Small but perfect performances from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra

Scottish Chamber Orchestra Wind Soloists coming to a rural stage near you

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The Scottish Chamber Orchestra (SCO) is coming to a stage near you.

After a winter season performing in cities countrywide, SCO has reorganised itself into smaller touring groups – just the right fit for bringing the  magic of live music-making to rural community halls.

Ballachulish, Mull and Seil are three stop-off points for performances this month by the SCO wind soloists.

They will be at Ballachulish Village Hall on Thursday June 16 at 7.30pm then at Mull Theatre on Friday June 17 at 7.30pm and finally at Isle of Seil Community Hall, Ellenabeich on Saturday June 18, 7.30pm.

Tickets for  the Seil performance are available from Balvicar Stores, and for all dates from the SCO at or by calling 0131 557 6800, or at venue doors.

Free entry to children, carers; concessions for young adults, pensioners, and people living with disabilities.

Stephen Arnold from the Netherlorn Music Scheme writes: ‘The programme by the SCO Wind Soloists includes music by some of the greats of classical music – Telemann, Mozart, Beethoven, and Hummel. Although not their best known pieces, there is nothing to frighten the horses: these are composers who rise to every occasion with well-honed musical skills and unfailing imagination, holding you fast from beginning to end.

But how many of us have heard music by Matyas Seiber? Hungarian by birth and training, Seiber assisted Kodaly and Bartok in their ground-breaking work collecting and preserving Central European folk music. His Serenade: Sextet for Wind Instruments, included in the SCO programme, dates from 1925. As a student, Seiber submitted it to a competition at the Liszt Academy. The prize was withheld, allegedly because ‘reactionary’ judges over-ruled the ‘progressives’ on the panel which included Bartok, who resigned in protest.

It is hard to understand how there could be dispute over such an elegant and good-humoured work as this Serenade, with its many ear-tingling delights and deftly delivered technical tricks of musical rhetoric.

Moments to listen out for are the embedded folk tunes in the first movement and the ‘learned’ fugal sections which emerge in the third (final) movement – surely aimed at his teachers and examiners!

In 1927 Seiber moved to the music conservatoire in Frankfurt, Germany to establish a department for Jazz, the first of its kind. After six  years, the course was terminated by the Nazis, with Jazz deemed degenerate and racially impure. ‘Reactionary-versus-progressive’ was broadening into an existential contest in all fields of political and cultural life, later resulting in life-threatening persecution and mass migration away from fascism to the western liberal democracies.

Seiber moved in 1935 to a UK unprepared for the influx of intellectual refugee talent. He earned a living as an active and inspirational composition teacher. In 1942, Michael Tippett, then Director of Music at Morley College in London, an evening college providing courses for workers, offered Seiber employment as Lecturer in Composition.

He duly became one of the most sought after and influential teachers of composition in mid-20th century Britain.

At a time when classical musical often wore a rather serious mask, Seiber’s skills as an engaging all-round music communicator were certainly not universal. Although one of the most experimental composers of his day, he definitely could do serious, his sense of humour was never far away. Adept at addressing the needs of the moment, he equipped his students to turn their hands as easily to music for theatre and film, as for the concert hall. He even topped the UK hit parade with By the Fountains of Rome and
won the 1956 Ivor Novello Award for best song. The finest example of Seiber’s syncretic
approach is his Improvisations for Jazz Band and Symphony Orchestra (1958) written for John Dankworth and his band, which diligent readers can track down on YouTube.

Seiber died in a car accident in South Africa in 1960.

Columnist Jane Shilling recently wrote in a national newspaper, ‘Classical music touches a different place in the heart, offering not just consolation or a brief respite from fear and destruction. The fragility and power of live performance has today a special resonance: the promise of a future in which the clamour of war will be stilled while the harmonies remain.’

Come along and test her assertion for yourselves!’