Formed in 1974 with a commitment to serve the Scottish community, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (= SCO) is one of Scotland’s foremost cultural ambassadors, touring regularly in the Far East, Europe and the USA. The SCO is internationally recognised for its innovative approach to music-making and programme planning. Its winter season includes concerts in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, St Andrews, Perth, Dumfries, Ayr and Inverness. It also undertakes an annual Highlands Tour and has played in over 100 small communities across the Scottish Highlands and Islands. It appears regularly at the Edinburgh International Festival, the BBC Proms and the St Magnus (Orkney) and Aldeburgh Festivals. Its busy international touring schedule has recently included the USA, Austria, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, The Netherlands, Sweden and Hong Kong.
The SCO enjoys close relationships with many leading composers and has commissioned more than sixty new works. Composer Laureate Sir Peter Maxwell Davies’ series of ten Strathclyde Concertos was commissioned by Strathclyde Regional Council for the SCO principals. Affiliate Composer James MacMillan has composed a number of important works for the Orchestra, including Veni, Veni Emmanuel, the percussion concerto commissioned by Christian Salvesen PLC for Evelyn Glennie and the SCO. The Orchestra is currently collaborating with the Swedish Chamber Orchestra in a four-year programme of joint commissions from Composers-in-Residence Sally Beamish and Karin Rehnqvist.
The success of Principal Conductor Joseph Swensen’s dynamic relationship with the SCO, now in its seventh year, continues to develop. During the 2003-2004 Season, he is reunited with legendary L.v. Beethoven interpreter, Stephen Kovacevich, to perform all five of L.v. Beethoven’s piano concertos. The Orchestra’s first recordings with Swensen, which were released in 1999, were works by James MacMillan (BIS) and the Bruch and Felix Mendelssohn Violin Concertos (Telarc). Swensen’s latest recording with the Orchestra is an all-F. Mendelssohn CD which was the first in a series made in partnership with Linn Records. Following this CD are an all-Sibelius disc and all-Prokofiev one, to be released later in the year.
The SCO’s close relationship with Conductor Laureate Sir Charles Mackerras has resulted in many successful recordings, including a Grammy-nominated set of Johannes Brahms symphonies, six W.A. Mozart operas (including Grammy-nominated Idomeneo, which was recorded and performed at the 2001 Edinburgh International Festival), L.v. Beethoven’s Fidelio, symphonies by Schubert and J. Brahms’ serenades. The third in a series of three CDs of W.A. Mozart Piano Concertos with Sir Charles Mackerras, Alfred Brendel and the Orchestra was released last year on the Philips label. A recording of W.A. Mozart’s Il Seraglio for Antelope Films/Telarc, made by Sir Charles Mackerras, the Orchestra and the SCO Chorus, was released in 2000 and is the soundtrack of the film, Mozart in Turkey. Their recording of W.A. Mozart’s Requiem for Linn Records, was released to critical acclaim in May 2003.
Other conductors who appear regularly with the SCO include Nicholas McGegan, Andrew Litton, Frans Brüggen, Arnold Östman and Emmanuel Krivine.
The SCO plays a prominent role in the Edinburgh International Festival. In 2003, the SCO will perform the complete J. Brahms Symphonies and Piano Concertos under Sir Charles Mackerras. The Orchestra will also give concert performances of Händel’s opera Poro, Verdi’s Macbeth and Rossini’s Zelmira. At the end of the Festival the Orchestra, with the SCO Chorus, returns to the Ross Bandstand in Princes Street Gardens to perform an all-Händel programme for the annual Bank of Scotland Fireworks Concert, which is watched by an audience of over a quarter of a million.
The SCO has led the way in music education, with a unique programme of projects. The Orchestra’s Education Development Department provides workshops for children and adults across Scotland and has also attracted interest and invitations from overseas. Together with the City of Edinburgh Council, the SCO has appointed a Composer Laureate for Schools, Rory Boyle, who is currently involved in a three-year project creating three new pieces for school pupils to perform alongside members of the Orchestra. This and other projects encourage the participation and creativity of individuals, no matter how skilled, and endeavour to build relationships within the communities served by the Orchestra’s concert seasons and tours. The Orchestra is featured in regular broadcasts and is much in demand in the recording studio with a discography now exceeding 140 recordings.
The Scottish Chamber Orchestra Chorus has built a reputation as one of Scotland's finest and most versatile choirs. It is the SCO's resident chorus, working regularly with conductors including SCO Principal Conductor Joseph Swensen, Conductor Laureate Sir Charles Mackerras, Frans Brüggen, Nicholas McGegan and Arnold Östman.
Recent concerts have covered repertoire as diverse as L.v. Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, J.S. Bach's Easter Oratorio (BWV 248), the Gabriel Fauré and Maurice Duruflé Requiems in versions for chorus and organ, and performances of W.A. Mozart's Requiem with Sir Charles Mackerras (also recorded).
In the 2003-2004 season, the chorus performs Dvorák's Mass in D conducted by Carlo Rizzi as part of the SCO's Dvorák Centenary celebrations. Nicholas McGegan returns in late November for performances of George Frideric Handell's Israel in Egypt and, in January, Stephen Layton conducts J.S. Bach and Haydn.
There are also performances in Greyfriars Kirk (Edinburgh) and St Mary's Episcopal Cathedral (Glasgow) with young conductor Olari Elts. The concert features music from the Baltic region, including music by Magnus Lindberg, Tüur and Sibelius and choral music by Arvo Pärt.
Previous recordings with the SCO include W.A. Mozart's Il Seraglio (also with Charles Mackerras) and Bellini's I Capuleti ed i Montecchi with Donald Runnicles.
A regular visitor to the Edinburgh International Festival, the Chorus has in recent years sung in a ballet production of F. Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream, a concert of French Opérette and in concert of W.A. Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito and Così fan tutte. One of the Herald newspaper's coveted 'Angel' awards was given to the Chorus for its Messiah at the 2001 Festival, a performance praised by the reviewer for "pellucid articulation... and all-round stunning singing."
In addition to its work with the Orchestra, the Chorus is in demand for outside engagements. These have included a performance and BBC Radio 2 broadcast of the Lerner and Loewe musical Camelot with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Edinburgh International Festival performances with the Philharmonia Orchestra, and concerts of choral music by Benjamin Britten and Purcell with the Dunedin Consort. In June 2002 the Chorus sang for Birmingham Royal Ballet's highly acclaimed production of Carmina Burana and returned to Edinburgh's Festival Theatre in February 2003 to sing W.A. Mozart's Requiem with Northern Ballet Theatre.