The Royal Scottish National Orchestra has unveiled its new season with big plans to expand film soundtrack work. Following funding cuts, chief executive Alistair Mackie said that a key element of the orchestra’s budget is its work recording soundtracks in its studio next to Glasgow Royal Concert Hall.

The RSNO's recent film soundtrack work has included Matthew Vaughn's Argylle for Apple TV, featuring Dua Lipa and Richard E Grant, Marcelo Zarvos's score for the final instalment of the Denzel Washington franchise Equalizer 3, the Jennifer Lopez film The Mother, and Kevin Costner's Warner Brothers series Horizon, conducted by the composer John Debney.

The recently released Ubisoft Avatar game Frontiers of Pandora has music by Turkish-American composer Pinar Toprak which was recorded in Glasgow, and the orchestra has also recorded the music for the same company's forthcoming, much-anticipated, Star Wars Outlaws.

That work is mirrored in the forthcoming season concerts with film screenings, starting with Star Wars: A New Hope in September, with Life on Our Planet, narrated by Morgan Freeman, following in October. Home Alone is in December and Top Gun: Maverick is next March.

The Herald: Patrick HahnPatrick Hahn (Image: free)

“Film music is now a big part of what we do and we want to put it centre stage, rather than think of it as something for those people who don’t like the posh concerts” said Mr Mackie.

“The score for the Top Gun: Maverick film is by Lorne Balfe, a Scottish composer who has been doing a lot of work for us and will be back to do more scores. It’s nice to join up what we’re doing in the studio with what we’re doing on the platform.”

Mr Mackie is both upbeat about his organisation’s direction of travel and frank about the financial realities of running a symphony orchestra after Glasgow City Council announced it was cutting its funding.

“It is not just that Glasgow has reduced their contribution by £50,000, they are phasing it out. It will be zero at the same time as our costs are going up dramatically,” he said. “This programme was decided before we had that cut, so that impact will be down the line.”

Mr Mackie said studio is currently being upgraded to reflect the success the orchestra has had in building that side of the business.

“We didn’t have the confidence to make the full investment in the studio at the start because we weren’t so sure that Hollywood would come to us, but we did 17 soundtrack projects last year and the same number of film and video games contracts so far this year.

“With support from Scottish Enterprise we are creating a new double height control room to accommodate more people and to work with Dolby Atmos, so that you hear a helicopter, for instance, go up and over your head – it’s not just surround-sound, but has height as well.”

“The most difficult thing about the film soundtrack recording work is how late it sometimes comes in,” said Mr Mackie, “and we have to compress it into busy weeks.”


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RSNO/Sondergard at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall review

“The best film scores are phenomenal to play and the recording sessions are amazingly challenging: the players see the music immediately before they have to record it, but financially it is rewarding for the musicians. The extra income from the film business is significant, and puts you ahead of the competition – it’s an important recruitment tool.”

The season features the appointment of a new Principal Guest Conductor, Patrick Hahn, on a three-year contract, and has charismatic young American violinist Randall Goosby as Artist in Residence. It includes many concerts that require a large number of musicians for the symphonies of Mahler and Shostakovich, and Mr Mackie gave the Treasury’s continuation of Orchestra Tax Relief, confirmed in the recent Budget, some credit for that.

“Orchestra tax relief makes a hell of a difference to our economics, because if you do more rehearsal or bigger pieces it means more money. There is a financial consideration that makes it possible to do bigger pieces with the higher tax relief,” said Mr Mackie.

“We didn’t sit down and say: ‘We’re going to go big this year’, it just evolved and the tax relief made the economics of it viable. It means £1.7m to us, so it does change things.”

Those concerts include Music Director Thomas Sondergard conducting Mahler Symphonies Nos 2 and 9 and Shostakovich No 11, the latter closing the season in June 2025 in a concert that also includes the composer’s Cello Concerto with soloist Daniel Muller-Schott. 2025 is the 50th anniversary of the composer’s death.

The Herald: Alistair MackieAlistair Mackie (Image: free)

The new season is also a busy one for the RSNO Chorus, including the season opener with Mahler 2, Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, the New Year Handel’s Messiah conducted by Nicholas McGegan and Mozart’s Requiem conducted by Patrick Hahn. The choir will also feature in Jonathan Dove’s Uprising, the Scottish premiere of a new opera from the composer of Flight and Marx in London! which is a partnership with Glyndebourne Opera.

Randall Goosby, who made an acclaimed debut with the RSNO playing the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in April 2023, plays the Barber and Mendelssohn Concertos and joins a chamber music recital including the Mendelssohn Octet and the String Quartet No 1 by Florence Price.

The orchestra is nearing the end of its contract with music director Thomas Sondergard, which is confirmed to 2026 with an option to extend for a year after that, but Mr Mackie said there is no rush to appoint a successor.

“The relationship still works and touring in Europe last year was great: we were in the Musikverein in Vienna and in Lucerne, both big important venues – the partnership remains successful. There will almost certainly be a major international tour later this year and next year we have a residency that we are building concerts around,” he said.

The Herald: Randall GoosbyRandall Goosby (Image: free)

The orchestra’s current success on those fronts is what Mr Mackie finds disappointing about the Glasgow decision.

“I understand that Glasgow City Council is in a spot, but a pound of subsidy is really well spent for what we do for the profile of the city, the people we have coming to the city for the film music, the income that generates for the local economy, and the profile we carry with us on tour.

“We tried to make that case, and obviously we weren’t successful but I hope at some point the council reconsiders and looks at the economic value of culture and the RSNO and what we return to the city. It is not a gift, it’s an investment.”

Full details of the RSNO’s new season can be found at