Orchestral Piping

The weekly BBC Radio Scotland piping show, Pipeline, was on hiatus this week. In its place was a live concert broadcast from the Celtic Connections Festival, a two-week festival of celtic music in Glasgow. The concert was titled Scotland’s Music Live, and featured various “celtic” performers, sometimes playing with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.

I paid particular attention to two works: Calgacus, by Eddie McGuire, and An Orkney Wedding with Sunrise, by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. Both are scored for orchestra and Highland Bagpipes and the piping was supplied by Robert Wallace, of the College of Piping.

I had heard of the Orkney Wedding, but never heard the piece performed; Calgacus was completely new to me.

According to a review of the concert in The Scotsman newspaper, Robert Wallace suffered “a critical memory loss” during his part in the performance of An Orkney Wedding but, since I don’t know the music, I couldn’t tell – it sounded fine to me.

The Eddie McGuire work was inspired by the exploits of Calgacus, a kind of Caledonian Boudicca. Apparently he led the Scots in battle against Agricola and the Romans. The piping in this piece was interesting – it sounded a lot like piobaireachd, and I may have to canvass the folks on the piping boards to find out if the tune was written by McGuire, or if it is an existing tune.

In both cases, though, it was interesting to hear the bagpipes played in serious orchestral music. I will also check in with my father – Elis Pehkonen. He is a composer, and was a colleague of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies when they both taught music in my home town of Cirencester. He will probably have something interesting to say about An Orkney Wedding, and he may know Eddie McGuire. I’ll keep you posted.

One Reply to “Orchestral Piping”

  1. Sorry for replying so long after the event, I have only now spotted the article. Yes, the theme played by the pipes in Calgacus is one I composed specially for this orchestral work which I wrote in 1976. It was first broadcast (live) on BBC Radio 3 on October 24, 1976. Rab Wallace performed it at the London Proms in 1997 and this was released on the CD “The Very Best of the BBC Orchestras” free with the BBC Music Magazine. It is also on the Linn Records CD “Scotland’s Music”. -Eddie

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