Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Anna Clyne on composition

In January 2016 Britten Sinfonia premiere a new work by Anna Clyne, commissioned by Britten Sinfonia and Wigmore Hall, for our 10th anniversary At Lunch series. Anna is one of the composers you can support through the Musically Gifted campaign. Find out more about Anna in this blog post as she answers questions about herself and her music...

What’s your earliest musical memory?

My earliest musical memory is hearing my mother signing nursery rhymes. My first deeply moving experience of a live concert was hearing Nigel Kennedy perform Beethoven’s Violin concerto.

What do you like most about composing?
It’s a wonderful opportunity to meet and collaborate with other artists, and to get lost in one’s imagination.

What inspires you?
I find inspiration in a myriad of things – it’s different for each piece – it could be a choreographer, an artist, an image, or a simple melody. I’m about to start work on a new piece for one hundred cellos, so for that piece it will be the very unique sonority, and how the lines interact, that will inspire the piece.

What advice would you give to aspiring composers?
Stick with it! A career in music takes time – it’s still very much a grass roots trajectory, building relationships with musicians, composers, conductors, artists and ensembles. Work closely with friends who are musicians to learn the intricacies of writing for those instruments, find like-minded artists, take risks in your music, and reach out to other artists that inspire you.

What’s your musical guilty pleasure?
When I’ve finished a day’s work of composing, I like to blast something completely different to cleanse the ears – something upbeat, and often with lyrics so that I can sing along whilst I’m closing up shop. Fitting the bill have been Lily Allen and Mae West, or if I’m after something a little calmer, I’ll call upon Nat King Cole or Nina Simone.

If you turned your iPod on now, what would be playing?
My musical appetite is all over the map, but most recently I listened to Roomful of Teeth – I’m finishing up a new piece for them and have been listening to their latest album to find inspiration in their unique sound. I’ve also been listening to vocal music by other artists/composers such as Trio Mediaeval, Clarice Assad, Purcell and Bernstein.

The last concert you saw?
Last weekend, I heard two totally different, but totally wonderful concerts – the Baltimore Symphony performing Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini with soloist Olga Kern, Strauss’ Alpine Symphony and the East Coast premiere of short piece of mine, Masquerade, under the direction of Marin Alsop – followed the next day by Tree of Codes with music by Jamie XX, choreography by Wayne McGregor and visuals by Olafur Eliasson in New York.

If you hadn’t been a musician, what might have happened?
I’ve always had a wide range of interests. If music weren’t an option I would have loved to study more languages and if I had a completely different skillset, I would have loved to become an astrophysicist. 

Which musical instrument do you wish you could play, and why?
I’m a rusty cellist, but I wish I could play the fiddle well. There’s something about folk music that I’ve always loved – from Scottish tunes heard during my time at Edinburgh University to old-time music and the blues in Chicago. It would be great to be able to pick it up and play. And it’s so much more portable than a cello!

You can support Anna's new work and get regular updates on its progress via the Musically Gifted campaign - click here for more info

Anna's new work will be premiered during our At Lunch series in January and will feature soprano Julia Doyle. Performances take place at Norwich's St Andrew's Hall on Friday 15 January, Cambridge's West Road Concert Hall on Tuesday 19th January and London's Wigmore Hall on Wednesday 20th January. Click here for more info and to book tickets.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Meet Frederieke Saeijs

Ahead of performing Oliver Knussen's Violin Concerto as part of our TAKE TWO: Oliver Knussen in Focus double-bill this October, violinist Frederieke Saeijs took some time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions about her musical career so far.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Every concert is unique and therefore a highlight in a way, but if I have to choose I’ll go for this upcoming performance of Oliver Knussen’s violin concerto with Britten Sinfonia. I have never before performed a violin concerto under the baton of the composer himself. It will be a great opportunity and inspiration to work so closely together with the very creator of the piece and such an experienced ensemble. I’m looking forward to this experience incredibly!

When are you happiest?
When hugging my son Maxime and my partner Arjen at the same time, in a true family “group hug”!

What is your greatest fear?
In a way, fear itself.

What is your earliest musical memory?
Hearing my father (harpsichord/piano) and my mother (flute) play sonatas by J.S. Bach together.

Which living person do you most admire, and why?
One of the many persons I admire is Mauricio Fuks, my former professor at Indiana University. Somehow he is able to read the soul of his students through their playing, as if he had a sixth sense. Also, he knows exactly how to encourage each student by handing out the right tools to perfect technique and to connect to ones own unique musical voice. He has surely contributed greatly to my development as a violinist and artist, for which I’m very thankful.

What is your most treasured possession?
My violin, crafted by Petrus Guarneri in 1725. The instrument is not actually my possession, but thanks to the Dutch National Foundation for Musical Instruments I have the chance to play on it. This violin has become an extension of my body over the past 8 years.

What would your super power be?
I’d like to be able to fly and play Quidditch!

In real life I hope to touch the hearts of the people in the audience through my violin. Music has the potential to create magic and to “give wings” to the listener. So, I intend to use the bow as a magic wand and make the music fly

If you were an animal what would you be?
I’d love to be a seahorse…floating elegantly and peacefully through the sea.

What is your most unappealing habit?
Nibbling a cookie (or other sweet) and putting it back on the plate it is served from

What is your favourite book?
Harry Potter

What is your guiltiest pleasure?
To drink a soy chai tea latte, accompanied by a Dutch “stroofwafel” (syrup waffle)…yummie!

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
Jascha Heifetz, Fritz Kreisler, Eugène Ysaÿe, Georges Enescu, Jacques Thibaud, Pablo de Sarasate…all phenomenal violin masters of the past!

If you could go back in time, where would you go?
To the workshop of Pietro Guarneri in Venice, 1725, to witness the birth of my violin and to hear it’s first notes being played.

How do you relax away from the concert platform?
I love to salsa dance. Especially after many hours in the same posture (which for the violin is not the most natural one), salsa helps to shake everything loose. Also the happy music instantly puts me in a good mood and helps to get over any sense of fatigue.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
To embrace the “here and now” and to count your blessings.

In a nutshell, what is your philosophy?
Seize the day: carpe diem!


Join Britten Sinfonia, Frederieke Saeijs and Oliver Knussen for this performance of Knussen's Violin Concerto - alongside Tippett's Concerto for Orchestra and works by Mozart and Stravinsky - on Wednesday 28 October 2015, 7.30pm at London's Barbican Hall. Find out more.

Read Frederielke's biography here

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Partnerships with Music Education Hubs

Arts Council England recently launched a short film about Music Education Hubs and the work they do to create music education programmes for children and young people.

Britten Sinfonia has been working closely with the Music Education Hubs in the east of England over the past few years and Mateja Kaluza (Creative Learning Co-ordinator) outlines some partnership highlights from the coming season; 

Our partnerships with the Music Hubs across the east of England are central to our Creative Learning programme in 2015-16 and strong relationships with Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Peterborough hubs have helped us to identify areas of need and to shape exciting, dynamic, meaningful and impactful engagement opportunities for schools, families and young talent.

2015-16 season highlights include:

The Cambridgeshire Music Partership has been an unflagging development partner and funder of Link Ensemble, Britten Sinfonia’s pioneering integration project for young musicians with special educational needs  and their non-disabled, GCSE classmates at Comberton Village College. The highly successful pilot year across both the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons will culminate in a public performance at Saffron Hall, 6.15pm on Saturday 21 November in which the ensemble will demonstrate the compositional techniques they have developed over a series of intensive courses and premier their resulting works.

Norfolk Music Hub’s commitment to whole-class instrumental learning is supported by Britten Sinfonia in an annual wider opportunity Celebration Day. Having undertaken a year of Wider Opportunities whole class learning, Key Stage 2 children are inspired by the orchestra in a massed ensemble workshop and performance engaging over 300 children on a range of instruments for an immersive playing experience.Read all about the 2014-15 celebration day here

Creative Learning at Lunch workshops allow students to explore new music with Britten Sinfonia's musicians and a workshop leader, and to attend Britten Sinfonia’s At Lunch concert series. Working closely with Norfolk Music hub to identify schools which will most benefit from this opportunity, workshops are tailored to schools needs and are suitable for Key Stage 3 and 4 or GCSE group.

Working closely with Peterborough Music Partnership, the 2015-16 season will see Britten Sinfonia run a major Key Stage 3 Ensemble project involving 4 secondary schools, 120 participants and live-streamed performances to 1000 primary school children. This project is closely tied to Britten Sinfonia's mainstage programme with artistic roots in Strauss’ Metamorphosen (performed in Cambridge on 27 April 2016, Norwich on 29 April 2016 and in London’s Milton Court on 1 May 2016) encouraging the young musicians to explore cultural context and the compositional concept of many individual parts (and performers) working together to create a single work. 

As in both Norwich adn Cambridge we are also committed to supporting Peterborough Hub in providing excellent music education opportunities for young instrumentalists who then have the opportunity take part in a  mass ensemble playing alongside our musicians as part of an annual series  Let’s Play workshops.

Our commitment to working with young musicians with special educational needs or disabilities also reaches to Peterborough where in 2015-16 the hub will support our work with Phoenix Special School.

With such an exciting season ahead, in the Creative Learning team we arelooking forward to further developing the invaluable relationships with the music hubs sharing best practice and professional expertise to help young people discover, explore and celebrate music.

To find out more about our Creative Learning programme click here

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Meet Elizabeth Hunt

In another post in our occasional series of Q and A's with soloists, musicians and staff our Development Manager, Elizabeth Hunt answers a few questions. Elizabeth (otherwise known as Izi) is responsible for all our fundraising initiatives from individual donors to our friends scheme, to raising funds towards commissioning new works.

When are you happiest?

At home (I’m a bit obsessed with my house, as it’s my first and I only moved in 6 months ago!) in my garden reading a book or magazine with a cup of tea, listening to the birds sing!

What is your greatest fear?

Losing my family or experiencing a natural disaster first-hand. But I try not to think about those things, so I don’t really have a ‘greatest fear’ in the sense that it affects my day-to-day life. Hopefully no-one really has those!

What is your earliest musical memory?

My elder sister practising for and singing in a school nativity called ‘Hosanna Rock!’ in a little church in the village where we both went to primary school.

Most treasured possession?

I have a few! I am very sentimental so I have quite a lot of things that I hold on to and like (possibly also known as junk) but one thing I love is a little figurine of a dancer (called Esmerelda), which belonged to my grannie – I think it was the first gift that my grandpa gave to her when they were courting in the 1950s. And my house (or more realistically my mortgage?)

What would your super power be?

Being invisible might be quite fun… The power to convince everyone that environmental problems matter and they should take care of the environment, especially bees. Basically I’d be Bee Woman! The environment is so important and there’s so much more, even small things, that people can do to help preserve biodiversity and the planet, so it would be good to have greater influence on that.

If you were an animal would you be?

Giraffes are my favourite animal but I’ve always liked the idea of being a cat, so I could sleep all day in the sunshine. In a garden.

What is your favourite book?

For a while it was The Time Traveller’s Wife (Audrey Niffenegger), and then I read The Luminaries (Eleanor Catton). And The Rehearsal (also by Eleanor Catton) was great – though I’m still trying to work it out so I’ll definitely be reading it again... I’d happily take these three to a desert island and read them over and over.

What is your guilty pleasure?

Eating too much chocolate and too many cakes and biscuits in the office!

What is the most important life lesson you have learnt?

Never accept anything, or anyone, for that matter, at face value.

What is the first thing you do when you get into the office in the morning?

Check my work emails, log in to Raiser’s Edge, and see if anyone has already made a round of tea!

What has been your biggest achievement so far during your time at Britten Sinfonia?

Managing the Development Department for a couple of months while we were between Directors. And tidying the stationery room.

Favourite musical moment from the Britten Sinfonia concerts you have been involved with?

Well it’s a favourite music and dance moment, but definitely See the Music, Hear the Dance in November 2014 at Sadler’s Wells.

What was the last piece of music you listened to?

It was probably something on Jamie Cullum’s jazz show on Radio 2. And I’m hugely excited to be seeing Punch Brothers live this weekend.

What is your favourite item on/around your desk?

My plant, known as Wilma, who my lovely colleague Karys bought for me! (see picture)

Would you like to share a desk selfie with us?

To find out more about the work of our development team and how you can support Britten Sinfonia click here

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Elena Langer on composition

In May 2016 Britten Sinfonia premiere a new work by Elena Langer, commissioned by Britten Sinfonia with support from the William Alwyn Foundation. Elena is one of the composers you can support through the Musically Gifted campaign. Find out more about Elena in this blog post as she answers questions about herself and her music...

How would you summarise yourself in one sentence?


What’s your earliest musical memory?
My granny’s drunken singing at parties

What do you like most about composing?
As a child I preferred composing to playing piano because it was less repetitive and took less time

What inspires you?
Bad weather

When was the last time you experienced writers’ block, and how did you move on from it?
Last block was last week. Moved on from it like all proper composers – with alcohol!

How do you feel about new music and what we’re trying to do with Musically Gifted?
I personally prefer old music, but Musically Gifted sounds like a good idea

What would you like to be recognised for?
For my delicious beetroot salad

What advice would you give to other young composers?
I should quote Sofia Gubaidullina here who said to an overly prolific colleague of mine – ‘don’t pollute the atmosphere!’

What’s your musical guilty pleasure?
Lutoslawki’s Chain 2

If you turned your iPod on now, what would be playing?
I haven’t got an iPod!

The last concert you saw?
Handel’s Saul at Glyndebourne

If you hadn’t been a musician, what might have happened?
I would have become a better and more roundly educated person

Which musical instrument do you wish you could play, and why?
Percussion – because there are so many of them and maybe it would develop my sense of rhythm…

Any plans for the summer?
To swim

Is there anything else you want to share with the world?
I wrote an opera ‘Figaro Gets a Divorce’. It will open at the Welsh National Opera in February of 2016 – I would like the world to come and see it!

You can support Elena's new work and get regular updates on its progress via the Musically Gifted campaign - click here for more info

Elena's new work will be performed during the Benjamin Grosvenor programme performed on Wednesday 27 April 2016 at Cambrigde's West Road Concert Hall, Friday 29 April at Norwich's St Andrew's Hall and on Sunday 1 May 2016 at London's Milton Court. Click here for more info and to book tickets.

Friday, 10 July 2015

P-bones and Stravinsky

Britten Sinfonia and Norfolk Music Hub’s Wider Opportunities Celebration Day 
Wednesday 8 July 2015

“I didn’t like to ask in front of the children but, what on earth is a ‘P-bone’?”  

It is early on a bright, Norfolk Wednesday morning and St Andrew’s hall, rescued some 550 years ago from the destructive orders of Henry VIII, is decked out from stage to wall in a sea of stack-able chairs in the monarch’s favourite crimson. These are carefully and laboriously divided into sections each of which is identified with colourful laminated signs:

“Reserved for violins x 60”
“Cellos x 10 (plus some violas)”
“Clarinets x 68”
“P-bones x 60”

This is Britten Sinfonia’s Wider Opportunities Music Celebration Day fuelled by the unflagging good cheer and excellent organisation (and funding) of the Norfolk Music Hub. It is the lull before the storm as we are expecting 60 ukuleles, 15 flutes and 30 xylophones and miscellaneous brass in staggering numbers to join those already marked out to make up a total of just over 300 primary school children and their teachers. They will join 11 of Britten Sinfonia’s musicians for a celebration of instrumental learning. Today we’ll play, sing, compose and perform together under the creative guidance of workshop leader and composer Fraser Trainer.

Britten Sinfonia’s leader Jackie Shave is mustering her troops before the children arrive. In addition to playing alongside the young musicians, Britten Sinfonia have prepared a special performance, a little taster of where they might one day be if they continue the hard work they’ve been putting in at their instruments. “Remember”, she reminds fellow strings Miranda Dale, Kate Musker and Billy Cole, wind players David Cuthbert and Joy Farrall, brassers Alex Wide, Tom Rainer and Chris Smith, pianist Simon  Lane and percussionist Jeremy Cornes, “make everything big, do what you are doing but even more so. We’re playing for children remember and this should be the most exciting thing they’ve ever heard or seen.”

She might have been describing the whole day which is big and more so! The children arrive, colour co-ordinated armies, musical weaponry in hand, under arm, or casually slung across a shoulder. Positions are jostled for, a ukulele tumbles to the floor and a violin loses a string. Fraser wields a microphone over the cacophony of noodling and hissing “shushes” from vigilant teachers. He begins to sing, a call and then, a breathless moment of sudden quiet before the sweetness and power of 300 young voices raised in melodic response and the day has begun.

The end of project sharing is indeed celebratory, and one of the highlights for everyone is the chance to put down their instruments and perch at the edges of their seats for Britten Sinfonia’s performance. Anyone familiar with the orchestra’s concerts will know that one of the highlights is the compelling physicality of Jackie and her colleagues’ performances. Today is no different and three hundred young faces light up when the first notes of Stravinsky’s Ragtime ring jauntily out through the hall. The final drum beat is met with spontaneous whoops of appreciation and much bouncing in seats. Even the most seasoned of the professionals on stage cannot help but crack a smile at such genuine enthusiasm.

Afterwards the musicians - older and young - cluster in groups to exclaim over new instruments they’ve not seen before, ask questions “how do you make that sound?” or make suggestions “you should play loud all the time”. The relative merits of one instrument’s tone over another’s and Stravinsky’s compositional technique compared to the day’s other creative ventures are discussed in depth. The gaps in ages and experience melt away simply leaving 311 musicians sharing their art.

At the centre of one group, our question is answered: A ‘P-bone’, it is loudly explained, “… is like a trombone, only cooler, way cooler, ‘cos you see, get this right, you can get all different colours! Mine plays the best because it’s blue. The blue ones are the best and I can play really loud! Listen to this …” He waves his instrument enthusiastically, narrowly missing the opportunity to decapitate a classmate. “Nah don’t worry” he says soothingly when we gasp at his willful disregard of the fragility of a musical instrument handled with such enthusiasm, “its plastic, right, so we can’t smash it, see.” He thumps the bell as though greeting an old friend. P-bone – plastic trombone – but clearly here is the next generation of brass player through and through! 

Jen House
Creative Learning Director

Find out more about our Creative Learning team and their work here.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Saffron Walden, 140 primary school children, 25 teenagers and the world premiere of FUNKY PEANUT

Britten Sinfonia has been working with Saffron Walden County High School (SWCHS - home to the exceptional Saffron Hall) and ROH Bridge to develop music-making in schools in Braintree and Saffron Walden. Developing their musicianship and leadership skills, twenty five sixth-form students from SWCHS have been training for a year to become Music Ambassadors and gain their Gold Standard Arts Awards. This June, the Ambassadors lead their own creative music-making workshops in local primary schools, under the guidance of workshop leader John K Miles and Britten Sinfonia musicians. Over these two weeks the Ambassadors and Britten Sinfonia have been working with 140 children from 11 primary schools culminating in two Summer Schools and final performances for friends and family taking place in Alec Hunter Academy and Saffron Hall. To listen to the compositions that children and Music Ambassadors performed in the final performances (including FUNKY PEANUT) please click here.

In this blog we hear from participants Katherine Semar Junior School, and Music Ambassador Phoebe Tealby-Watson as they share their experiences of working together:

Reflections from Katherine Semar Junior School

Katherine Semar Junior School was given the opportunity to participate in the SWCHS Music Ambassador Project organised by SWCHS and Britten Sinfonia. Throughout the Autumn Term, Year 5 children were involved in a variety of composition workshops led by composer, John K Miles, and sixth form music students culminating in a final performance at Saffron Hall.

Copyright ROH/N. Strugnell
This project has had an extremely positive influence on the music development at KSJ, not only on individual children, but also on the way music is taught within the curriculum. The children have gained more confidence to create their own rhythmic and melodic ideas when composing in the classroom and want to explore and experiment with fresh, innovative sounds and textures on composition projects. The opportunity to observe the various composition workshops has also inspired the music specialist at KSJ to be much more adventurous in the way composition is taught within the music curriculum. It has encouraged more of a ‘think out of the box’ approach rather than being too rigid and ordered.

"I enjoyed forming our own little bands and creating our own music around a theme." shares one of the children.

The Summer Music School has also been a positive experience for KSJ musicians. Children from Year 4 and 5 had the opportunity to be part of a 70 piece children’s orchestra performing with members of Britten Sinfonia conducted by composer, John K Miles.

Copyright ROH/N. Strugnell
Over 3 days children were part of a series of vocal and instrumental rehearsals where they learnt various performance techniques focusing on achieving the best sound when singing and playing together as part of a large group. These included good posture and presentation, learning how to rehearse in orchestral sections, and listening out for different musical queues from the conductor to achieve perfect timing and good voice projection. Children were also given opportunities to improvise solos with the orchestra group.

Another element of the Summer Music School consisted of sixth-form Music Ambassadors leading small group workshops with the aim of composing a piece of music based on the ‘carnival’ theme. Children were fully involved in the creative process choosing the lyrics as well as the rhythmic/melodic content. Children also made decisions on the style of the piece and on how to structure the final composition ready for performance.

“The Summer School gave children at KSJ a real sense of achievement in all they had learnt and created in the workshops over the 3 days. The final concert made all the children feel proud to be part of this special community music project” 
(Mrs S. Jorgensen from Katherine Semar Junior School)

Copyright ROH/N. Strugnell

Reflections from Phoebe Tealby-Watson (Music Ambassador)

Phoebe Tealby-Watson (Music Ambassador) (c) Elizabeth Hunt
"I have really enjoyed the projects with Britten Sinfonia this year where we have explored and created music with Year 5 children from a range of schools. I already found it easy to interact with children, but these projects have helped me to develop this so that I can be effective in a creative situation with them. I have become more confident in assuming authority and have become better at engaging a group in something that may be unfamiliar to them. For example, I have learnt to adapt how I speak about music to a group, in order to speak in terms that they can understand. I have also learnt some basic conducting skills such as being able to count in or signal dynamic changes.

As well as developing the ability to work with children to create music, I have developed in my own ability as a player. I have explored new ways to create music with my instrument and have particularly developed in my improvisation. I have also been able to learn by ear more easily; this is something that I could already do as a singer but I am now also capable of on my violin.

But besides developing these skills, the work with Britten Sinfonia has just been really enjoyable. I have loved the enthusiasm and creativity put into the projects from all those involved: the members of Britten Sinfonia, the music teachers, the Music Ambassadors and of course the children themselves. It has been a privilege to be given such a great opportunity and to be able to learn from such amazing professional musicians."

To find out more about our Creative Learning department, who organise and run these type of projects, please visit our website.