The Scottish Recorder Orchestra
meets the
The Dortmund Recorder Consort

Two Nations, 67 musicians and 4 premieres - an equation which produced musical enjoyment full of superlatives during the joint concert of the Dortmund Recorder Consort and the Scottish Recorder Orchestra ... that was the headline in the German press, after our performance on Sunday May 4 at Mallinckrodt High School in Dortmund. The ‘two nations’ is, of course, obvious – there were 28 of us from the Scottish Recorder Orchestra, and the other 39 were members of Das Blockfloetenconsort Dortmund – affectionately known as DORC.

For three days we lived together in Haus Nordhelle – a fabulously futuristic conference centre in Sauerland – rehearsing our programme, in two languages, under the batons of Eileen Silcocks and Dietrich Schnabel. The language rule was quickly set: whoever conducted, spoke in their native tongue. The ‘spare’ conductor translated. And – for the most part – it worked. On the odd occasion when it didn’t, the results were hilarious! And then there were the ‘4 premieres’. According to the German reporter, they ‘showed fire power’, and we certainly felt fired up. During the previous months we had been practicing the pieces at our regular Stirling meetings, but playing them in such a large orchestra, and with so many low instruments, was something else

So, what were these ‘fiery’ pieces? First on the programme, and the first ‘premiere’, was Serenade – a haunting, magical ‘Celtic’ piece written by Eileen Silcocks. Since the German trip, we have played it again at the Scottish Recorder Festival, and also in Oban Cathedral, where it had the audience spellbound. No doubt, it will continue to cast its spell each time it is played. Then came Viri Galilei by Palestrina, followed by Steve Marshall’s fabulous Blues Variations – the second premiere. The difference in the two orchestras had been perhaps most felt when we were practicing Steve’s piece, as each conductor had his/her own idea of how it should be played. Eventually Steve was consulted by email and the problems were resolved. These differences of interpretation may have caused our conductors a few headaches, but for us it was extremely interesting to hear the various possibilities. And, incidentally, the email connection with Steve had a very advantageous spin-off, as would be seen later! The third premiere came after Trombetti’s Ad Te Levavi Oculus Meos. This was Dietrich Schnabel’s breathtaking Symphony No 1 in D minor.

The members of the Scottish Recorder Orchestra had been introduced to the symphony in October 2007 when Dietrich came over to join Eileen in a residential playing week end in Gartmore, and had been enjoying practicing it ever since. Whenever we played it, we had a real sense of taking part in something that was unique, and quite remarkable.

But even after the symphony that, at approximately 25 minutes long, was he last item, the ‘premieres’ were not over. As a result of the email consultation over Blues Variations, Steve Marshall sent us a surprise encore in the shape of Un Petit Digestif, which he had written especially for the two orchestras’ lead soloists, Ed Friday and Lena Riedlinger. As Dietrich explained to our Sunday audience, the piece was ‘written on Friday, practiced on Saturday, and performed on Sunday’, adding that there had ‘never been a fresher piece of music!’

So – that was our musical experience, and a wonderful experience it was. But, of course, there was a whole host of other things that made our trip to Dortmund unforgettable, including the wonderful hospitality shown by our hosts. Above all, there was the experience of meeting and playing alongside people with different approaches and techniques – and we learned a great deal from the ‘German’ way of doing things. Particularly impressive was the organisation. For example, at the pre-concert rehearsal all the seats were numbered, and each player had a chart on which was written their part, their instrument, and their seat number. Recorders were placed (finger holes facing the audience, for the best visual effect) on stands around the conductor’s platform, and collected en route to each new position. Once we had found ways to ‘mark’ our recorders to avoid mix-ups (bead bracelets and hair ties really came into their own here!), we found the system made changeovers slick, easy and anxiety-free. We have now adopted this method for our own concerts.

Finally, no trip would be complete without the obligatory mishaps, andthe most dramatic of ours had to be reversing into a police car on the way to the concert venue. A real antidote to pre-performance nerves, that one!

All in all, it was a wonderful trip and a true learning experience for everyone. As Eileen put it: Having had the pleasure of working with both orchestras individually, it was always going to be exciting to see how they sounded together, and how they would mix. The first rehearsal was a little tentative for the players - a steep learning curve on how to play together! It was good, but when we returned to the same piece a couple of rehearsals later, the difference was immense, and the group sounded as one! All in all, this was a terrific experience that I look forward to repeating. And we will be repeating it – as often as possible in the future!

Franzeska G Ewart

Concert programme - Newspaper interview (in German) & translation - photos at Flickr