50 Years of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra

By Erin Mullins

Images Elly Lucas

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra has been drawing audiences from far and wide for the past 49 years, and January 27th marks the orchestra’s 50th year of music-making. And what better way to celebrate a birthday than with a huge range of music throughout the 2023/24 season?

From iconic classical masterpieces to premieres of works by new and exciting composers, the SCO has been famous for inspiring generations of music-makers and music-lovers since their inaugural concert in Glasgow’s City Halls in 1974.

I spoke to Su-a Lee, one of Scotland’s best-known cellists and long-standing member of the SCO, to discuss what makes the SCO so special. 

‘The orchestra is full of wonderful people who care about each other and are passionate about the music,’ she says, ‘[it] feels like family’. 

Su-a herself has had a fantastic tenure with the SCO, having just celebrated her 30th year in the orchestra. She puts her years of dedication to the passion and ‘search for excellence’ that encompasses the SCO. 

Even though the season is already well underway, there is still plenty to look forward to. From a birthday celebration concert of Mozart and Haydn, to a musical adventure written especially for children, all culminating in Mendelssohn’s epic choral work, Elijah, the SCO has something for everyone.

To mark the impressive milestone, the orchestra have introduced a brand new scheme, “an SCO for everyone”, which aims to attract audiences from all walks of life to witness the magic of live orchestral music. The scheme places inclusivity and accessibility at its heart with a matinée series, dementia-friendly concerts, a brand-new work for children, and a digital season. 

The SCO are all about celebrating Scottish voices and talent, and this season is no different. 

Choral music fan? Witness mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill and the SCO Chorus première Scotland’s greatest living composer Sir James MacMillan’s choral setting of Robert Burns’ poem “Composed in August” on 22nd March. 

JAN/FEB: World-renowned composers and musicians across the seas are also drawn back to the SCO again and again. On 15th March, regular SCO collaborator and Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto will be UK premiering Anna Clyne’s violin concerto Time and Tides and Helen Grimes’ It Will Be Spring Soon.

Fancy experiencing the magic of SCO’s live orchestral performance in the comfort of your own home? The SCO continues its Digital Season into 2023-24 with From Scotland to the World. Recorded in Edinburgh’s Leith Theatre, the SCO presents four performances between October and March by Sally Beamish, Thea Musgrave, Felix Mendelssohn and Sir James MacMillan. What makes these performances special is that they are available to watch for free for one month after the broadcast date.

If you’re looking for a way into the world of classical music for kids, Jay Capperauld’s world première of his orchestral musical adventure, The Great Grumpy Gaboon, is the perfect introduction. Written especially for children from the ages of four to eight (and their adults!), the performance will be on 11th February at 2pm at City Halls.

To round off an exciting series of birthday celebrations, conductor Maxim Emelyanychev has chosen one of his favourite composers, Felix Mendelssohn, and his famous choral work, Elijah, as the piece to complete the season. This will be performed in Edinburgh on the 9th May and at Glasgow’s City Halls on the 10th May.

So, any recommendations from within the orchestra itself? Su-a unsurprisingly finds this almost impossible: ‘Every single one is a cracker!’. Keep an eye out, though, she says, for the performances led by conductor Maxim Emelyanychev or Pekka Kuusisto’s eclectic trio of concerts. ‘It’s a safe bet that I will be on the edge of my seat!’


Return to Music Articles


SanFair Newsletter

The latest on what’s moving world – delivered straight to your inbox