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June 23, 2012

Sistema' summer solstice in Stirling

Thursday's Big Concert was a great evening of music outdoors. Scotland's rain does not respect the summer solstice, but it didn't deter us, along with an estimated 7000 others, from turning out to hear the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra, joined by the Big Noise orchestra of Raploch, in a concert of Purcell, Britten and Beethoven. It culminated in exuberant encores with the musicians dancing and twirling their instruments and fireworks over Stirling Castle.

The original El Sistema began in about 1975 in Venezuela, and the legendary Gustavo Dudamel, now 31 years of age, is its most famous musician, but nearly half a million children across Venezuela have become involved.

Kind friends had organised tickets, and we all sat on camp chairs in a field, rather enying the musicians whose protection from wind and rain was a splendid starry marquee. The sound amplification was superb, as were the large screens whose images are available, at least for the next few days, on iPlayer. I've watched and listened a couple of times, intrigued by how different the mediated version was from the live experience. Here are Helen and Amy in the London 2012 rain ponchos supplied:


The programme was well arranged, starting with the Big Noise orchestra performing Purcell's Rondeau from Abdelazer, thus introducing the theme that Britten later explored in his Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra. Gustavo Dudamel conducted the children of the Raploch housing estate with energy and humour. The imperfections of pitch and rhythm really were irrelevant: in 2008 when Sistema Scotland began, only one child living in the Raploch played a musical instrument, and the notion that Raploch could support any kind of orchestra seemed an impossible dream. Today the number is 450, which is 75% of its primary school age population. As in Venezuela, so in Stirling, the project is as much about social regeneration as it is about orchestral music.

In the Overture from Egmont, the two orchestras combined forces, and in many ways that epitomised the evening: professional musicians from Venezuela playing alongside very young amateurs from Scotland (the youngest a six year old). And there is no better way to learn orchestral skills than sitting beside somebody who is playing the same instrument as you, but much better. This is an ingredient of musical learning that East Renfrewshire has embodied successfully. Being part of a nationally important adult experience of music-making will be unforgettable for those children.

The concert ended with an unusually spirited performance of Beethoven's Eroica, which was broadcast live on BBC TV. I've never take a photo during an orchestral concert before, but out of doors the atmosphere was very informal. This was taken near the start of the Eroica, at about 9.30pm:


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