Through the Eyes of... Jane Atkins

Jane Atkins - Smaller ImagePrincipal Viola Jane Atkins describes her most memorable SCO concert to date and how she has approached John McLeod's new Viola Concerto, 'Nordic Fire', in the run up to its world premiere this month.

You have performed internationally with many incredible orchestras and ensembles, what makes performing with the SCO special?

The SCO is like a family so when we play together we are all coming from the same place. We have shared experiences on and off the concert platform, we know each other’s quirks, strengths and weaknesses. I feel very supported by the Orchestra if I am playing a solo, they are a great force to have behind you. Being a soloist can feel quite lonely; the SCO musicians exude warmth, passion and commitment which in turn gives me the courage and strength to express myself.

What has been your most SCO memorable concert to date?

That is a tough question because most concerts with SCO stay in my mind for a long time. There was a concert though in 1999 that has always stuck in my mind. I played as guest principal in a BBC Prom with the SCO. We played Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ symphony with Joseph Swensen conducting. I can still remember the energy, drama, fear and euphoria. The slow movement was extraordinary, Joseph and SCO took it to a different dimension.

Next Season you will be performing the world premiere of John McLeod’s Viola Concerto, ‘Nordic Fire’ – do you approach a new commission in a different manner to existing repertoire?

Yes and no. Most music that I open has the same effect on me. I have a very powerful, physical and emotional reaction to it which is triggered by the harmonic, rhythmic and colour patterns that I hear and see. It’s a bit overwhelming sometimes and whatever I am learning is sort of like life and death itself. A new piece is great because it is more like a blank canvas, there is only mine and the composer’s reaction to it, no existing recordings or previous performances to offer guidance to or confuse my learning process. With John McLeod’s ‘Nordic Fire’ I have the added bonus of being able to ask him what he has imagined a specific bar or passage to sound like, what character he is looking for somewhere, or what emotion he wants to convey. John has captured the essence of the viola in this work, we play such a strange role in the orchestra, sometimes being the essential rhythmic impetuous, sometimes having the bass line or the tune and at times just struggling to be heard at all! It’s a both frustrating and powerful place to be, right in the middle of the music-making machine. His piece is very challenging, in a good way! Because it is technically complex in places, it will need a more methodical and disciplined approach than usual, but its vibrancy, charisma and soulfulness make it a joy to learn


Hear Jane perform ‘Nordic Fire’ in Edinburgh (25 Oct) and Glasgow (26 Oct)