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Leading violinist gets top role at RSNO

Acclaimed violinist and conductor Peter Oundjian is to be the next music director of Scotland’s national orchestra, it was revealed last night.

Oundjian, 56, who is also a cousin of Monty Python star Eric Idle, will succeed the successful and popular conductor Stéphane Denève in the role.

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The Canadian will continue to be music director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra once he is the chief conductor of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO).

Oundjian, who will officially take up his position at the RSNO for the start of the 2012/13 season and will split his time between either side of the Atlantic, said he was “tremendously honoured” to succeed the popular Frenchman in the role.

His initial contract is for four years and, in the first year, he will conduct six weeks of the season, rising to seven in the second and eight in the third and fourth years.

Additional work will see Oundjian and the RSNO recording CDs, touring internationally and appearing at “major UK venues”.

He has already conducted the RSNO, making his debut in 2002 in a programme of Britten, Elgar and Rachmaninov and returned last March with a concert including performances of Vaughan Williams’s Fourth Symphony.

Oundjian has considerable experience as a professional musician as well as being a conductor: he was the first violinist of the renowned Tokyo String Quartet, a position he held for 14 years.

At the time of the concert in March last year, The Herald’s music critic, Michael Tumelty tipped him for the role at the RSNO and said he “is a workhorse of a conductor, a fantastic craftsman and a complete energiser”.

Oudjian is known for talking to his audiences in concerts and yesterday said communication was a key part of his approach to the role of conductor, as is his natural affinity with musicians.

“We all have to do what comes naturally to us, standing up there on the podium, it reveals extraordinary things about you,” he said.

“I think I speak to the audience, at some point, in every concert I conduct, but it really depends on the music and the night and not as a predictable event at some point in the evening.”

Oundjian’s grandfather was a Sanderson and of Scottish extraction, a grandfather he shares with Idle.

Oundjian and Idle collaborated on a piece called Not the Messiah (He’s a Very Naughty Boy), a comedic oratorio based on Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

It was written by Idle and collaborator John Du Prez, and received its world premiere in Toronto, under the baton of Oundjian. His brother Haig is a former British Olympic figure skater.

On splitting time between Canada and Scotland, Oundjian said it was not unusual for conductors to be music director of two orchestras.

He added: “I think it will be wonderful.

“Up until now I have been guest conducting for 20 weeks of the year. Now I can decrease that so I can commit myself to the RSNO in a way that will make a difference to the orchestra and the community.”

Denève added: “I am very happy indeed at the news that Peter Oundjian will succeed me as Music Director of this wonderful orchestra.

“I have been fortunate to conduct the Toronto Symphony on many occasions and have seen the great creativity, imagination and dedication that Peter has brought to them. I am sure he will bring that same commitment to the RSNO.”

Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop said: “While Stéphane Denève will be a hard act to follow, a Music Director with the credentials and experience of Peter Oundjian will undoubtedly enhance the reputation of the RSNO, both in Scotland and internationally.”

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