Amicus Orchestra/Larsen-Maguire

Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow

Keith Bruce


THE ethos behind the Amicus Orchestra is an admirable one. It is, by definition, a non-professional ensemble, which provides a musical pathway for people who have chosen to make their life in other spheres but want to continue playing to a high standard in their spare time. It has among its ranks a good few alumni of the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland, from a wide range of years in that ensemble’s history.

The more remarkable thing is that it retains the ambition of those young players, so just as NYOS seems bolder and more accomplished with every passing year, so Amicus, although most of its membership are now beyond their years in education, tackles trickier music and performs programmes that will stretch its members. The appointment of principal conductor Catherine Larsen-Maguire, former principal bassoon at the Komische Oper Berlin and now building an international career on the podium, is clearly part of that ambitious strategy.

While she is based in Berlin, the Berlin-born soloist for Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1 now lives in Scotland, and bears an illustrious name. Elena Fischer-Dieskau is the grand-daughter of German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, one of the most famous singers of the 20th century. She studied in Hannover and Baltimore and has played concerts on both sides of the Atlantic, but this was, I think, her orchestral debut in Scotland, following a recital in Perth Concert Hall last year. Some of her phrasing of this well-known work was idiosyncratic, but her articulate fingering packs a powerful punch, and her close attention to the blend of her playing with the orchestra was always apparent.

The choice of Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony was indicative of the Amicus ambition, even if they had not turned out to be playing it in the same week as the RSNO. These musicians showed no fear, with confident horn and brass, some lovely plaintive clarinet, and assured leadership, with a beautifully-toned solo, from Abigail Young.