Fitting way to celebrate orchestra’s 20th anniversary

Tayside Symphony Orchestra played to a capacity audience on Saturday evening in the Reid Hall, Forfar for its 20th anniversary concert.

Twenty years ago, Ron Walker and friends formed the Orchestra for a one-off charity concert.

Such is the camaraderie among the players, it has gone from strength to strength. The two aims of the orchestra are to support local charities and to encourage young people on the musical path as a career. The anniversary concert more than fulfilled those aims with past soloists such as Ross Knight (tuba) – who travelled up from his studies in London to take part in Saturday’s concert, and Sophie Sneddon (violin) who has recently become a fully-fledged doctor, (what a loss to the music world!) – swelling the ranks.

The programme opened with Beethoven’s ‘Fidelio’ Overture, with the fanfare-like introduction capturing the audience’s attention and setting the military-style tone which was to follow. The slow moving theme echoing between horns and clarinets was particularly moving.

Max Bruch’s ‘Scottish Fantasia’ for violin and orchestra welcomed the young violinist from Perth, Ben Norris.  There are four movements in this work, each based on a different Scottish folk tune. The best known movement is the fourth, with ‘Scots Wha Hae’ being instantly recognisable. This provided the soloist with the opportunity for a wonderful display of virtuosity.

Ben Norris’s playing was exceptional and was well-balanced by the orchestra, bringing the first half of the programme to a rousing end, at the same time evincing a well-deserved standing ovation from an ecstatic audience led by Mary, Dowager Countess of Strathmore who, although now resident in the Borders, had made the journey back to Angus especially to attend the performance in her role as the TSO’s Honorary President.

The concert concluded with the very exacting Rachmaninov Second Symphony, which was played in May 1995 during the early concerts given by the orchestra. This work demands great stamina from the players and was performed with great aplomb. The score gives the opportunity for all orchestral families to display their skills, ranging from strings to glockenspiel and harp, woodwinds to horns, in all of which Rachmaninov’s moods of joy, exuberance, melancholy and romanticism were well-captured throughout. Special mention must be made of the haunting clarinet solo which introduced the third movement.

Ron Walker deserves great credit for attempting such an ambitious programme as an anniversary concert and for exacting such a high standard of performance from the orchestra. 

This was truly a fitting way to not only celebrate 20 years of exceptional music-making by Tayside Symphony Orchestra - it also served as a poignant stimulant for Ron Walker to pay tribute yet again to his father whose death in 1992 galvanised him into forming the orchestra at that particular time.