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Scottish orchestra hits the high notes in China

The once-dry Glasgow suburb of Cathcart was the toast of one of the largest cities in China last night as the Royal Scottish National Orchestra took a very special Scottish Hogmanay to Shenzhen.

PIPERS DELIGHT: The royal Scottish National Orchestra, featuring pipers from the National Youth Pipe Band, in Shenzen, with music director Peter Oundijan.
PIPERS DELIGHT: The royal Scottish National Orchestra, featuring pipers from the National Youth Pipe Band, in Shenzen, with music director Peter Oundijan.

The RSNO made its mark on Sino-Scottish relations with concerts greeted by whoops of delight, cheering and standing ovations at Shenzhen's palatial concert hall, which is just five years old.

The tune Cathcart, written by accordianist Phil Cunningham for the Scottish Power Pipe Band a decade ago and arranged for pipes and orchestra by the late Kevin McCrae, was one of the pieces that whipped the Chinese audience into a New Year's Eve frenzy.

The pipes were played by half a dozen young men from the National Youth Pipe Band, who also featured in Highland Cathedral and a new setting of New Year anthem Auld Lyne Syne.

Such was the reaction in Shenzhen, principal conductor and music director Peter Oundjian, who is also making his China debut, said: "I'm not doing any concerts without bagpipes from now on."

After an early evening concert featuring Mendelssohn's "Scottish" Symphony and Elgar's Enigma Variations, the orchestra returned to the stage at 11pm for a special programme of music to bring in the New Year.

Mixing Viennese waltzes and polkas with music from Scotland in a "Pops" programme, the orchestra also played Chinese composer Li Huanzhi's Spring Festival Overture, which clearly delighted the audience.

Classical music has a growing audience in China, and those who previously thought nothing of answering their mobile phones and conducting conversations during the music are now more aware of concert etiquette.

Rules not to take photographs are also rigorously enforced by young ushers, although the attraction of the kilted pipers proved irresistible for many.

One of their number, 16-year-old Iain Crawford, was the soloist in Sir Peter Maxwell Davies's An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise, a piece which includes the finest orchestral evocation of inebriation, performed with comic skill by the musicians and played at both concerts.

Although there are no bars or interval drinks in Chinese concert halls, their laughter showed the audience were in on the joke. They were probably less aware of Cathcart's past as a temperance-voting area however.

An Orkney Wedding's traditional music content also chimed with the dance elements in the whole programme, which concluded with the Strauss favourite On the Beautiful Blue Danube and, as an encore, the New Year Strauss favourite Radetsky March. It is inarguable that 2013 has already seen Scotland's national orchestra beat the Vienna Philharmonic, whose annual New Year concert does not begin until noon today, 20 hours later. It is also unlikely that the well-heeled in the Musikverein will have quite as much fun as the RSNO's fans in Shenzhen.

The RSNO is attracting large audiences on its Chinese tour, with many parents with young children mixing with smartly-dressed young couples as well as older music lovers. After the New Year's Eve concerts, the tour moves on to the capital Beijing before dates in Tianjin and Macau. It was supported by the Scottish Government with a special grant of £110,000.

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