My first week up North

Euan Murdoch is travelling Around the World in 60 Days and blogging about it…


euan map london to glasgowI picked up a rental car last Tuesday in London and have made my way up to Scotland via Sheffield and Manchester. Everything including the weather has become warmer the further north I go.

In 2008, Glasgow was named as a UNESCO City of Music and it’s something they are very proud of. I’ve been here for three days and have barely scratched the surface of what’s on offer. There are more than 130 music events on every week and an embarrassment of formal and informal venues and excellent facilities spread across the city. Four of five national music organisations are based here and the other one tours here from nearby Edinburgh (an hour to the east) most Fridays. New Zealand and Scotland share many things in common, we are both relatively small but punch far above our weight in the arts and cultural world. However, I am green with envy at the level of support offered here and there is a very positive vibe.

I have met with the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland who have completely revamped their curriculum to address the future for performance, Scottish Opera run by Kiwi Alex Reedijk who is transforming this institution in their 50th anniversary season, Hebrides Ensemble who are part of New:Aud a European initiative to connect new audiences with new music and Enterprise Music Scotland (EMS). All have entrepreneurial and pioneering genes, qualities that we share in our DNA.

EMS is responsible for touring chamber music throughout Scotland. They do not present their own concerts but instead facilitate and resource the extensive network of music venues, clubs and societies throughout Scotland. They have begun to work with artists to prepare them for new opportunities and each year select several ensembles to be in residence. Last year they hosted a national conference focussed on new music and invited champions such as Kronos Quartet and Philip Glass to deliver concerts, workshops and seminars. Next year they intend to continue the new music theme but to invite Commonwealth composers and performers to align with the Commonwealth Games being hosted in Glasgow. We explored possible exchanges and will continue this conversation. EMS is grappling with introducing new audiences to chamber music and like us, trying new things including finding alternate performance platforms outside of the mainstream.

Old Fruitmarket Glasgow

Old Fruitmarket Glasgow

Glasgow’s Old Fruitmarket, that is linked to their magnificently restored City Halls, has been transformed in to an alternate performance space. It has retained much of its original character and is a flexible space for events and concerts. Hebrides Ensemble named it as one of their most preferred venues. Theatre Royal, owned by Scottish Opera, is a gorgeous room for opera and ballet and is about to have a new welcoming face added to it, and the Conservatoire facilities are amongst the best I’ve seen anywhere in the world!

So, why has all this investment been poured in to the Arts? Scotland is about to hold a national referendum on independence early next year and it is clear that arts and culture are seen as vital to re-establishing their national identity. This vote coincides with hosting the Commonwealth Games and I dare say that this is by design rather than by accident! One ongoing theme is that they see themselves as connected with European partners as much as with their English neighbours…that sounds familiar too.

I’ve enjoyed performances by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and, last night, Scottish Opera’s new production of The Flying Dutchman. Both had a freshness about them and audiences were engaged and enthusiastic.

On my way North, I spent an afternoon in Sheffield with Music in the Round staff and discovered another ambitious music organisation experimenting with reaching new audiences. Their founding principle is that audiences should be no further than 10 yards from the performers. There is no doubt that proximity to the stage is one way of heightening the engagement but as my last post from the Royal Albert Hall noted, it is as important that audiences are brought closer to the music in other ways.

Morris, Hargreaves, McIntyre is the group of lateral thinkers that has woken us up from our slumber and I loved the day I spent with them in Manchester. They are full of new ways to reach and engage with audiences and use their experience and expertise gained from working alongside institutions such as the British Museum and Southbank Centre in London to inform arts and cultural organisations right across the world. They even have an office in Auckland! Andrew, Gerri and Jo thanks for everything that you are doing to keep us moving up and forward.

Today I’m seizing the chance to spend a day on the Isle of Arran with an old Kiwi friend who teaches at the Royal Northern College of Music before backtracking to Stirling for the next chapter of my journey. I am being hosted by the remarkable Sistema Scotland but I’ll save that story until my next post.

Until then, do follow-up any of the people, places and organisations that I’ve mentioned. Every one has a rich story and a vision for the future. I cannot do them justice here.

– Euan, 7.4.13

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2 comments

  1. Brings back memories of my 10 days in Glasgow in February Euan. I too really enjoyed the Old Fruitmraket as a venue. I too am impressed by the level of public support that the arts gets in Scotland, and also like you (lots of ‘likes’ or ‘too’s I know) really enjoyed watching audiences’ reactions to performances – the Glaswegians are certainly vocal and enthusiastic. There is a great energy in Glasgow, and I believe that it is becoming a hub for emerging artists from a range of disciplines as is it cheaper than either Paris or Berlin.

    As a side note Euan, I met Terry O’Brien (a woman) who manages ‘Spiro’ – an eclectic folk chamber group who are obviously influenced by the Philp Glass school of minimalism. I said that I would let you know about these guys so will follow up with an email. Terry is based in Kent.

    1. Hi Chris
      Thanks for your comments…
      I’ve been touched by the warmth of the Scottish and struck by similarities between us. Spending today in Stirling observing and speaking with the team at Sistema Scotland has been very inspiring. They are about to start their second Big Noise project in Glasgow and it is a great chance to pick their brains and share stories. Here, we are within half an hour of my family roots in Perth and that has special resonance for me too.
      The key is to stay warm and keeping on the move helps! Edinburgh tomorrow and back to Glasgow the next.
      Cheers,
      Euan

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