Monday, 24 November 2014

Divine Purcell, engaging Woolrich - Sinfonia Student Carl reviews

John Woolrich at 60: Britten Sinfonia @ Cambridge 21/11/14

Divine Purcell, engaging Woolrich

Rich strings and pulsating rhythms transcended the concert hall, serving as an exposition of the thought processes and sources of inspiration for one of today’s great living composers. 

The pre-concert talk was a perfect introduction to the music of John Woolrich, for those who were not already familiar with his work. An engaging presentation, together with the help of the Britten Sinfonia Academy students performing two inspiring works, In the Mirrors of Asleep and Stealing a March, helped give an informative overview of the composer’s style, however it was unfortunate that the composer could not be in Cambridge for the pre-concert talk due to a sudden back injury. We wish him well in his recovery.

The introduction of Purcell and Wolf songs for soprano and strings and solo strings was sublime, with Woolrich’s arrangements of both coming to life in the hands of Britten Sinfonia. The string sound was beautiful, and the leadership of Thomas Gould was well-judged. Susanna Hurrell did an admirable job, standing in for Sophie Bevan at the last minute. Her voice was well-suited to the Purcell, and blended majestically with the orchestra.

Soprano Susanna Hurrell with the orchestra.

The two arrangements provided the perfect backdrop for John Woolrich’s first work of the evening, Ulysses Awakens, an intriguingly named work featuring solo viola, performed with consummate skill by Clare Finnimore. The work featured harmonies identifiable with both the Purcell and the Wolf, however it brought an endearing modal feel, hinting at a folk-type sound. Both beautiful and lively, to the listener the work was a pleasure. 

The first half closed with an admirable performance of Stravinsky’s Eight Miniatures, with Duncan Ward instructing the ensemble well, and with the composer’s ineffable sense of humour and rhythm pervading the work, so as to create a pleasing performance, and a spectacular Per pieta, non ricercate, by Mozart. Hurrell was again wonderful. 

The second half could be seen as being perhaps more conventionally judged, with the lengthy first section contrasted with a relatively brief final period, including two works which functioned symbiotically, so as to create a cohesive performance. Stravinsky’s Dumbarton Oaks, a neo-classical favourite, was effervescent and sparkling in its wit, with engaging rhythms heightening interest. The audience seemed once again enthused, following their mid-concert snooze. The star of the show, however, was Woolrich’s Violin Concerto, a fabulous and endearing work, which was performed in style by Thomas Gould, under the fantastic leadership of Duncan Ward. Ward’s simple yet effective conducting - efficient is perhaps the word - suited the work beautifully, as he brought a clarity to the music that was much-needed. The violin enjoys much interplay with the orchestra in this interesting work, particularly with the marimba, which was well-judged.  

Thomas Gould and Duncan Ward receiving applause after Woolrich's Violin Concerto.

The performance was well-received, and one cannot help but suggest that the applause given to the works of Woolrich was equal to that of the well-established repertoire, indicating the composer’s relevance today. A fitting celebration, and exploration, of the man, and the composer, as he turns sixty this year.

Carl Wikeley (Sinfonia Student 2014-15)

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Meet Kitty Whately - mezzo-soprano

(c) Natalie Watts
Kitty Whately will be the mezzo-soprano soloist in an upcoming performance of Bach's Magnificat (6 December 2014) in London's Barbican Hall. She will also be joining Britten Sinfonia abroad in the new year as one of the soloists in an Amsterdam performance of Haydn's Nelson Mass (February 2015).

Find out more about Kitty in this blog post as she reveals her biggest fears, guiltiest pleasures and what animal she would be...


What has been the highlight of your career so far?
That's a tough one. I have been so lucky over the past few years to get to work with some fantastic people in beautiful places. I think I'd say working in the Aix en Pravence festival last summer. It was a newly commissioned opera by Vasco Mendonça, for just two singers. It was directed by Katie Mitchell, and I found her rehearsal process fascinating. It was a great part, and I got on so well with everyone involved. We were rehearsing in a beautiful old chateau in sunny provence and the whole period was fab. 

When are you happiest?
In my favourite place on earth, Aldeburgh, with my fiance Anthony and my 8 year old daughter, Ivy. Anthony and I are getting married there next year. 

What is your greatest fear?
Losing the people I love. 

What is your earliest musical memory?
Singing along to Paul Simon's Graceland, Katheryn Tickell the Northumbrian piper, and Salif Keïtar, an Afro-pop singer/songwriter from Mali and favourite of my dad's, on long car trips with my family. 

Which living person do you most admire, and why?
Oh that's too hard. I'll say my family- I admire my fiance for his kindness and his calm, positive attitude to life, I admire my dad for his hard work ethic, and his well-earned reputation for being an incredibly lovely collegue and warm person, and my mum for her intellegence, her wit, and selflessness and generosity towards supporting her family, especially me. 

What was your most embarrassing moment?
I can't think of any really. I must wipe them. I try to laugh at myself as often as possible so perhaps that helps me to not feel embarrassment? No, I really do. I just can't remember any. 
What is your most treasured possession?
My daughter. Can I say that? If not, my pillow. 

What would your super power be?
Hmm, if I could choose one? I would choose the power to click my fingers and arrive somewhere without travelling. 

If you were an animal what would you be?
A pot-bellied pig. I love food, and I already have the pot belly. 

What is your most unappealing habit?
Licking my plate after a delicious meal. I try not to do it in public, but my family have to put up with it at home. Waste not - want not. 

What is your favourite book?
How To Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran.

What is your guiltiest pleasure?
Watching X Factor.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
Jamie Oliver (to cook), Billy Connolly, Stephen Fry, Caitlin Moran, Jo Brand and Phil and Fern (Schofield and Cotton). 

If you could go back in time, where would you go?
To the era of Jane Austin. I love all that. I'd only want to visit though. I wouldn't want to stay there for ever.  
How do you relax away from the concert platform?
Cooking or watching cookery programmes with my fiance, and watching movies and eating popcorn with my daughter. 

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My daughter. Honestly, I know that's a cliche. But I really do. So often I look at her and I think "I made a human being in my body, and kept her alive! And she can walk and talk and everything!!"
What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
Happiness is a transitional state. You don't arrive at 'happiness' and live happily ever after. It comes and goes. 

In a nutshell, what is your philosophy?
Enjoy the happy moments while they last, and keep strong in the unhappy ones. Remember they will pass. 


Bach's Magnificat featuring Kitty Whately will be performed on Saturday 6 December 2014. More information can be found on our website.


Thursday, 6 November 2014

Joey Roukens on composition

Composer Joey Roukens is writing a new work for Britten Sinfonia, which will be premiered on Wednesday 4 March 2015 in London's Wigmore Hall followed by performances in Cambridge and Norwich as part of our At Lunch 4 programme. Joey is one of the composers you can support through the Musically Gifted campaign. Find out more about Joey in this blog post as he answers questions about himself and his music...



How would you summarise yourself in one sentence?
I'm a composer with an eclectic (yet hopefully distinctive) musical language embracing the great diversity of styles and genres that make up our current musical age.

What’s your earliest musical memory?
Probably listening to my father’s vinyl records: mostly crooners, country and folk music. But I also remember a record of songs played by a Dutch street organist, which I was very fond of.

What do you like most about composing?
What I like most is when you stumble upon an idea that seems brilliant and you think this is going to be the masterpiece you’ve always wanted to write… only to realize the next day that the idea is not that brilliant after all and the piece you’re working on is definitely not going to be a masterpiece. For the most part, it’s not fun to compose: it’s an agony – 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration!

What inspires you?
Anything can be a source of inspiration – a good movie, a museum, a night club, etc. But what inspires me most is other music. When I hear music that really moves or excites me I get inspired to write my own.

When was the last time you experienced writers’ block, and how did you move on from it?
With each piece, I go through a stage of writers’ block, sometimes it lasts only a day, other times it can last many weeks or even months. Frustratingly, there’s not much you can do about it; it’s part of the creative process. What works best for me is to just accept it and take a break.

How do you feel about new music and what we’re trying to do with Musically Gifted?
In these times of arts cuts it is very important that projects such as Musically Gifted exist to make alternative financing of new music commissions possible. Musically Gifted is a wonderful initiative I can only applaud. New music that’s being written today must be performed today, for it has something to communicate to the audience of today.

What would you like to be recognised for?
Frankly, I don’t care. I just write the music I want to write and as long as there are listeners out there who think my music is worthwhile, I am happy.

What advice would you give to other composers?
I don’t think I’m in the position to advise other composers, but if I had to advise younger, aspiring composers, I’d say: Be open to the whole gamut of styles, genres and sources that the current musical culture has to offer. Embrace everything, question everything and write only what you want to write, even if you think you shouldn’t write it.

What’s your musical guilty pleasure?
I’ve got plenty: the lush film scores of John Williams and Morricone, Strauss waltzes, Bacharach songs, new agey ambient music, at times I can even enjoy a bit of Einaudi.

If you turned your iPod on now, what would be playing?
That could be anything from Renaissance vocal music to the new Aphex Twin album.
  
Favourite five tracks of all time?
That’s difficult to say because I have so many favourites, plus, they change all the time. So let me just give you my favourite composers. As of now, they are (in no particular order): Bach, Mahler, Mozart, Sibelius, Stravinsky.

The last concert you saw?
A concert with orchestral works by Dutch composers, including a piece by me, about a month ago.

If you hadn’t been a musician, what might have happened?
Either I would have become a researcher in cognitive psychology (in fact, I studied psychology at university, as well as music composition), or I would have ended up a tramp.

Which musical instrument do you wish you could play, and why?
The violin. Because of the enormous emotional range it is capable of expressing.

Is there anything else you want to share with the world?
No, enough said, just listen to my music!


Joey's new work will be premiered in March 2014 as part of our At Lunch 4 programme, which also features works by Lou Harrison and Shostakovich.

You can find out more about Joey's music by listening to some tracks on his website.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Meet Clare Finnimore - viola


Clare Finnimore studied at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama where she co-founded the prize-winning Guildhall String Ensemble. Her musical career has included multifarious appearances as a soloist in a variety of festivals, venues and continents. She has been Principal Viola of Britten Sinfonia for the past 12 years, plays regularly with her chamber group, Britten Oboe Quartet, and can be heard on many a cinema soundtrack including Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, the latest James Bond film, Skyfall, and The Hobbit. She has also performed live with such artists as Kylie Minogue, Sting, Bjork and Florence and the Machine.

In this blog post Clare discusses various highlights of her musical career so far (as well as the odd embarrassing moment), her favourite pastimes and super-power of choice.



What has been the highlight of your career so far?
When you play music you love with people you love playing with it's always a high!

When are you happiest?
Swimming.

What is your greatest fear?
A world controlled by multi- nationals and the diminishing of the dawn chorus.

What is your earliest musical memory?
Trad Jazz at home and my parents jiving...The Beatles: Rubber Soul....Dukas: The Sorcerer's Apprentice....Holst: The Planets.

Which living person do you most admire, and why?
Camilla Batmanghelidjh- her big heart, determination and tireless work for vulnerable children...and of course her style!

What was your most embarrassing moment?
Asking a very famous singer/songwriter: 'Is this your son?' His reply: 'No, she's my wife.'

What is your most treasured possession?
A goodbye letter from my sister Jan.

What would your super power be?
I would like to be multi-lingual.

If you were an animal what would you be?
A cat in a loving home- what a life of luxury they have! But I would NOT kill birds.

What is your most unappealing habit?
At home, being unnecessarily fussy about recycling. But if everyone did it......

What is your favourite book?
Middlemarch, Pride and Prejudice, Lost London 1870-1945.

What is your guiltiest pleasure?
Freshly baked almond croissants.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
My husband, 2 sons and 2 nephews and my best female friends.

If you could go back in time, where would you go?
To the 60's - I would inject all the giant Elm trees so that they would still be here now.

How do you relax away from the concert platform?
Wine, tapas and friends.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Stepping up as soloist at a few hours notice for a live broadcast.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
To make every day the best you can.

In a nutshell, what is your philosophy?
I saw this recently on a park bench: "Love, be loved and never stop learning."

John Woolrich's piece for viola and orchestra, Ulysses Awakes, was written for Clare, and she will be performing this work with the orchestra on 20 & 21 November in London and Cambridge as part of the musical celebrations of Woolrich's 60th birthday this year. 

She will also be performing as part of our At Lunch 3 concert in February 2015, which will feature a new composition by Ben Comeau and string chamber pieces by Vaughan Williams and Beethoven.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

What's in a Miniature?

Francisco Coll
On Sunday 2 November Britten Sinfonia premiere a new work by young Spanish composer, Francisco Coll. Entitled Four Minatures, the piece will be conducted by Thomas Adès and performed at Saffron Hall, Saffron Walden. Francisco Coll studied at the Valencia and Madrid Conservatoires before moving to London as a private pupil of Thomas Adès (his only pupil to date), and a student at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. In this blog post we find out a little more about the piece he has written, which has been co-commissioned by Britten Sinfonia and Saffron Hall. Musicologist Ramón Sánchez Ochoa reveals all;


In painting, the miniature is a delicate thing; small and more often than not serving as a book illustration. The Four Miniatures of Francisco Coll, pieces of two to three minutes duration each, both are and are not ‘miniatures’ in a conventional sense. Slight dimensions – yes - and displaying a painstakingly thorough construction, but not illustrating anything per se; not directed towards an outside reality but rather sufficient within their own sonic effervescence. These are paradoxical ‘miniatures’, then, which simultaneously focus and enlarge, dilate and condense, the popular elements that inspire them. In his engagement with the vernacular, Coll does not follow the watchword of earlier Spanish composers such as Pedrell: he is not searching for the quintessence, the subtle perfume, of popular song. Rather, it is the obvious, the ‘obvious’ tradition which he takes and transmutes - sifting it through his unique and unusual aesthetic sensibility.

The first miniature opens with wild, frenzied chords whilst the frenetic movements of fandango evoke the distant echoes of heels and palms. Coll’s is a black and white Andalucismo, without picturesque flowery patios, close to a sound hallucination. While the violin clutches at a few ethereal pizzicati, the melodic line undoes itself through an elusive hocketting, a flickering between the eerie and the dreamlike, which ends in utter silence, met with knowing (and characteristically Hispanic) winks.

In the second miniature’s slow introduction, double and triple-stops stretch the violin’s torn voice which seems to both state and retract, reaffirm and refuse. After the rhythmic dissonances their tortured tango rhythm arises - not a tango de salón but an X-ray (the magnetised resonance) of an expressionist tango with all its coarse rhythms and cadences. After the storm comes the calm: following its initial arpeggios of the third miniature a lament for the violin arises before being gradually torn apart by glissandi. Of all the four pieces this is the one steeped most deeply in flamenco, with its augmented-second leaps which positively smack of the Andalusian cadence. Like a fine spring rain, the melodic line is diluted between the figurative and abstract (if these words have any meaning at all in music): it is a subtle pointillism between the known and the unknown, between what is said and what is guessed.

A frantic wind crosses the work’s final pages: brief repeated cells, like movie frames stuck in a deranged projector, move from near-inaudible pianissimos to the most extreme fortissimo, contrary and unrequited impulses that arise from the negation of their selves. Bar by bar, an imperfect circle surrounds, envelops and intoxicates us, carrying us with it. The Four Miniatures run like lightning. After the final notes we are left perplexed and fascinated by the distance between lyricism and harshness, between the fog and the foreground, poised on that thin, flinty edge that separates the serious from the comic.

Ramón Sánchez Ochoa

The concert takes place on Sunday 2 November at Saffron Hall, Saffron Walden and alongside the premiere of Coll's new work the programme features Thomas Adès' own violin concerto, Concentric Paths and his Piano Quintet alongside Stravinsky's Suite for Small Orchestra and Sibelius' Six Humoresques. Click here for more info and to book tickets.

Friday, 10 October 2014

There’s something about print

For the past few months, one of my projects as part of the fundraising team has been working on developing new print for our annual giving programme. I’ve researched other giving print, collated ideas, helped decide on our message, developed the copy, worked with a new designer, our printers and the marketing team to create something that hopefully stands out and will encourage more people to give to Britten Sinfonia.

I know what some of you might be thinking: ‘in a world of digital marketing and social media campaigns, what’s the point in print? We’ve all seen the hugely successful selfie campaign and ice bucket challenge…’ But even though digital campaigns are important drivers of both marketing and fundraising we don’t want our print to get left behind because it’s important, too. You’re right that much of the information we print is available in some form online, but if you’re anything like me however much you might walk around with an iPhone glued to your hand there’s still nothing better than sitting down (or snuggling into bed in your pyjamas) with a magazine or a good book; turning the pages, feeling the weight of it (or lack of, depending on whether you’re reading Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries or Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea) enjoying the experience of holding an actual book with a lovely cover and beautifully printed pages... And, let’s face it, we get much more excited to receive post through the letter box than an email in our overflowing inboxes.

We decided to update the annual giving print for a number of reasons. The text was out of date (highlighting Britten Sinfonia’s 20th birthday while we’re now approaching our 25th) the cover image was dark and dated, and since it was produced over two years ago it feels like every orchestra has chosen to entice potential donors to ‘play your part’, and Britten Sinfonia is no ordinary orchestra. It was time for a change and for something a bit different.
Our previous annual giving print


After a lot of research and thought we came up with a few things that we wanted to achieve: something different, bold and eye-catching yet simple, concise and tidy. With our ideas settled we left the final design in capable hands and continued to work on our overall message and how we were going to communicate it.

Although our previous ‘play your part’ stance was, and still is, relevant, we think there’s much more to your ownership of the orchestra than that. There’s more to being a supporter of Britten Sinfonia than sending a cheque or setting up a direct debit and playing a part in financing our concerts. Everyone who is a regular concert-attender and even those who only come along occasionally should feel that the orchestra they have invested even a little bit of their time and/ or money in is truly theirs for the taking.

Instead of highlighting funding cuts and the need for more gifts from individuals, we have chosen to emphasise the positives: in spite of everything, Britten Sinfonia is growing and achieving more than ever before and it’s thanks to our current partners, donors and everyone who has ever purchased a single ticket. All of you have contributed to our successes and so each concert and project belongs to you. And giving, whether it’s your time in a concert hall or your hard-earned cash, is all about you and your relationship to us. You’re not just playing your part; we’re here because of you, so Britten Sinfonia is your orchestra.

Our exciting shiny new annual giving print

Nothing beats a good book, and (at least at Britten Sinfonia) it’s always exciting to receive a pallet-load of new print. I think everyone in the office could do without the smell of ink that lingers for weeks, but it’s great to write letters, stuff envelopes and post out our latest leaflet or brochure to our donors and audiences, because there’s definitely something about print.




Izi
Development Assistant

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Tom Coult on composition

Composer Tom Coult is writing a new work for Britten Sinfonia, which will be premiered in March 2015 in London followed by performances in Norwich and Saffron Walden. Tom is on the rosta of composers individuals can support through the Musically Gifted campaign. In this blog Tom answers questions about himself and his music;

How would you summarise yourself in one sentence?
‘Tom writes music, lives in London, and is amazed at the difficulty of this opening question.’

What’s your earliest musical memory?
Being played Jimi Hendrix in the car by my dad.

What do you like most about composing?
The occasional bursts of feverish excitement and productivity. And hearing my music performed well, although by then all the ‘composing’ is hopefully done…

What inspires you?
At the moment I can’t stop gazing at Oliver Byrne’s 1847 edition of Euclid’s Elements – it’s a beautiful publication using beautiful coloured, proto-Mondrian diagrams instead of words. There’s something in the boldness, geometry and simplicity of the illustrations that I wish I could imitate in music.

When was the last time you experienced writers’ block, and how did you move on from it?
I experience writer’s block every day – still haven’t found a satisfactory remedy…

How do you feel about new music and what we’re trying to do with Musically Gifted?
A commitment to performing and commissioning music by living composers is one of the marks of an intelligent and relevant ensemble (Britten Sinfonia certainly comes under both of those categories). It’s also essential that composers’ considerable work be valued and remunerated. Any scheme that raises money for new work to be written (and repeated) is well worthwhile, and this type of funding hopefully creates an extra level of engagement with the piece for those that are able to contribute.

What would you like to be recognised for?
Excellent sideburns.

What advice would you give to other composers?
Try to compose every day, listen to several orders of magnitude more music than you write, and get some good pencils.

What’s your musical guilty pleasure?

Sentimental spoken-word verses in songs – cf. Porter Wagoner’s Green Green Grass of Home, Elvis Presley’s Are You Lonesome Tonight?, and the granddaddy of them all, the Everley Brothers’ Ebony Eyes.

If you turned your iPod on now, what would be playing?

The Everley Brothers’ Ebony Eyes.

Favourite five tracks of all time?
Interpreting ‘tracks’ extremely liberally; Bach’s Brandenburgs no.s 1, 2, 5, 6 and the Everley Brothers’ Ebony Eyes.

The last concert you saw?
Rachel Podger directing the English Concert at Wigmore Hall – doing Vivaldi 391 with its scordatura violin… mind-bendingly good piece.

If you hadn’t been a musician, what might have happened?

I’d be making and repairing clocks.

Which musical instrument do you wish you could play, and why?

The tenor viol – viols are far more beautiful instruments than anything in the modern symphony orchestra.

Is there anything else you want to share with the world?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EQOjxA8rrks

Hear Tom Coult's new work on Friday 20 March 2015 at London's Milton Court and then on Saturday 22 March 2015 at Norwich Theatre Royal and Sunday 23 March 2015 at Saffron Walden's Saffron Hall. Click here for full information on the concerts and to book tickets.