40 years of summer touring

After 39 years of uninterrupted service, we bid a fond farewell to SCO Violin Lorna McLaren. Below, Lorna reflects on 40 years of memorable summer touring with the Orchestra.


40 years of summer touring with the SCO by Lorna McLaren

In June 1979 the orchestra embarked on its first summer Highland tour playing to new audiences in Stornoway, Skye, Mull, Iona, Fort William and Oban. It was a great success and laid the foundation for the years ahead.

Of course not everything on tour goes to plan and management have to be prepared for any eventuality. The brand new ferry to Iona would not start, so players and instruments –including the timpani had to be man-handled onto a converted fishing boat, and a tractor plus trailer commandeered to drive the instruments up to the Abbey. Earlier on the tour, our principal flute David Nicholson, left his briefcase behind on the pier at Armadale whilst taking photographs. Not a disaster you may think, except his flute was in his briefcase and he was due to play a concerto that evening in Fort William! He did miraculously get it back in time for the concert. These stories and many similar adventures are woven into the orchestra’s folklore.

In the early years, the orchestra used Inverness as a base, and in 1980 the first musical train journey from Inverness to the Kyle of Lochalsh was introduced. With our audience in tow and an upright piano in the guard’s van, we entertained them both on and off the train in spectacular surroundings and sometimes accompanied by midges! In 1982 a steam train was used for the outward journey, which proved to be an exciting adventure for both the audience and the train spotting world. On another occasion we took the audience down Loch Ness by boat for a concert at Urquhart Castle.

One of my fondest memories is of two performances we gave of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Golspie and Thurso which involved local actors. The delivery of the line “here is my chink through which to blink” will live with me forever. Amongst world-class conductors and soloists who performed with us were Alexander Schneider, Jamie Laredo, Ernst Kovacic, Joseph Swensen and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies; second best was not an option.


Over the years the range of venues increased to include the whole of Scotland from Langholm to Lerwick and lifelong friendships were forged with audience members, hosts and landladies alike. Post-concert parties provided by Thurso Music Club and James Munro’s post-train journey BBQs were highlights and visits to the St Magnus Festival in Orkney keenly anticipated.

The range of work diversified and education became a key part of our activities. As a member of the string quartet Quartz (founded by Steve King) we toured extensively throughout Scotland and beyond and undertook the first tour of the Shetland Isles in 1988 playing in schools, Sullom Voe oil terminal and at a folk session in the local pub – it was on the schedule, honest!

A number of Music Factory events were held annually at Eden Court, where children learning instruments in the Highlands could come together for coaching and a performance. In more recent years, composition workshops in secondary schools, leading up to a series of Masterworks concerts have been an important addition to summer touring.

But it’s not all work and no play. One of the joys of Highland touring was exploring the landscapes en route and on occasions, cycling to a venue. When the schedule allowed, I would escape up a mountain, often accompanied by Adrian Bornet and other colleagues, and a good number of Munros were ‘bagged’ in between concerts.

My final Highland tour was to the Shetland Isles last July. Making our way on the ferry for a concert in Burravoe, a pod of orcas was spotted chasing seals up Yell Sound. My touring memories are full of moments like these. What an amazing way to experience the Highlands
Lorna McLaren – SCO Violin from 1979 – January 2018