Following a year of stunning performances, Symphony Orchestra are preparing to top it off with Sibelius’ magical Symphony No. 5. Russell Cowieson looks back at the development of a true vintage that will stay with EUMS long into the future…


All great vintages need a quality harvest, which is why our annual auditions are so vitally important. As usual with auditions I worried about getting the quality needed but in the end my overriding emotion was one of gratitude that so many fine musicians performed for Michael and I, leaving me confident that we had the potential for a great orchestra.


An orchestra is such a wonderful blend of instruments and personalities. This is, of course, one of the great joys and challenges of playing in, and working with, an orchestra. The other very important part of the blend is the choice of composer and for first semester we had set ourselves the challenge of adding Elgar to the mix (along with a couple of hundred singers and soloists!)

First Tasting

Rehearsing Gerontius presented many difficulties. Early rehearsals were tricky; it’s so difficult for performers to understand how the jigsaw of a piece fits together when many important pieces of the puzzle (chorus and soloists) are missing. I try to never forget the great privilege of having the whole score in front of me and it was to the orchestra’s credit that they trusted me repeatedly when I reassured them that their playing was shaping up well and that all would be transformed with the addition of the ‘missing parts’. We also had the challenge of reversing the orchestra’s usual seating plan to accommodate chorus, which the orchestra did with great humour. Of course, the beauty of the music played its part in sweeping us along.

EUMS Chorus and Symphony Orchestra wowing a packed Greyfriars Kirk.
EUMS Chorus and Symphony Orchestra wowing a packed Greyfriars Kirk.

We had a long but necessary rehearsal on the day, which settled everybody in for what was to be a really memorable, sell out, performance. Huge gratitude and respect to Neil for the many hours of preparation shaping the chorus towards such high quality. I later found out that there had been several emergencies in the lead up to the concert and it is to the committee’s great credit that they dealt with these in a quiet and efficient manner, allowing Neil and I to focus on music matters.

The Vintage Improves

For second semester I could now look forward to allowing the orchestra to ‘flex their muscle’ on full blooded orchestral repertoire. The Wagner, in rehearsals, never quite ‘floated’ or achieved the sense of space and time which I felt the music needed. I shouldn’t have worried; the performance was beautiful and set a high benchmark. The Rodrigo gave us a chance to showcase the talents of our wind and brass players who gave a stunning performance.

Symphony Orchestra in full swing...
Symphony Orchestra in full swing...

During the interval, I remember thinking that we had achieved perhaps our finest opening to a concert and hoped that our focus would remain for the Tchaikovsky. I wasn’t let down. We had invested so much time in rehearsals and were rewarded with a high degree of professional focus and commitment but also a great sense of freedom and collaborative music making. As a conductor you are often called on to ‘manage’ situations live on stage, but here I simply found myself immersed in an emotional performance which was undoubtedly a personal highlight.

Final Tasting

The word is out! We have created a great blend. Will it turn out to be a great vintage? I think so. With Sibelius’s wonderful 5th Symphony to look forward to in our summer concert, final tasting will surely confirm the 2012 vintage one to savour for many years to come.

EUMS Symphony Orchestra will return on the 18th May 2012 for the EUMS Summer Concert.

Greyfriars once again plays host to a breathtaking concert and an appreciative audience.
Greyfriars once again plays host to a breathtaking concert and an appreciative audience.