Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, Thu 10 Apr; City Halls, Glasgow, Fri 11 Apr
It’s not often that a new orchestral commission has its world premiere in Strathpeffer, but that is what happened in the case of Stuart MacRae’s Scottish Chamber Orchestra commission, Birches. In a reversal of the usual way of these things, it is Edinburgh and Glasgow audiences who have had to wait in line – behind Fort William and Findhorn – to hear the 31-year-old composer’s latest work. Explaining the reasoning behind the scheduling, SCO Managing Director Roy McEwan says: ‘The piece was commissioned for Highland Year of Culture 2007, so that’s why we gave the premiere in Strathpeffer, but we very much wanted to bring it back into our mainstream series and to give it wider circulation.’
Originally from Inverness, MacRae first captured the public’s attention when he won the 1996 Lloyd’s Bank Young Composer’s prize when the BBC Philharmonic gave the first professional performance of Boreraig, a piece inspired by a visit to a deserted village on Skye. A period as Composer in Association with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, the premiere of his Violin Concerto with Tasmin Little at the 2001 Proms and his Edinburgh Festival opera, The Assassin Tree have all combined to bring heightened recognition. Birches was written while MacRae was living in Germany.
‘Whenever I thought of home,’ he says, ‘I found my head filled with images of the stands of birch trees that spread across the hillsides and streamsides of the Highlands.’
According to McEwan, the piece is ‘very typical of Stuart’s music. It is very finely crafted with lots of atmosphere of the countryside around where he comes from.’
Alongside Birches, the SCO programme another recent addition to their repertoire, Haflidi Hallgriimsson’s Cello Concerto, written in 2003. ‘We wanted to give repeat performances to two SCO commissions,’ says McEwan, ‘and this one is such a strong piece.’