Media Release: Alexander McCall Smith brings his Really Terrible Orchestra to New York

AS the ‘world’s worst orchestra’ prepares for its American debut, the question on many minds is not whether the RTO is ready for New York but whether New York is ready for the RTO.

The answer seems to be a resounding, astonishing ‘yes’, with more than 1,000 of the 1,400 capacity Town Hall tickets already sold.

The Really Terrible Orchestra was created by internationally-famous author, Alexander McCall Smith, for reasons best known to himself.

Its musicians (as they insist on being called) have long asserted their right to perform in public and have regularly entertained captive audiences, from Pittenweem (an extremely small town in Scotland) to the Cadogan Hall (an inappropriately prestigious venue in London). Now it’s America’s turn.

Under the distinguished baton of Sir Richard Neville-Towle KDO* (knighthood of dubious origin), the tuneless troupe will appear as part of the 2009 New York Tartan Week celebrations.

McCall Smith, principal contra bassoonist of (one) note and occasional sousaphonist, will attempt to explain why a writer with The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, 44 Scotland Street, The Sunday Philosophy Club, and much more, to his credit can succeed so spectacularly in one art form and fail so miserably in another.

Favourites from the Edinburgh-based band’s repertoire will be revisited in an extraordinary programme spanning two centuries, several composers, and two key changes. With the RTO, nothing is guaranteed except the quality of the music.

There will be a real modern Major General reprising Gilbert and Sullivan’s legendary number from the Pirates of Penzance to really terrible new lyrics, a bagpipe serenade, cannon fire and the New York premiere of a musical saw concerto. There may be encores but only on request.

‘Where standard amateurs may be incidentally bad, the Really Terrible
Orchestra is fundamentally bad’ – New York Times, August 2007

‘As there was no likelihood of ever being accepted into an existing ensemble, we decided to create our own. There’s a concept of asylum in the RTO. It’s therapy’ – Alexander McCall Smith

‘Why this group of (very) modestly talented musicians should presume to perform in public is beyond anyone’ – Edinburgh Festival Program


* Founded in 1995 by Alexander McCall Smith and his wife Elizabeth, the Really Terrible Orchestra has provided a refuge for the cream of Edinburgh’s musically-disadvantaged.

*The RTO has spawned a number of tribute bands, including The Really Terrible Orchestra of the Triangle (RTOOT), the RTO Pennsylvania, and The Really Terrible Orchestra of Westchester.

*The RTO performs sell-out concerts every year at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and has succeeded where the Royal Philharmonic has failed, by selling out the Cadogan Hall, London’s Carnegie.

*All profits from the show will go to two American charities – the Children’s Orchestra Society, founded by Dr Yeou-Cheng Ma, and National Tartan Day New York Committee.

*The tenth novel in Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, Tea Time for the Traditionally Built, will be published by Random House on April 21 2009. The television adaptation of the books will air in America on HBO in spring 2009.

Press: and

Tickets $35, $25
The Town Hall, 123 West 43rd Street, New York (Box Office 212-8402824)

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