Peebles Orchestra
REVIEW by Kathleen Mansfield

UNTIL recently, the Scottish Borders was the only region in Europe without a rail service.

I wonder if this lack of transport infrastructure led to a necessary blossoming of home-grown talent of exceptional quality.

Peebles Orchestra, formed in 1976, plays a key role in the town’s cultural life.

Teamwork is found not just on the rugby pitch in the Borders. This collection of enthusiasts prove that talent has no bounds and a job outside of your musical passion is no obstacle to a desire for excellence.

The Orchestra is fortunate to attract such prestigious names as Robert Dick to conduct.

Dick’s international reputation has taken him around the globe and seen him collaborate with such distinguished soloists as Nicola Benedetti, Steven Isserlis, Anna-Liise Bezrodny and Murray McLachlan. Dick commanded this full orchestra in an enticing repertoire of Handel, Mozart and Haydn. Rousing brass and timpani topped and tailed the lyricism and playful trills of Mozart.

There were no pyrotechnics for Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks but Chris Dubé, the chair of Peebles Orchestra, felt none were necessary as the score was fiery enough by itself.

Indeed, the original outing for this piece saw one of the pavilions burn down, due to a wayward firework, and an audience in excess of 12,000.

While this concert could not claim such an audience, the Leckie Memorial Church was packed to the gunnels. There were no sparklers or rockets, but there were whistles and cheers and applause to raise the roof.

Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 23 in A major was fronted by a rising Peebles star, Michael Gemmell.

Gemmell will attend the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in the autumn and was a prize winner in the final of last year’s Scottish Young Musicians competition. This talented young man took a gap year and taught piano at the community music school, Nomad Beat, as well as offering his musical skill to both Innerleithen & District Operatic Society and Eddleston Voices.

It was good to see a young man play Mozart’s lively creation with gusto, aplomb and total absorption.

I wondered if that’s how the composer himself would have attacked the piece: bold yet sensitive.

In a small venue you can see the participants watching the conductor closely and sense each member of the whole listening for their cues. It is engrossing.

Claire Taylor was the lead violinist. A graduate of Edinburgh University, Taylor is also an accomplished soprano. Her presence ensured a calm, steady hand for her fellow musicians.

Taylor spends her days in health and social care, managing teams to support adults with autism and learning disabilities. Like the power of music, Taylor’s community involvement could be considered a source of emotionally-rooted expansion for the body, mind and soul.

I was mightily impressed with these talented men and women. I loved it all: the rousing brass, the horns and trumpets and the fabulous timpani played by Ross Gunning. The sweeping strings were a marvellous collection, with two resonant double bass adding a mellow depth, while the woodwind section played with precision and clarity.

The overall programme, closing with March for the Royal Society of Musicians and Symphony Number 99 by Haydn, was well balanced and satisfying.

This bright and buoyant symphony captured the effervescence of the composer’s style with a touch of humour in places.

The orchestra were enjoying themselves here in the stately Overture, the elegant minuets and the exuberant romp of the Finale.