then? Does our mantra of musical Scotland as having one of everything extend to having one of absolutely everything? No, it does not. There is still a glaring gap in Scotland's resources: we do not have a professional period band in this country; or we should describe it properly as a band that gives historically-informed performances? There are two arguments here. You might suggest that we actually do, with a Scottish Ensemble that has turned its hand, its wrist and its gut strings towards the issue of an "authentic" style of performance. And we have a Scottish Chamber Orchestra which, with the flick of a wrist or the attachment of a crook, can turn itself into a vibrato-free band.
I expect that correspondence from anyone with the remotest attachment to early music performance styles will follow. But I reiterate: we do not have in Scotland a professional, dedicated period band playing in historically-informed style. Does that matter? In this age, with all the early scrapes and splodges excised, and genuine and staggering virtuoso bands and soloists proliferating all over the world, yes it does. Are there specialist courses in the conservatoire? I'm unaware of them. Are there regular concerts in the idiom anywhere in Scotland? If so, please tell me, as I do not know of them.
Is there any contemporary relevance to this? Yes there is. The absence of any such ensembles means we risk missing the chance to celebrate musical occasions marking anything significant from the Baroque period; and there is one such significant moment just around the corner with the tercentenary of the death of composer Arcangelo Corelli. More on this, and Corelli, next Saturday.