The Glasgow Chamber Orchestra is a charity registered in Scotland No SC022256
The Orchestra is affiliated to Making Music Scotland - Supporting & Championing Voluntary Music
I joined GCO when I left University following a chance trip to my former violin teacher’s shop for a new case. Bob Nelson encouraged me to audition for the orchestra and I joined soon afterwards. I became joint leader with John Thompson in the 2015/16 season after Bob retired and it is a great privilege to lead such a great band. Highlights have included new commissions by Eddie McGuire and John Maxwell-Geddes, amongst others, Shostakovich 5th symphony, Scheherazade but especially accompanying my daughter, Iona, in Bruch's Scottish Fantasy in December 2017.
It's such a joy to play with other groups too with Kelvin Choir and Greenock Philharmonic Choir a regular fixture, and of course the annual CLIC Sargent concert in Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. I'm always looking for a challenge and regularly play with a variety of chamber groups and Amicus orchestra to broaden my repertoire and performance experience as well as playing locally in Moffat and Dumfries. I can occasionally be seen and heard in my local pubs for open mike and folk music sessions.
Outside of GCO, my 'proper job' is being Chief Bridge Engineer for Transport Scotland where I look after all the trunk road structures in Scotland, around 5,500 at the last count. I lead a team of 13 people and I'm very lucky to have the opportunity to visit and be involved in our own Scottish icons, Forth Road Bridge and Queensferry Crossing being two, as well as occasionally visiting and learning about common issues on other structures around the UK, Europe and further afield. One of the highlights recently was walking the Forth Road Bridge cable with some of my team.
Leading the team (from the back!) - Walking the Forth Road Bridge Cable with some of my team from Transport Scotland
A trip up the Forth Bridge (not one of mine) on the ‘100 years of Suffrage’ Anniversary
A lifelong ambition fulfilled – Golden Gate, San Francisco –
Also appeared in my most recent photography exhibition
Lego has also featured heavily in my hobbies and I have a fair collection, including a large model of Tower Bridge on the living room coffee table (it’s a nightmare to dust)! You have to peek round it to watch the TV! There’s even a time-lapse video of its construction, where the odd glass of wine makes an appearance!
Another trip to Forth Bridge on a better day – part of my most recent photography exhibition
When I moved up to Glasgow, I ended up first joining Helensburgh Orchestral Society as a friend of a friend had recommended it. They’re such a friendly bunch & I still go away with them to Appin over the September weekend, but after a few years, I wanted a new challenge and a more local orchestra. So, I joined GCO in the summer of 2006. Fiona Logan wasn’t playing that term, so there was a space on front desk of the second violins & I’ve been there ever since, initially sharing with the inimitable Stewart McCreath, then Fiona & this term Gabriel, so I’ve had some great desk partners.
My overriding memory of my first GCO concert was how much the orchestra raised its game on the night of the concert – we were playing a Berkeley Divertimento, Rodrigo Concierto de Aranjuez, Kodaly Dances of Marosszek & Schubert 4, some of which had sounded pretty ropey on the Tuesday night rehearsal as I remember. I missed the afternoon rehearsal on the day of the concert for some reason, but the concert was electric as it all came together (and Peter Jones took things substantially faster than I had expected).
Music has been a huge part of my life since the age of seven, when I started playing the recorder at school (how our class teacher coped with the noise of 30 odd beginner recorder players I will never know!). I then begged my parents to be able to learn the piano as it seemed that all my friends had pianos & could at least play Chopsticks. It was a couple of years later though before I finally managed to convince them that this wasn’t just a passing fad, and that they should really invest in a piano for me. At that stage I had decided I wanted to be a concert pianist – while that hasn’t exactly panned out, it was the reason for me starting the violin. We were offered cheap violin lessons at school, borrowing a school instrument. I was less than keen though, as I thought it looked really uncomfortable to play, but my parents thought this was an excellent opportunity and convinced me that if I really was going to be a concert pianist, I would need a second instrument at music college!
So, I started learning the violin, age 9, in a class of 6 kids – great as it was to be able to borrow an instrument, they sounded terrible, and I was the only one who was made to do any practice, so for the first year, I found lessons and practice really boring and generally hated playing. However, all this changed when, aged 10, I was allowed to join my junior school orchestra – really just a motley collection of violins, maybe a couple of cellos and a flute and clarinet I think, but suddenly all the practice made sense and I realised I loved playing with other kids. Soon afterwards, I gave up school violin lessons and instead went to a local authority Saturday morning music school where I got string group, orchestra, aural and theory lessons in addition to violin lessons (on my own!), and a couple of years later, also clarinet lessons, and the rest is history. I went on to join my local string training orchestra, then Southend Youth Orchestra, and later Essex Youth Orchestra, and got to not only explore a vast amount of repertoire & even try out the odd concerto, but also to see much of Europe on our annual tours.
For a while, I really did toy with the idea of doing music as a career, but nerves were starting to get the better of me in solo performances, and I realised I also loved science. In the end, it became clear I could do music with science, but trying to do science in my spare time as a musician would not be so easy. So, I did a degree in Natural Sciences at Clare College, Cambridge, having carefully chosen my college as one of the most music-focussed at the University, and did both! I discovered bacteria & parasites in my final year & decided a career in microbiology research was the thing for me. I went on to do a PhD working on E. coli at the University of Manchester, and then went to the University of Glasgow to do a postdoc in a parasitology lab. At that point, I decided I’d done enough moving about the country, and felt so at home in Glasgow that I wanted to stay, so I gradually moved up the ranks to become academic staff & now my days are (or at least were, prior to lockdown!) spent running a parasite research lab, teaching students and doing public engagement work with schools.
Over the years since, I’ve had great fun with GCO, played some amazing music, gone on exchange & played in the Leipzig Gewandhaus (twice!) & have made so many friends. Tuesday night rehearsals have also helped me to keep playing and stay sane since I became a mum. My girls – Kaia (7) and Holly (5) - both play the violin & I’d like to think that they’ll stick with it long enough to join me at GCO in the future. Kaia’s already playing in the Glasgow Schools’ String Training Orchestra, which reminds me of my time starting out in Southend Strings!
As well as GCO, I also play with Amicus Orchestra (which allowed me to go to Leipzig and play in the Gewandhaus for a third time in 2018), and since lockdown, I’ve been trying out various online opportunities to keep playing, most recently the Benedetti Virtual Sessions, and in between home working and home schooling, I have been working hard to master playing with a click track (not as easy as it seems!). I’ve also been revisiting some old repertoire including the Beethoven violin concerto, which I performed with Helensburgh & Stirling orchestras about 15 years ago, some studies to brush up on some technical aspects, and then some Mozart piano sonatas and some Chopin nocturnes that I loved playing as a teenager. I keep meaning to get my clarinet out again, but so far haven’t found time for that. I’m really looking forward to being able to do some non-virtual ensemble playing again – maybe a string quartet in a large garden might be feasible before too long? Here’s hoping…..
The GCO contingent at the Gewandhaus, Leipzig, May 2009
Joining an orchestra was a top priority when I moved to Glasgow in 2015, and GCO came highly recommended by former members from as far afield as Birmingham, where I studied music and composition. A couple of personal highlights for me over the past five years have included playing Shostakovich in the Bute Hall, and playing string quartets at the summer chamber concerts.
Blinky and Clyde searching for the green star
I ended up back in Scotland by a roundabout route, having grown up in rural Germany and then spent a few years freelancing as a violin teacher in Fife, before opting for a complete career change which brought me to Strathclyde to study computer science and electrical engineering. The most fun I had on this course was programming three robots, named Inky, Blinky, and Clyde, to co-operate as they try and solve a maze. Another project involved training a computer to identify composers from orchestral recordings, which was partially successful – it could tell the difference between Mozart and Shostakovich, but Beethoven and Brahms was basically a coin toss! I’m now working towards a PhD, researching biomedical applications of artificial intelligence.
It was at this point my GCO journey began, as the man who was advising me on violins was our very own Bob Nelson. He suggested playing in orchestras and my first experience of this kind of playing came was when I was 9 and I absolutely loved it! I worked my way through the various schools orchestras and National Youth Orchestras with a definite highlight of playing in the BBC Proms at the Albert Hall aged 16 with Martyn Brabbins conducting and Haken Hardenberger as soloist.
I joined the GCO in 2009 after deciding on a complete career change but wanting to keep music and orchestral playing very much part of my life.
I started playing the violin at Kilmacolm Primary School when I was 7 and used to practise at night with my Dad who had learned violin at school. (Water Polo and Rugby led to broken fingers so when his violin became mine, he hung up his musical boots in favour of being an audience member!)
It might seem strange that after so many fantastic musical experiences, and a career in music looking likely, I turned down a different path. However, I had found a passion for business and retail so took on an Open University degree in Business Management while working in a variety of Management roles in Glasgow, Edinburgh and London. Work is now business, and music is my world I can escape to and enjoy with no pressure.
My GCO journey has been full of fantastic concerts, laughs, the occasional low, many, many wrong notes, and more recently, even being thrown in the deep end at rehearsals (Scheherezade???) I have to admit to loving the CLIC Sargent concerts, it would just not feel like Christmas without them and even the concerts that don’t quite go to plan, I enjoy being part of the team making music. I can’t wait to be back making music together again, Tuesday nights are definitely lacking these days!
Away from both these worlds, I can be found in the great outdoors doing a lot of gardening, walking, handstands, the occasional abseil, and running after a crazy spaniel (soon to be joined by a Golden Retriever who was born a few weeks ago!) I love to cook and getting all the family together for big Sunday lunches - lockdown has been a perfect time for Chris to practise his barbecuing skills so maybe I am off the hook post lockdown!!
For now, making music will be the FaceTime music sessions with my nephews and re-learning some pieces from my RSAMD days!
I feel very lucky to have played in some amazing venues around the world, with my favourite being the Konzerthaus in Berlin - it’s just so decadent, and the acoustic was just wow!
I spent 7 years playing with Camerata Scotland while I was studying Music Performance at the RSAMD and was able to work with some amazing conductors and soloists. I also led the Kelvin Ensemble at Glasgow University and my favourite concert there was playing the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis by Vaughan Williams.
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