SCO's 40th Birthday Concert, Usher Hall, Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show details
Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Robin Ticciati (conductor), Martin Suckling (composer)
Maria Joao Pires (pianist), Members of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Running time

This week the Scottish Chamber Orchestra is celebrating its 40th birthday. Since its inception it has developed a reputation as a very fine chamber orchestra indeed with an abundance of talented musicians. Its status has been further enhanced by Robin Ticciati’s appointment five years ago as the Principal Conductor, taking the orchestra on its first major European tour in 2012, to much acclaim.

Now it is travelling further afield for the birthday celebrations, playing for the first time at the prestigious annual Mozart festival in Salzburg and at the Vienna Musikverein after which it embarks on a major tour of the Far East with Maria Joao Pires.

For its celebratory concert at the Usher Hall, the SCO chose a diverse programme beginning with the premiere of Glasgow-born Martin Suckling’s Six Speechless Songs. Suckling has already collaborated with the orchestra when it recently performed his ‘shimmering storm, rose, tiger.’

Indeed, it was such a success with the orchestra that it has not only appointed him as the new associate composer (with three collaborations still to come), but Suckling was also commissioned to write Six Speechless Songs to commemorate the SCO's 40th.

Ticciati said of this collaboration: “The best way to celebrate SCO’ birthday is to have the youngest composer we work with, a Scottish composer, and music that we love.”

Suckling is a classical violinist and used to play in a ceilidh band and these influences can be heard in many passages of this composition which starts with a vibrant contrapuntal sound incorporating strings and horns (brass features prominently in many of the songs) then as the songs progress we are at times taken on a musical journey as strings gently interweave in the most delicate of sounds, reminiscent of dawn tentatively breaking, and the piece concludes on a beautiful, tranquil note.

The acclaimed pianist Maria Joao Pires was next on the platform to perform Chopin’s Piano Concerto No 2. The orchestra have also a marvellous rapport with Pires – its musicians love working with her and she is going to be joining them on their forthcoming Far East tour.

Chopin said he wanted his compositions to be played by candlelight so the pianist can engage totally with the music, and that is exactly what Pires does. Her diminutive, humble stature quite belies the prodigious talent she displays on the piano. Her interpretation of Chopin’s music was magnificent, pulling at the heart strings as many of his musical passages do. It was a joy to hear her playing with Ticciati and the orchestra - as an ensemble they created a most memorable, collaborative occasion.

Beethoven’s Symphony No 5 was the last composition in this celebratory concert. As if to acknowledge the occasion Ticciati steadied himself before beginning then with his expressive hands we were transported to a dynamic rendition of this famous symphony. It was thrilling to hear the musicians playing with such energy and passion. The brass section were exemplary, and the double basses superb in the final movement. And so the exceptional rousing finale of the legendary fifth symphony concluded this notable celebratory concert.

Friday 7th February: City Halls, Glasgow.

Tickets: £14/£28