It was just another rainy night in the Raploch. Until world class conductor Gustavo Dudamel, his orchestra the Simón Bolívar Symphony and a hardworking group of local schoolchildren took to the stage.
What unfolded was a stellar showcase of Scottish raw talent and musical potential blended with Venezuela’s finest young classical musicians.
The shuttle bus from Stirling to the Raploch truly reflected the diverse audience that attended The Big Concert. A teenager in a bomber jacket sat next to a pensioner in her twinset, pearls and of course, rain hat – this is Scotland after all.
The event was supposed to happen during ‘Scotland’s Midsummer’, an oxymoron if ever I’ve heard one.
But at the gate, the steward’s cries of “where’s your Dunkirk spirit?” as he handed out waterproof ponchos soon made the lashing rain seem more of a challenge than a setback to the estimated 8000 people in attendance as they pulled up their wellies and waded on through the mud.
Children splashed in puddles and the ice cream van parked outside was even getting a turn.
The world class orchestra from Venezuela came well prepared for the weather – wearing hoodies on stage when they performed.
Despite the rain, there was a tangible hum of excitement as school groups chatted and families gathered. Concert-goers ranged from babies in prams to OAPs and everything in between. It was a heartwarming sight.
The event was particularly touching for Pat Middleton, a retired music teacher at Bannockburn High School in Stirling.
She said: “I think it is absolutely fantastic. This gives the kids the opportunity to grow in confidence in all sorts of ways – you cannot get better development training.
“I hope this really boosts the interest and they manage to maintain the momentum. As long as their hands are big enough to hold the instrument then you’re away!”
I understood what Pat meant when the children of the Big Noise orchestra took to the stage for their performance of Rondeau from Abdelazer by Henry Purcell – some of them were tiny! The Raploch orchestra boasts children as young as six years old.
One parent in the audience feeling the pressure was Charlotte Stewart, who had three children performing in the show. Born and bred in the Raploch, she is hopeful that the Big Noise will help towards a better future for her children William (11), Cara (8) and Scott (7).
Charlotte, 30, said: “My boys play the cello and my girl, the viola. I’m very proud – I don’t think I can actually describe how proud I am.
“I knew that when it first started it was a good thing and the kids enjoyed it, but now just four years later and they’re on a huge stage with a huge audience. It’s absolutely phenomenal.
“It’s changed them for the better. They’ve got a future now – they’ll go far. Hopefully it just gets bigger from here.”
That is the concept of ‘El Sistema’ and the Big Noise project – to transform lives through music.
Charlotte needn’t have been nervous as the kids went down a storm, leaving the stage to rapturous applause.
Next, Latin passion met Celtic fire as the Simón Bolívar Symphony performed with the Big Noise. They played Beethoven’s Overture from Egmont in impressive harmony as Maestro Jose Antonio Abreu – who started the ‘El Sistema movement’ in Venezuela in 1975– looked on.
The pièce de résistance for the classical music lovers in the audience was Simón Bolívar Orchestra’s 50 minute performance of Beethoven's Symphony No 3, the Eroica.
Each of the four movements brought a different atmosphere in the crowd. In the first, many in the audience danced and flailed their arms around wildly. In the second, known as the funeral march, a hush descended over the audience as the normally fiery passion of conductor Dudamel simmered to an air of controlled poise as he conducted the hauntingly beautiful music.
By the third, the piece had regained a faster beat with short, sharp bursts of urgent sound leading into the fourth when many had closed their eyes to enjoy the the stunning orchestra as they reached the climax. At the end there was a standing ovation from the crowd.
For the finale, Dudamel returned to the stage in the same bright yellow jacket as the band and conducted an energetic and high spirited Mambo, full of colour. The musicians danced as they played the carnival sound.
The many Venezuelans in the audience must have felt right at home and proud of their most famous musical export.
Rosiris Debourg brought her two children, Gabriel and Carla, from Fife to see the show and learn about their history.
She said: “We’ve come to see Dudamel – he’s awesome. It’s a very different type of classical music – he makes them dance and stuff.
“People from Venezuela have travelled from all over Scotland to meet here and see Dudamel.”
From one heritage to another, the show closed with a spine tingling rendition of Auld Lang Syne which brought a tear to my eye. In the shadow of Stirling Castle, audience members linked arms and sang along as the magnificent fireworks display exploded.
By the end of the show, not only was I a convert to classical music - I was converted to classical music played by young people at a festival in Scotland in the pouring rain.
There is something very resounding about that Big Noise.
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