At Watson’s we value our community and charity partnerships. It is vital that these links remain strong to allow us, as an educational charity, to engage with our partners on a local, national and international level - sharing facilities, opportunities and expertise that benefit all. Moreover, these partnerships provide pupils from a number of schools (including but not restricted to Watson’s), with incredible enrichment opportunities that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.
This year, Watson’s and the Edinburgh Youth Orchestra agreed to a formal partnership - a move that was naturally rather fitting given that EYO began its life at Watson’s 60 years ago. EYO’s General Manager, Wendy Elliott, commented on the new partnership, explaining: “the recent partnership between both organisations is incredibly exciting and we are very grateful for the continued support of our work from the school.”
Watson’s is proud to support Edinburgh Youth Orchestra as it seeks to provide top level orchestral and ensemble playing opportunities for young people in Edinburgh, the Lothians and beyond. As the organisation celebrates its landmark anniversary, we take a look back at how EYO has evolved over the last 60 years and how Watson’s can help in the future.
In 1963, when EYO was founded by Herrick Bunney and Margaret Rennie Moncrieff, the stated purpose was 'organised holiday courses in orchestral playing under professional conductors and coaches.' At that time, the Merchant Company of Edinburgh consented to the use of George Watson's College for a one-week Easter Course. James Loughran (President of EYO) agreed to direct the course with a programme to include Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 2 and Schubert's Unfinished Symphony. The concert, held in the Assembly Hall of George Watson's College, was a resounding success with an appreciative audience of 758. For this new venture, there had been excellent press coverage and photographs in The Scotsman, Daily Express, Daily Mail, Evening News and the Daily Record. Scottish Television also filmed a 5-minute news feature. George Watson’s College would continue to be the home of the annual Easter EYO Course until the early 1990s.
During its long history, EYO has enjoyed working with distinguished conductors and musicians, some of whom continue to enjoy a close association with the organisation today, fronting the orchestra as Patrons - Dame Evelyn Glennie, Sir Donald Runnicles OBE and Julian Lloyd Webber OBE, to name a few. The orchestra has played in concert halls across the globe, touring Germany, California, Austria, Italy, Finland, and within the UK. Much cherished musical memories have been made over the last 60 years, but above all, lifelong friendships have also been ignited and sustained.
In the summer of 2018, EYO returned to Watson’s and the organisation began to plan for a new and important development. In addition to EYO’s auditioned summer orchestra for more advanced musicians, they were keen to offer the experience of playing in an orchestra, in many cases for the first time, to young people aged 10 and above. Wendy Elliott explained: “we were able to offer this opportunity completely free of charge thanks to the generous support that we received, both financial and otherwise. During the Easter holiday, under the leadership of Lawrence Gill (Head of Woodwind), Claire Docherty (Head of Strings both for EYO and at George Watson’s College), and a team of caring and expert tutors, we ran the third of these courses this April, spending four days with over 100 young musicians from more than 40 different schools. Safe to say, it was tremendous.”
EYO is proud that many alumni have gone on to have successful careers in music and still speak with affection of their formative years with the orchestra. A number of those musicians are also Watsonians, including Sir Donald Runnicles OBE (Class of 1972) who recently said: “my debt of gratitude to this wonderful institution is profound – as a young horn player, I had the opportunity to work both with excellent conductors and soloists. The experience taught me so much about what it takes to be a team player and subsequently a leader – a lesson for life. Lessons too for a young conductor – what wonderful memories I have of standing before these terrific young musicians. The Edinburgh Youth Orchestra informs and changes musical lives. It did mine.” This year, Ben Shankland (Class of 2022), now a student at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, will join EYO’s 60th Anniversary Concerts at Paisley Abbey and Greyfriars Kirk, as the piano soloist in Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.
Bringing EYO to the stage is no mean feat. Following auditions in January, the orchestra meets for the first time for a weekend of rehearsals in the middle of March. Fast forward to August and they have spent the last week rehearsing intensively. When discussing the rehearsal process for the current anniversary programme, Wendy Elliott said: “the players of this year’s orchestra have been guided with extraordinary commitment and expertise by our wonderful team of orchestral tutors. We are hugely grateful to Sian Edwards, a true friend and patron of EYO, for agreeing to conduct the orchestra once again.”
As Watson’s partnership with EYO evolves, we hope that the next 60 years bring the same success, allowing the organisation to continue to grow from strength to strength. We very much look forward to working together.