Last night’s Prom offered the invigorating spectacle of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra playing beautifully under their fine young conductor Ilan Volkov. One of the good effects of globalisation has been on the standards of orchestral playing. Because of the widespread availability of music both live and recorded, nobody can now hide in a corner and pretend they don’t know how well their fellow musicians are playing elsewhere. And because of the international music circuit, musicians now move between countries much more than they used to, with the result that orchestras are now interestingly multi-cultural. In the case of the BBC Scottish, whom I used to know fairly well when I was a student in Scotland, the improvement in their morale since those days is simply enormous.
As a student I once had the opportunity to play a piano concerto with them. As usual with concerto soloists, I had been practising the piece every day for months and months, but as usual with orchestras, I was given just one rehearsal – part of one rehearsal, actually. The piece was a long one and by the time we’d been through it once, stopping to discuss this and that, it was time for a tea-break. The conductor looked at the orchestra with a twinkle and said, ‘Well, ladies and gentlemen, that’ll do. After all, we’re not here to be extremely musical.’ Everyone laughed. And that was the end of my rehearsal. The experience stayed with me for a long time.
So it was cheering, to say the least, to watch the orchestra last night, accomplished, engaged and alert, flying the flag for Scotland in front of an appreciative Proms audience.