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Motoring news

Audi’s new Q cars

April 12 2017

Another week, another new Audi. Two new Audis, in fact. The German car maker has announced a couple more additions to its Q line up of SUVs. The Q4 is a coupe-SUV hybrid that will go up against the BMW X4 and Mercedes GLC Coupe. As its name suggests, it’ll be positioned between the compact Q3 and bigger Q5. At the other end of the scale is the Q8, which will go head to head against the Range Rover. It’s lower and sleeker than the Q7 Audi is also producing. In concept form, it sat only four people, although it seems likely the production version will be a five seater. There’s a 630 litre boot as well. Eagle eyed Audi followers will notice the only SUV slots left to fill are the Q1 and Q6. Watch this space...


REVIEW: SCO at St Andrews Younger Hall

April 20 2018

If getting the chronology wrong with composers is the only thing the Scottish Chamber Orchestra got incorrect at their concert on Wednesday night in St Andrews’ Younger hall, it shows what lengths one must go pick the most miniscule fault in this orchestra’s make-up. Haydn before CPE Bach? Outrageous! Seriously, it didn’t matter one jot as the programme and performance was a delicious as it could be, a two-symphonies-plus-concerto format that showed the orchestra at their magnificent best. Someone once said that Vivaldi wrote hundreds of concerti and they all sound the same. The same could be said for Haydn’s 104 symphonies. They are of a trade-mark formula but if you want to avoid any monotony, ask the SCO and conductor Richard Egarr to take a hand in proceedings. They turn music of this genre into an art form and consequently provided 20 minutes or so of exceptionally precise and superbly structured performance. If I had one legitimate complaint it would arise through the next item in the programme, CPE Bach’s A minor cello concerto. Had soloist Philip Higham moved forward a foot or two, then his magnificent performance would have come over that bit better. It did merge into the general orchestral sound on more than one occasion. But then I’m splitting the most-slender of hairs as he and the SCO strings delivered a performance to savour. Higham’s superb technique, style and virtuosity did shine through especially in the last movement, which followed a lyrical Andante, and which included a spirited 5-note motif that was tossed to and from throughout the orchestra. Incidentally, his cello was around before the composer was born – 1697 compared to 1714. The concert closed with Mendelssohn’s third symphony, the “Scottish”. It’s as Scottish as the Eiffel Tower despite the so-called “Charlie is my darling” melody in the second movement, but it is a fine piece of music. “Fine” isn’t the word you’d use for the Egarr and the SCO’s delivery. Try polished, exceptional or unparalleled and if these fall short go for magnificent and memorable. This was the final concert in this SCO St Andrews series and such a performance whets the appetite for more glorious music in season 2018-2019.


Breaking down barriers via the Inspiration Orchestra

February 24 2018

The Inspiration Orchestra is a project aimed at enabling disabled people to play beautiful music, as Gayle finds out Techno, hip-hop, classical, death metal, rock n’roll or smooth jazz – the genre doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that everyone, no matter what colour, creed or culture, can be soothed, energised, moved and healed by music. In Perth, the power of music is being celebrated through the Inspiration Orchestra. Led by singer/songwriter Ian White, the project sees him teach music to severely disabled adults via the charity Home Visit and then offers them the chance to perform concerts. “I hadn’t had much experience of being around people with profound disabilities and saw myself as being separate from them and unconnected,” says Ian, when I meet him for a group rehearsal. “However, this false and rather naive perception has changed and I now realise that every one of us can make a positive and meaningful contribution regardless of skill or ability.” Today, a group of 19 people with a range of disabilities, including brain damage, spina bifida, Down’s Syndrome and various genetic conditions, are taking part. The orchestra’s “mascot”, Bichon Frise Tilly, curls up on a lap while guitar strings are tweaked and keyboards tapped. So, how does it work? It’s about breaking it down into basic components, explains Ian. “Most of my players can use one finger on each hand, as a minimum starting point,” he says. “They use electronic keyboards and I construct special stands customised for each player. “If they can read but need help with note identification, I write on the note names in large letters. “If they can’t read, I go for colour identification. One pupil, although very limited in hand control, is a great learner and has successfully memorised all the note positions with no assistance from letters or colours.” With careful choice of songs, Ian can pick pieces which have constant notes running through them, or that require minimal changes. Ed Sheeran’s Perfect, for example, has quite a complicated melody line, but it’s possible for a keyboard player to hold one single note that works through the whole song. “For songs that need one simple note change, I use a light system with a foot switch,” says Ian. “I press the switch and a light comes on in front of the player and they know to change note.” Ian also modifies guitars so they are a single string operation. This means players with very limited use of one finger can simply reach out and pluck the string. For pupils with no arm or hand control, he’s devised a computer system where notes are activated by eye movement. “My goal is to enable anyone who wants to participate in music to get involved,” says Ian. “Although I’ve had years of touring and recording with professional musicians, this project is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.” Sarah Chapman, 32, who has cerebral palsy and is partially blind, tells me she started off playing one note on the keyboard but can now can play chords. “Being part of the orchestra makes me so happy,” she adds. Sitting down at a keyboard, I follow Ian’s instructions and I play my part in the Inspiration Orchestra. What an honour that is. The sound we make is not, as some might imagine, a jarring cacophony, but is in fact beautiful music. We fire through 11 songs, with the rousing finale being Dancing in the Street. Throughout the session, everyone beams from ear-to-ear – rarely have I witnessed such unadulterated joy in one room! The biggest grins come from Jemmelyn, who plays an uplifting keyboard solo mid-song. And Brian Lynch is ecstatic, belting out the lyrics, when we play his favourite Westlife song. It’s clear that Ian is working wonders for disabled people, but he is modest about his success. “Able-bodied people wanting to join an orchestra have to receive individual tuition, practice as a group, then overcome the nerves of playing in public,” he says. “All I’ve done is try to duplicate that in the disabled community.” Margaret Benson, whose disabled son David is on keyboards, helps Ian on a regular basis. “The orchestra has been life changing for David – the smile on his face says it all,” she says. “Each person plays a small part but when they come together, it’s symphonic. It’s a huge boost to their confidence and gives them a sense of purpose and self-worth.” info The Inspiration Orchestra’s next concert is at St Matthew’s Church, Tay St, Perth, on April 20 at 7.30pm. Ian’s dream is to get more people involved and to break down barriers and prejudices about disabled people. The group has just got funding for a sound engineering graduate who will work with them part-time. Their work revolves around weekly individual music lessons, weekly orchestra practices and monthly public concerts. All lessons are free of charge and funded by the charity, Home Visit. For more details, see theinspirationorchestra.com

UK & World

Viola player wins case against Royal Opera House over ‘acoustic shock’

March 28 2018

A leading viola player’s hearing was irreparably damaged by loud music during rehearsals, the High Court has ruled.In the landmark case, which could have repercussions for orchestras up and down the country, Christopher Goldscheider claimed he was exposed to unacceptable noise levels in the pit at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in 2012.Mr Goldscheider, 45, from Biggleswade, Bedfordshire, said he suffered “acoustic shock” and became unwell after sitting in front of an 18-strong brass section during orchestral rehearsals for a performance of Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle.On Wednesday, Mrs Justice Nicola Davies ruled in his favour on the issues of breach of duty and causation of injury, with damages to be assessed. She refused the Royal Opera House Covent Garden Foundation permission to appeal although it can still apply directly to the Court of Appeal.Mr Goldscheider, whose claim for lost earnings alone is almost £750,000, said he had to give up playing or even listening to music.His counsel, Theo Huckle QC, said the effects of the injury – including hypersensitivity to noise – had “seriously diminished his life in all significant respects”.Mr Goldscheider,  he added, was exposed to an average noise level of 91 decibels over a three-hour period and, despite him wearing ear plugs, that gave rise to a “substantial risk of injury”.The Foundation, which runs the venue, contended that his condition was not caused by playing in the orchestra.David Platt QC said Mr Goldscheider had been provided with ear protection and the opera house had gone “as far and, if anything, further than the reasonable employer” to reduce noise levels.The judge said that the Foundation was in breach of a number of the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005.She added: “In my view there is a clear factual and causal link between the identified breaches of the Regulations and the high level of noise which ensued at the rehearsal.“It commenced with an inadequate risk assessment, continued with a failure to undertake any monitoring of noise levels in the cramped orchestra pit with a new orchestral configuration which had been chosen for artistic reasons.“Even when complaints were raised, the three-hour afternoon rehearsal was commenced and completed in the absence of any live time noise monitoring.”Had the Foundation complied with its statutory duty, Mr Goldscheider would not have been exposed to the level of noise which he was, she added.She was satisfied that the noise levels at the rehearsal were within the range identified as causing acoustic shock.“The index exposure was the playing of the principal trumpet in the right ear of the claimant whether it was one sound or a cluster of sounds of short duration.“It was that exposure which resulted in the claimant sustaining acoustic shock which led to the injury which he sustained and the symptoms which have developed, from which he continues to suffer.”Royal Opera House lawyers told the court at the earlier hearing that possible precautions would involve “very significant cost for a very limited gain”.They said that, for example, extending the orchestra pit into the auditorium would cost £1.3 million with an annual loss of £2 million in revenue, while the resulting reduction in sound levels for a viola player would be “negligible”.

Perth & Kinross

Star Wars features in orchestral Perth Concert Hall performance

February 17 2016

Perth Symphony Orchestra will join forces with Perth Youth Orchestra for the finale of their season. Under the direction of Allan Young, the two orchestras are set to appear together for the first time in three years at Perth Concert Hall on Saturday February 27 at 7.30pm. The first half of the concert will see Perth Symphony Orchestra perform the Overture from William Tell, Carmen Suite No. 1, an orchestration of the music from George Bizet’s opera, and Malcolm Arnold’s Tam o’ Shanter, based on the famous poem by Robert Burns. After the interval Perth Symphony Orchestra will be joined on stage by the young musicians of Perth Youth Orchestra to perform a selection of other popular classics as well as music from stage and screen including Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. “This is a very exciting finale to Perth Symphony’s Season,” said Mr Young. “A real family concert with something that will be enjoyed by all age groups. “We are particularly excited about having Perth Youth Orchestra joining PSO for the second half. This combined orchestra will feature over 180 players and is sure to make an amazing sound as well as providing an incredible visual spectacle. Many concert goers may remember the fantastic sell-out concert three years ago when the two orchestras last paired up and I am sure this concert will be just as exciting.” Tickets can be purchased in advance from Perth Concert Hall box office in person, by phone on 01738 621031 or at www.horsecross.co.uk. There is free admission for up to two under 16s with a paying adult (not available online).

Perth & Kinross

Praise for music tutors as young learners impress at Perform in Perth

March 15 2017

The latest day of the Perform in Perth festival featured a number of impressive performances by youngsters from across Perth and Kinross. So impressed were adjudicators that Secretary Michael Jamieson was moved to offer additional praise to their music teachers and the “high standard of instrumental tuition in the area”. He also thanked the Creative Connections Fund associated with Perth’s 2021 City of Culture bid for enabling the festival to use Perth Concert Hall for its orchestral classes. Results: Wind Band (schools, advanced): 1 Perth High School Wind Band (88); 2 Perth Academy Wind Band (84). Wind Band (non-school): 1 25th Stirling (Dunblane) Boy’s Brigade Band (85). String Orchestra (schools, intermediate): 1 Perth Grammar School String Orchestra (86); 2 Crieff High String Group (84). String Orchestra (schools, advanced): 1 Perth Academy String Orchestra (88); 2 Kinross High String Orchestra (85). Orchestra (schools, intermediate): 1 Kinross High School Orchestra (85). Orchestra (schools, advanced): 1 Perth Academy Orchestra (87). Orchestra (non-school): 1 Perth Youth Orchestra (90). Flute Solo (beginners): 1 Honor Paul, RDM Primary (87); 2 Maisie Morgan, Strathallan (86); 3= Nicole Roger, Ruthvenfield PS and Ellan Lacoux, Abernyte PS (both 85). Flute Solo (elementary): 1 Shelley Wong, Strathallan (87); 2 Laura Hamilton, Crieff High School (86); 3= Isabelle Stanton, Breadalbane Academy; Rachel Stewart, Dollar Academy and Sophie Harvey, Dollar Academy (all 85). Oboe Solo (elementary): 1 Hannah Parker, Morrison’s Academy (85). Alto Saxophone Solo (beginners): 1 Reuben Whiteside, Collace PS (87); 2 Molly Stirling, St John’s Academy (85). Alto Saxophone Solo (elementary): 1 Struan Davie, Oakbank PS (87). Clarinet Solo (beginners): 1 Katie Archibald, Tulloch PS (88); 2 Alexander Glackin, St John’s Academy (87); 3= Hannah Mitchell, RDM Primary and Owen Paterson, RDM Primary (both 86).


From Fife to Kentucky – Grammy Award-winning Jimmy Webb adds classical string to his bow

September 27 2016

Grammy Award winning song writer Jimmy Webb has announced a classical nocturne to his catalogue less than a fortnight after he performed an emotive concert in Fife. The world premiere of Jimmy Webb's Nocturne for Piano and Orchestra (Nocturne for "Lefty") will take place on Monday, October 24 at the Southern Kentucky Performing Arts Center, Bowling Green, Kentucky. Known for legendary hits including 'Wichita Lineman' and 'MacArthur Park',  70-year-old Webb, a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, has teamed up with pianist Jeffrey Biegel and Orchestra Kentucky for this unique project, funded by donor Dr Robert G. Schiff. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_nFYK5IGDUY Following the premiere, Webb will join Orchestra Kentucky to perform his hits, including 'By the Time I Get to Phoenix,' 'Up, Up and Away,' and others. On October 25, Orchestra Kentucky will award Webb with its Lifetime Achievement Award. Nocturne for Piano and Orchestra (Nocturne for "Lefty"), composed by Webb (for pianist Jeffrey Biegel), was orchestrated by Webb together with Grammy-winner Jeff Tyzik. Webb dedicated the work to his wife and partner Laura Savini. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gy4N3gmkpWw Webb, who recently performed a tribute concert to old friend Glen Campbell at the Carnegie Hall in Dunfermline, said: “This music originated in discussions I had with my wife about famous nocturnes such as "Moonlight Sonata" and others. “The piece depicts different aspects of nightfall; the mathematical exactitude of life in the city, the splendour of night skies and full moons partially obscured by cloud, the gentle rise and fall of human conversation in social gatherings and the dizzying whirl of waltzing on a seaside esplanade. “It is essentially an opportunity for the listener to contemplate their own experiences during the hours of darkness. It includes a personal tribute to the music of Miles Davis, and the smoky dives and small clubs where I performed in my early years: the kingdom of the lonely and disillusioned. “"Lefty" is my wife, Laura Savini, of PBS fame, a raving beauty who is also a Southpaw. The notes have been inspired by her joy and devotion to art.'” Orchestrator Jeffrey Tyzik added: “'It was a great pleasure to collaborate with Jimmy Webb on his new multi-faceted composition Nocturne for Piano and Orchestra (Nocturne for "Lefty"). “ I have been a great admirer of Jimmy's huge body of work since the 1960s and I was honoured to be a part of orchestrating his beautiful music for symphony orchestra. Jimmy writes from the heart and continues to be an inspiration for all songwriters.”

Road tests

Audi Q2 puts quality over size

March 21 2018

Audi’s Q2 was one of the first premium compact SUVs on the market. It sits below the Q3, Q5 and the gigantic, seven seat Q7 in Audi’s ever growing range. Although it’s about the same size as the Nissan Juke or Volkswagen T-Roc, its price is comparable with the much larger Nissan X-Trail or Volkswagen Tiguan. Even a basic Q2 will set you back more than £21,000 and top whack is £38,000. Then there’s the options list which is extensive to say the least. My 2.0 automatic diesel Quattro S Line model had a base price of £30,745 but tipped the scales at just over £40,000 once a plethora of additions were totted up. Size isn’t everything, however. In recent years there’s been a trend of buyers wanting a car that’s of premium quality but compact enough to zip around town. It may be a step down in size but the Q2 doesn’t feel any less classy than the rest of Audi’s SUV range. The interior looks great and is user friendly in a way that more mainstream manufacturers have never been able to match. The simple rotary dial and shortcut buttons easily trounce touchscreen systems, making it a cinch to skim through the screen’s menus. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4eQ5p5Z7-Ek&list=PLUEXizskBf1nbeiD_LqfXXsKooLOsItB0 There’s a surprising amount of internal space too. I took three large adults from Dundee to Stirling and no one complained about feeling cramped. As long as you don’t have a tall passenger behind a tall driver you can easily fit four adults. At 405 litres the boot’s big too – that’s 50 litres more than a Nissan Juke can muster. Buyers can pick from 1.0 and 1.4 litre petrol engines or 1.6 and 2.0 litre TDIs. Most Q2s are front wheel drive but Audi’s Quattro system is standard on the 2.0 diesel, as is a seven-speed S Tronic gear box. On the road there’s a clear difference between this and SUVs by manufacturers like Nissan, Seat and Ford. Ride quality, while firm, is tremendously smooth. Refinement is excellent too, with road and tyre noise kept out of the cabin. It sits lower than the Q3 or Q5 and this improves handling, lending the Q2 an almost go-kart feel. On a trip out to Auchterhouse, with plenty of snow still on the ground, I was appreciative of the four-wheel drive as well. The Q2 is expensive – though there are some good finance deals out there – but you get what you pay for. Few cars this small feel as good as the Q2 does. Price: £30,745 0-62mph: 8.1 seconds Top speed: 131mph Economy: 58.9mpg CO2 emissions: 125g/km


Alice Marra: ‘Dad would have been delighted at Sistema launch in Dundee’

September 6 2017

Michael Marra was affectionately known as the Bard of Dundee and his songs will live on for generations to come. But he may be leaving an even greater legacy for his home city: Big Noise Douglas, the Sistema orchestra that will be officially launched in Dundee on Thursday. https://www.facebook.com/BigNoiseDouglas/videos/730928567114814/ Marra had been a keen advocate of setting up a branch of the musical education programme in Dundee and his death in 2012 led to the launch of a formal campaign to bring it to the City of Discovery. His daughter Alice, also a singer, said he would have been thrilled to see the Sistema music project finally open nearly five years after the singer's family launched a fundraising campaign at his funeral. His daughter Alice, also a singer, said her father would have been thrilled to see the Sistema music project finally open nearly five years after the singer's family launched a fundraising campaign at his funeral. "I'll be at the launch on Thursday. It's absolutely wonderful and he would have been delighted." Following Michael Marra's death, a charity called Optimistic Sound was set up to raise money to create a Sistema orchestra in Dundee. Sistema originated in Venezuela and uses orchestral music tuition to help change the lives of children in deprived areas. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=43tqQhOTCgQ Its model has been adapted successfully around the world and there are now three centres operating in Scotland: in Raploch in Stirling, Govanhill in Glasgow and in Aberdeen. A deal to bring the £2.2 million project to Dundee was agreed in March last year. Sistema teaches children to play an instrument and perform in an orchestra in an effort to boost their confidence and wellbeing. Big Noise Douglas will begin by working with pupils from primaries one to three in St Pius and Claypotts Castle primary schools The programme then grows with them year-by-year as they get older. Children begin by making and playing cardboard instruments before moving on to the real thing.


Review: BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra at Perth Concert Hall

April 11 2011

The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra concert in Perth's concert hall had a programme that catered for every taste. If you wanted to be shaken and stirred by music from the 21st century, then John Adams' My Father Knew Charles Ives was just for you. If you wanted the musings of a 19th century poet, orchestrated in style and performed with passion, Mahler's Rucker-Lieder fitted the bill perfectly. Then, if the glorious rich harmonies of a classic romantic symphony were more your line, what better than Brahms' second? Individually excellent, but collectively stunning and, with this threesome on show, the performance brought the curtain down on the concert hall's Scottish Orchestras series in real style. However, despite the talent on display, one performance stood out that of mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill. The last time I heard her, she wasn't firing on all cylinders. But a fully-functioning Karen is a delight and her performance of the Mahler was outstanding. The meditative Ich Atmet Einen Linden Duft (I breathed a gentle fragrance) was superb but of the five songs Um Mitternacht (At Midnight) took the plaudits for its orchestral individuality and almost hymn-like sentiments. Adams' work, which had opened the concert, is one quite hard to call. Is it a mix of contemporary sound effects, a garbled collection of musical imagery? Or is it a cunningly constructed fusion of inspirational themes with a rich mix of colour and form? I would go for the latter; not only for its content but for the fact the work grips you, in the best possible way. I liked some of the touches of Sousa or the muted brass of Glenn Miller. The haunting trumpet solo over shimmering strings and tubular bells, which opens and finishes the work, was another appealing factor in the work. Then came the Brahms a triumph for orchestra and conductor Donald Runnicles. I found this orchestral playing of the highest order and although the work is one of the most popular in the repertoire, I detected no signs of over-familiarity in the performance.