RSNO Celebrates Hallowe’en with Ghosts, Skeletons and Music

RSNO Children’s Classic Concerts: Magic and Monsters: Royal Scottish National Orchestra, RSNO Junior Chorus, Jean-Claude Picard (conductor), Devised and presented by Owen Gunnell and Oliver Cox, Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 01.11.2015 (SRT)


This is the first of the RSNO’s Children’s Classic Concerts I’d been to.  Not knowing what to expect, I brought along my two godchildren, aged 7 and 5, and they loved it.  It’s a great audience-building tool, introducing children to the concert-going experience in a safe, noisy and interactive way.  Our irrepressible hosts, Owen and Olly, guided us through a series of tunes, such as the theme from Harry Potter, or Gnomus from Mussorgsky’s Pictures, and, importantly for young audiences, gave us something to do for each number, such as look for the Gnomuses hiding in the orchestra, or spot the Headless Horseman riding across the stage.  We even danced to Thriller in the final number, and the Gruffalo himself put in a special guest appearance.  I especially enjoyed the story of Misterstourworm, the musical tale of a young boy who, with the aid of a Kelpie, slays an enormous sea serpent.  The RSNO Junior Chorus joined in too to provide some of the songs (and to show us how to dance properly at the end!).

Everyone had the opportunity to dress up, and nearly all the kids did, with a few adults too.  (I did my bit as a pretty half-hearted Hogwarts teacher.)  I was really charmed to see how much the orchestra threw themselves into it, too.  The temptation is to put out the B-team for a gig like this, but I recognised most of the regular players on stage and, hearteningly, they all dressed up too.  We had a pirate in the violins, a (prize-winning) zombie doctor and a couple of ghosts and skeletons, to name just a few, and I especially liked the nuns who had taken over the flutes.  Even the conductor, Jean-Claude Picard, had dressed up as a Star Trek character (get it?), and some brass players managed the pretty considerable feat of playing through a mask.  A great concert for its key audience, and played, of course, with typical panache.  It’s the kind of thing that makes you wonder why all orchestras don’t do this.

Simon Thompson


Keith Bruce

The Herald

Composer Savourna Stevenson (pictured) has written a quarter of a new work to be premiered at Temple Church, off London’s Fleet Street, a week tomorrow. Four female composers have each composed a movement celebrating four women in history to complete Tetra, which will be played by female harp quartet, 4 Girls 4 Harps. The concert celebrates the fifteenth birthday of the group, who will then tour the work in the upcoming season.

Stevenson’s movement is inspired by American-born, Paris-based dancer, singer and actress Josephine Baker. She is currently working on a piece for piano and orchestra that also takes its inspiration from that era, documenting an instrument played by Horowitz, Gershwin, Ravel and Louis Armstrong.

Stevenson’s work for young people with writer Stuart Paterson, Misterstourworm and the Kelpie’s Gift, will have new performances by the RSNO in Children’s Classic Concerts in Glasgow and Edinburgh this autumn.

Mother and son feature in pioneering concert

The Peeblesshire NewsMiles Smiles 02 website

A pioneering concert in Broughton Village Hall will showcase the talents of one of Peeblesshire’s most famous musicians – and it’s all for a good cause.

The concert on Saturday, May 17, features the combined talents of harp and clarsach virtuoso Savourna Stevenson and her son Miles Norris, who plays guitar and bass guitar.

The evening’s entertainment has been devised by Broughton mother Ingrid Campbell, whose son Dart is in Primary 1 at the local school.

Her hope is that this popular concert will help kick-start a range of other musical events and activities both in school and further afield.

“I would like to do something to help encourage a love of music in our local young children,” she said. “I hope that this concert will make some money which we can plough back into further music-making in the community.”

Savourna Stevenson has had a varied and brilliant career and is established as one of the most imaginative musicians in the Borders.

Her cross-cultural enthusiasm has led to collaboration with artists from the worlds of traditional, jazz, rock and world music, working with an impressive array of musicians including Aly Bain, Danny Thompson, the Bhundu Boys, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the Miles & Sav 02 websiteNational Youth Choirs of Scotland, the Scottish Ensemble and Catrin Finch, former Royak Harpist to HRH the Prince of Wales.

Savourna has become famous as a pioneer composer for the clarsach, or Scottish harp, performing on groundbreaking instruments made by her husband Mark Norris in his Stobo workshop.

Her son is a talented guitarist and bassist. He spent two years in Germany working on music projects for people with special needsand also playing bass in the German reggae band Antofagasta.

Broughton Village Hall will be set up with a fully licensed bar and cafe tables for a varied programme ranging from early music, through traditional Scottish and Irish, bluegrass, jazz, Latin, and blues from the harp and guitar, including excerpts from Savourna’s celebrated ‘Tweed Journey’, commissioned in 1989 for the Borders Festival of Ballads & Legends…

The Snow Queen: Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Kelly Apter


Edited down from Hans Christian Anderson’s original by playwright Stuart Paterson, The Snow Queen was read with theatricality and passion by Siobhan Redmond, dressed in her sparkling white finery. But it is at the door of Scottish composer Savourna Stevenson that most plaudits must be laid. Her expansive score captured the essence of Anderson’s tale – the fear, tenderness, loyalty. Each step of the narrative journey was accompanied with just the right musical intent.

Savourna Stevenson & The Edinburgh Quartet, Merchiston

Sue Wilson

The Scotsman

IN A telling aside during this Edinburgh International Harp Festival concert, having referred to her set-list’s spanning of numerous different genres, harpist/composer Savourna Stevenson wrinkled her nose and observed, “I don’t really like that word.”


Billed as a mini-retrospective of her recording and composing career, right back to her 1985 debut album Tickled Pink, the programme certainly highlighted Stevenson’s fruitful lack of regard for genre divisions, especially now she’s working equally on the traditional clarsach and the classical pedal harp – a boundary-free approach, with a breadth and depth of technique to match, that underpins her status at the forefront of Scotland’s harp revival.

Traditional music remains a central wellspring of inspiration for her compositions, even if her innovative array of fingering methods and unorthodox keys or scales often transported these sources far beyond their roots – as in the eldritch atmosphere and dramatic colours of The Source, from her Tweed Journey suite, conjuring the tale of Thomas the Rhymer, and the vivid impressionism of Dawn, Earth, Wind and Water.

A clarsach-led first half, whose last couple of numbers featured Stevenson’s guitarist son [ Miles Norris ] , also wove in jazz and Latin influences.

Meanwhile, after the interval, the pedal harp took centre stage, primarily in her three-movement Harp Quintet, for which she was joined by the Edinburgh Quartet, in a beautifully intricate, bold yet delicate interlacing of different string timbres and textures, exploring and enriching the piece’s four core folk-song melodies.

Scottish Ensemble with Catrin Finch, Cottiers Theatre, Glasgow

Michael Tumelty

The Herald

The Joy of Savourna Stevenson’s music, I have always found, is that it is direct music, from the heart and to the heart, absolutely open and totally honest in its integrity and expressive qualities…The concerto, full of whole-tone and pentatonic implications, and lovingly played by Finch with expressive delicacy and an alluring sense of elan, is actually a voluptuously Romantic piece, unashamedly gorgeous in its first movement, with more than a hint of tango, a wonderfully touching sense of yearning, perhaps melancholy, in its second, and a darker, striking flavour of Bernard Hermann in the harmonies and mood of its finale.

Savourna Stevenson with the Stirling NYCoS Choir, Dunblane Cathedral

Keith Bruce

The Herald

While the fact that the Scottish Ensemble and Catrin Finch were premiering Savourna Stevenson’s new harp concerto on the same weekend that the composer herself was out on the road was simply serendipitous, this programme itself was a joy of joined-up thinking. Stevenson has been one of the most-sung contributors to the National Youth Choirs of Scotland commissioning programme and the model of involving one of the area NYCoS choirs on the platform to accompany those songs could be replicated by local promoters across the country…The whole recital was beautifully coherent and an original journey reaching far beyond the Border river of the composer’s youth.

Scottish Ensemble with Catrin Finch, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

Ken Walton


No question about the influence of Debussy and Ravel on Savourna Stevenson’s Concerto for Pedal Harp, which received its first performance as part of last night’s Scottish Ensemble concert, featuring harpist Catrin Finch as soloist. More interestingly, Stevenson has cast her three-movement concerto in unashamedly romantic mode…besides the lush French-style harmonies and pulsating Spanish dance rhythms are luscious Mantovanian string flourishes and cooler, lustier reminiscences of Piazzola…a wonderfully busy piece, served up with extraordinary vitality and singeing warmth by Finch and the thick-set strings of the Ensemble.

Interview: Savourna Stevenson, harpist and composer

Stevenson is aiming to cover the whole harp gamut in one show

The influence of clarsach and harp player Savourna Stevenson – celebrating her 50th birthday with a Celtic Connections concert tonight– shows no sign of waning, discovers Sue Wilson

TAKING a break from rehearsals for her 50th birthday concert at Celtic Connections, harpist and composer Savourna Stevenson is the very embodiment of a woman happy in her work.

“If I could, I would just play the harp all day, every day, every waking hour – and possibly in my sleep, too,” she says. “Obviously I can’t: as it is, I often play to the point of, ‘Oh dear, I can’t straighten my fingers,’ or noticing I’ve got all these broken blood vessels in my wrists – but I just love it.”

Although she’s primarily known as the leading contemporary renaissance pioneer on Scotland’s oldest national instrument, the clarsach, the most immediate reason why Stevenson’s cup overfloweth is her rekindled love affair with the much bigger classical pedal harp. “I played it as a teenager, but for a long time after that, until maybe three or four years ago, pretty much all my work was on the clarsach – which pedal harpists tended to look down on in those days, though that’s all completely changed now. But as a composer, the pedal harp is like having a grand piano to work with: it’s just got so many more notes, and also pedal harpists are much keener for new material – the clarsach players all want to do their own thing.”

Stevenson has only herself to blame for this creative independence of spirit among her Scottish co-instrumentalists. Name any leading younger exponent – of whom there are plenty, such as Corrina Hewat, Catriona McKay, Fiona Rutherford and Ailie Robertson, all headlining elsewhere at Celtic Connections – and the chances are she’s taught them, or they’ll certainly cite her as a key inspiration.

“I first heard Savourna’s music on a cheap compilation called The Celtic Harp or some such, when I was about 14, and I just played it to death,” says Rutherford, whose New Voices commission premières at the festival on Sunday. “I just loved the way she has no genre boundaries, all the really inventive ways she uses the harp, and the way she combines it with other instruments. As a teacher, too, she was so inspiring and encouraging, particularly with my interest in composing as well; she really treats every student as a total individual, and will work with whatever style you want to pursue.”

“Savourna just keeps on raising the bar,” says Hewat, principal harp tutor at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, who performed in her own six-harp suite, The Oak and the Ivy, at in Glasgow last week, and who’d been playing for just six weeks when first taken under Stevenson’s wing at a fèis in Fort Augustus. “She’s incorporated influences from all over the world, she uses all the colours, textures and rhythms possible – and as long as she keeps doing that, everyone else in Scotland has to follow. She’s a total inspiration.” Both players, needless to say, will be at tonight’s gig – in fact, if you want to know the whereabouts of pretty much any Scottish harp player that night, established or aspiring, it’s a fair bet they’ll be in the City Halls.

The outset of Stevenson’s own musical journey involved a similarly full immersion in her milieu as she continues to practise. As the daughter of the great Scottish pianist and composer Ronald Stevenson, she too started out learning the piano, and was writing her own tunes from the age of five. “But I was also hearing just about every other kind of music around the house, with lots of different musicians visiting – everything from Gaelic psalm singing and mouth-music to modern jazz, stuff from all round the world. In fact, I used to have a game with my Dad called Journey Around the World, where we’d play duets in different modes from different countries. You just ate, slept and drank music in our house – there was no escape. I actually took up the harp to get away from my Dad – just in the sense that the piano was his instrument – but then he immediately started writing lots of music for the clarsach.”

Her subsequent landmark albums, such as Tweed Journey and Calman the Dove, saw Stevenson charting new territories in exploring her instrument’s capabilities, demolishing its douce, drawing room image in bold creative encounters between folk, jazz and world music. During the past decade, though, she’s been back working mainly in the classical realm – albeit one that’s progressed considerably in its attitude to other genres since she was young – composing for and performing with orchestras, chamber groups and choirs. Hence her return, too, to the pedal harp – which, she mentions as an aside, celebrated the bicentenary of its invention last year, Sebastian Erard’s revolutionary double-action mechanism having first opened up the instrument to chromaticism back in 1811.

“But even though I might be seen now as a contemporary classical composer, I don’t compose squeaky-gate music: I am always going to write accessibly,” she says firmly. “I get fed up with new music that doesn’t lift your spirits in some way. And the one emotion I never want to elicit in an audience is boredom.”

The birthday show’s centrepiece is a semi-première performance, with the Edinburgh Quartet, of Stevenson’s Harp Quintet – originally staged at Celtic Connections 2000, and now newly transcribed from the clarsach to the pedal harp, in the interim having been excerpted for the soundtracks of both Sex and the City and Ugly Betty. (“I’d never heard of either,” she confides, “but I did at last manage to impress my daughter.”)

The rest of the programme reunites her with that man she calls “probably my favourite collaborator of all”, double bass legend Danny Thompson, for a selection of favourite pieces ranging from Debussy and Granados, to originals variously inspired by Gershwin, Harpo Marx and kora maestro Toumani Diabaté. “Basically I want to cover the whole harp gamut in one show,” Stevenson says. If anyone can do it, she can.

OSO with NYCoS Choirs, Edinburgh Usher Hall

Keith Bruce


There were few empty seats in the auditorium and absolutely none on stage for the celebration of the 15th anniversary of the National Youth Choirs of Scotland…as more than 600 young singers joined the Orchestra of Scottish Opera…Savourna Stevenson’s Waiting for the Silver Sailed Moon for the upper voices was again confirmed as the loveliest tune to have been created by the choral organisation’s commissioning work.