Don's diary: Work and play your hearts out

August 22, 2003

Saturday
Another eight-day week in the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, Scotland's national conservatoire. The RSAMD was the first UK conservatoire to award its own degrees in performance and is also one of the country's busiest performing-arts venues. Many of these are student performances - plays, concerts, operas - but professionals visit too, giving students first-hand experience of the international cutting edge.

This week is hectic as our "Opera 2" season coincides with our contemporary music festival "Academy Now!". I spend the first night of Handel's Alcina with Tam Dalyell, now Edinburgh University rector. He rages about dirigisme, compliance and academic freedom. I am inclined to agree.

Sunday
I shuttle to London to work with Abbos, a group from Uzbekistan, and the London Sinfonietta in anticipation of next week's final Glasgow concert - "Trumpets!". Abbos play quarnay - long trumpets with an unbroken tradition in the Middle East dating back to the Persian Sassanid empire.

The brass instruments of the West are their offspring.
Monday

Despite the admin treadmill, I manage the odd practice of young Scottish composer Stuart Macrae's trumpet concerto for the festival.

At Alcina, I squeeze in a drink with Andrew Hamnet, principal of Strathclyde University. We will be collaborating over "Scambiare" - a season of Italian theatre in conjunction with the University of Milan.

David Atherton, the jetsetting conductor, drops by to see his daughters in the hero and heroine roles. He's slightly disturbed to see them necking on stage. That's opera!

Tuesday
I write an article for Muso - a new music magazine for young musicians. My subject? How the language of music is as potent as the language of words.

H. K. Gruber and the London Sinfonietta arrive at the academy.

Gruber is the leading light of the Third Viennese School and successor to Beethoven, Haydn and Mozart of the First School, and Schoenberg, Berg and Webern of the Second School. Composers are like dolphins or whales.

I give him a tour of the academy and waffle about the Vienna seccessionists, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and what a great place Glasgow is. He is amazed at the technical and production arts workshops, which are teeming with students building under supervision for up-and-coming productions. He goes on the Beeb and gives us a plug: "We have nothing like this in Austria, and nobody in Salzburg would believe it possible."

Wednesday - Friday
The rest of the week passes in a dream of busyness. We have many events and visitors. Mark Anthony Turnage, one of the most important composers working in Britain today, has a concert devoted to him, as do Karlheinz Stockhausen and Duke Ellington. Abbos does a concert for asylum-seekers. Our education project in schools culminates at the Burrell Collection. The final concert of the festival is totally over the top. It goes on for three hours, but audience reaction is warm - clearly gluttons for punishment.

Saturday
We take "Trumpets!" to the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London. Our students play their hearts out and are excited to meet their peers from other conservatoires. A big audience applauds and we are swamped with well-wishers - not something that is so very common in other walks of academic life.

John Wallace is principal of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama.

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