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?

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.

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?

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.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Well isn't that Pinteresting....?

Being part of an orchestra's marketing team isn't always just about promoting concerts, keeping up to date with the latest marketing techniques, or sourcing biographies for performers... it's also quite often about cake.

At Britten Sinfonia we enjoy celebrating our staff member's birthdays with cake, and as our office team has grown to a mighty 14 members that means we get to sit down for a slice of cake more frequently than ever before! Not only do we all enjoy eating cake but quite a few of us are keen bakers. So what better way to launch our brand new Pinterest profile than with a board dedicated to just that: Office Cake. 

I was so inspired by the Blackberry and Lemon Cupcake recipe on our Office Cake board that I had a go myself! Sadly these were so tasty that none of them made it into the office...

Whilst being relatively new to Pinterest, I have found that this social media platform is an excellent way to collate all sorts of information, and has been relatively underused for sharing details about upcoming concert programmes and giving our audiences a better insight into the life of the orchestra off the concert platform. 

My favourite board is our Guest Collaborators 2014-15 board, where you can see at a glance all the fantastic artists who we will be working with over the coming season. It's a testament to the quality of the orchestra that these names include such a range of inspiring musicians (I was going to highlight a selection of the best here, but they are all so brilliant I would have ended up listing all of them!).

Music isn't just about what you hear however, and the visual element of a concert performance can be very important. It can also be fascinating, as our Onstage Fashion board demonstrates. It is sometimes easy to forget just how extravagant some concert dresses can be so we thought we would start collecting some of our favourites for all the fashionistas out there. 

One of our pins from the Onstage Fashion board - a quite extreme costume for a rather unique performance back in 2011.
To end with perhaps a more relevant note, our interest in Pinterest came about in the search for somewhere we could create a 'virtual birthday card' of sorts for composer John Woolrich, whose 60th birthday we are celebrating in concert this November. Why not have a look on our board John Woolrich at 60 where we will be adding messages from some of the musicians involved in these concerts, memories from working with John, and details for the two performances. You can even pin your own link!

We hope you enjoy seeing a slightly different side of Britten Sinfonia and keeping up to date through our boards, and remember you don't need to sign up yourself to have a browse through our profile...

See more at www.pinterest.com/brittensinfonia

Marketing Assistant

Friday, 19 September 2014

Tavener's Kaleidoscopes - memories of the premiere

Britten Sinfonia Chief Executive describes the premiere and rehearsals of John Tavener's Kaleidoscopes back in 2006 which we once again perform in the coming weeks;

Over its relatively short history, Britten Sinfonia was fortunate to maintain a warm and productive partnership with John Tavener, one of this country’s most original and celebrated composers who so sadly died late last year.  Alongside performing his last major concert work, Flood of Beauty, at the Barbican on Sunday 28 September we were hugely honoured to take part in his memorial service at Westminster Abbey in June which was such an evocative and uplifting occasion.  These two events remind me that it was back in in 1994 - only the orchestra’s second year - that we first worked with John Tavener.   We premiered his large orchestral work Let’s Begin Again in Norwich Cathedral and from this point regularly commissioned and performed a good number of works over the years, including his oboe concerto Kaleidoscopes.  It’s one of my favourite pieces of John’s and written for our very own Nicholas Daniel, who is the inspiration and (literal) centre of the piece.  The premiere was back in 2007, and I recall the rehearsal well for a number of reasons: sitting next to John following the score with his publisher and close friend Gill Graham; hearing  the music for the first time (so obviously a special piece) with the opening transparent harmonies of the four quartets, so beautifully calibrated with the oboe rising to ever higher registers… and also being plunged into darkness towards the end of the piece, with Gill and I pooling our respective Nokias to shed light on the score, much to the amusement of the composer.

Kaleidoscopes is a piece which makes effective use of staging and movement to enhance the music, with the oboist circling around the four quartets placed like attendant planets at the far edges of the stage.  We’ve tried to continue these antiphonal, spatial and chamber music themes throughout the rest of the programme: The Mozart quartet, also a nod to Tavener’s musical inspiration; the thrilling Adams Shaker Loops in its original sextet form, but perhaps most notably in Kurtag’s two miniatures,  which has the musicians placed around the hall and the audience at the centre.  Many thanks to Georgy Kurtag and Thomas Adès who have allowed us to perform Tom’s arrangement tonight, originally written for a one-off private performance in Dartington, and is heard tonight for the first time in public.  

David Butcher
Chief Executive, Britten Sinfonia

Kaleidoscopes will be performed in London's Milton Court on Monday 29th September, Cambridge's West Road Concert Hall on Friday 3 October and Norwich's Theatre Royal on Sunday 5 October. Click here for full details.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

In the words of John Tavener...

John Tavener has been renowned for his spiritual outlook and beliefs, which held great influence over his musical compositions. With a roster of around 300 works to his name (most of which are included in the graphic above), deep-held spirituality and religious devotion are clearly-manifest themes that recur in virtually all of Tavener’s output. In the months following his death press articles celebrating and remembering this great British composer abounded and his impact upon our musical history remains considerable.

Britten Sinfonia is delighted to be part of the Barbican’s Celebrating John Tavener series this autumn where we will be performing two concerts, the first will be the premiere of Tavener’s last completed orchestral work Flood of Beauty (taking place on Sunday 28 September 2014), followed by a performance of Kaleidoscopes with soloist Nicholas Daniel (Monday 29 September – Sunday 5 October 2014, London, Cambridge and Norwich). The latter performance is a particularly special one for us as Tavener’s oboe concerto Kaleidoscopes was originally written for Britten Sinfonia and Nicholas Daniel back in 2006 and it will be an opportunity for us to remember our personal connection with this great composer. For more information about these concerts please visit our website.

We hope that our performances will express our tribute to this great composer so rather than say any more here is Tavener in his own words with a selection of our favourite quotes...

On Beethoven

“I discovered the late quartets of Beethoven. I never liked them much before, they seemed forced. But now I could see how they arose out of the transcendence of such huge personal suffering. They’re such wonderful pieces, somehow beyond any style. They could have been written at any time.” 
(Telegraph interview 2013)

On Stockhausen

"Stockhausen was a searcher after truth, too. I know there are inane things in his music, but in his later works he was really on to something.” 
(Telegraph Interview 2013)

On Stravinsky

"Canticum Sacrum is wonderfully archaic [...] What Stravinsky does is extraordinary. It takes you on a journey from Gregorian chant right through to the modernism of Webern – and all in 17 minutes." 
(The Guardian 2013)

On popular music artists

"I had whatsername? ... Bjork. Bjork round to dinner the other night," he said, "and I want to write something for her. I don't see why not. She's far more intelligent than most classical singers." 
(The Guardian 1999)

"I don't hate pop music," he says. "I liked the Beatles, but then I knew them." John Lennon was his favourite. 
(The Guardian 1999)

On Schoenberg

"I was recently moved to tears by the beautiful pain of Schoenberg's Second String Quartet. And I think suffering has got something to do with that. Suffering is a kind of ecstasy, in a way. Having pain all the time makes me terribly, terribly grateful for every moment I've got." 
(The Guardian 2013)
On Mozart

"I have always regarded Mozart as the most sacred and also the most inexplicable of all composers. Sacred, because more than any other composer that I know, he celebrates the act of Being; inexplicable, because the music contains a rapturous beauty and a childlike wonder that can only be compared to Hindu and Persian miniatures, or Coptic ikons." 
(Composer's programme notes: Kaleidoscopes)

On Handel

"Little Reliquary for G. F. H. is a humble tribute to Handel based on a misremembered quote from Solomon and scored for oboe, strings and countertenor. Solomon has always been my favourite work by Handel, and the aria, which I have albeit slightly misremembered, stems from my early years when I played it repeatedly on a 78 recording of Beecham’s orchestration of the music." 
(Composer's programme notes: Little Reliquary for G. F. H.)