Monday 31 December 2007

Highlights of 2007

2007 was a year with more commissions, more broadcasts and more international concerts than ever before. Britten Sinfonia’s audiences, players and staff will all have different musical highlights of 2007, but I suspect most lists would include some of the following concerts, Creative Learning projects and recordings.



Britten Sinfonia at Lunch in Aldeburgh, Krakow, Cambridge and Norwich, with a new work by Tansy Davies.


Our tour with Pekka Kuusisto, performing Rautavaara’s The Fiddlers and a Bach violin concerto.

The world premiere performances of Sir John Tavener’s Songs of the Sky on our Britten Sinfonia at Lunch circuit.


Tarik O’Regan’s Rai, another of our BBC Radio 3 lunchtime commissions.

A tour to Lisbon for a concert of Britten, Victoria and Tippett, and James MacMillan’s Seven Last Words from the Cross, conducted by the composer.


A further project with Polyphony and Stephen Layton, featuring Poulenc’s Gloria.


Our tour to Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay for five concerts with Joanna MacGregor.

Working with soprano Carolyn Sampson in a programme of Ravel, Debussy, Stravinsky, Copland and Barber.


Our Aldeburgh Festival concert with Anna Dennis.


A BBC Prom with a Shakespearean theme.


Our residency at the Barbican with the Michael Clark Company for ten Stravinsky performances.

Concerts of the Hartmann Concerto Funebre with Alina Ibragimova, coinciding with the recording release on Hyperion.


Britten Sinfonia’s sixth consecutive year at the London Jazz Festival, with a Gil Goldstein devised programme ‘In the Spirit of Gil and Miles'.

The launch of our new Britten Sinfonia at Lunch series in Birmingham, reviving commissions from Huw Watkins and Michael Zev Gordon.


Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no.4 with Imogen Cooper on a three-concert tour.

The roll-out of Britten Sinfonia at Lunch in London, at the Wigmore Hall, with a new work by Richard Causton, and the start of our second year of residency in Krakow.


The Britten Sinfonia Creative Learning programme touches many people in many ways, but some of the highlights have included James MacMillan’s workshop for young composers at Cambridge University, a range of projects with Hills Road Sixth Form College, Garageband training in Cambridgeshire Pupil Referral Units, and the launch of our series of SinfoniaCasts.


Four major releases during 2007:
Bairstow, with St John’s College Choir and David Hill, on Hyperion (CDA 67497)
Moondog, with Joanna MacGregor, on SoundCircus (SC010)
Bruckner, with Polyphony and Stephen Layton, on Hyperion (CDA67629)
Hartmann, with Alina Ibragimova, on Hyperion (CDA 67547)

What have I forgotten? Do let me know!

With best wishes for the New Year from all at Britten Sinfonia.

John Bickley

Sunday 23 December 2007

Boxing Day broadcast

Our final concert of 2007 was in Norwich last Thursday and our first of 2008 (in Krakow) is not until 13 January, but dedicated fans of Britten Sinfonia need not despair. Our BBC Prom, given last July, is repeated on BBC Radio 3 at 22.15 on Boxing Day. Shakespeare-themed, it includes music by Mendelssohn, Korngold, Stravinsky, Bridge and Shostakovich. Full details of the original concert and transmission are here. Masaaki Suzuki - with whom we work in April for the first time - also has a Prom repeat, on Christmas Day at 22.25, when he conducts his Bach Collegium Japan in church Cantatas from Bach's time in Leipzig.


Wednesday 19 December 2007

Divertimento in Krakow

Richard Causton's new piece for Britten Sinfonia, Divertimento, received its world premiere performance on Sunday at the Filharmonic Hall in Krakow, in a sold-out lunchtime concert, the first of our series there this season. Final rehearsals had been the night before at the Academy of Music in Krakow, where we have a new Creative Learning partnership. The players had flown in on Saturday afternoon and I joined them having taken the overnight sleeper from Gdansk (it's a long story). Richard was pleased with the first performance, not least because it was the first of a sequence of five concerts, giving the opportunity to make some modest changes - a luxury for composers whose commissions usually get one outing and are maybe not played again for a year or more.
The audience - lots of regulars from last year, many new faces, and also many families - enjoyed the format of an hour of pre-lunch live music (Ravel, Causton and Mozart), not yet a common occurence on the Polish-concert scene.
You can catch further concerts in the Britten Sinfonia at Lunch series in London today and in Norwich tomorrow.

Saturday 15 December 2007

It's snowing in Krakow

Plan A had been to travel from Cambridge to Krakow by train, mainly as an early experiment in thinking about touring orchestras' carbon footprints. It would have taken me some 12 hours longer than the players to get here, but it seemed worth trying. Plan B, however, rapidly took over following two invitations to Helsinki. So Thursday evening was spent at Finlandia Hall hearing Olli Mustonen direct a recent work by Rautavaara, Prokoviev's 6th Symphony, and play and direct Mozart's Piano Concerto no. 24. Mustonen is a very individual artist, crystal clear in the Mozart, and well able to draw out the dark moments of the Prokoviev (supposedly a celebration of the end of the War); he also has a steak dish named after him at the restaurant we went to following the concert. The Britten Sinfonia blog has always had a culinary streak running through it, so I'll give more details when I get back to England.

Then early on Friday morning to Fazer Artist Management for a traditional Finnish pre-Christmas glogg party (basically a mulled-wine with vodka).

Failing hopelessy on the emissions front, it then took three flights to get to Gdansk to catch the midnight sleeper train to Krakow. Richard Causton (whose new work we are premiering in our Britten Sinfonia at Lunch concert tomorrow at noon at the Filharmonic Hall) has arrived, and the players are due in later. In a new collaboration with the Academy of Music here, there will be an open rehearsal this evening, and Ricahrd will run a composers' workshop on Monday morning.
Our UK audiences can hear the concert in Birmingham on Monday, Cambridge on Tuesday, at the Wigmore Hall in London on Wednesday, and in Norwich on Thursday.
John Bickley

Wednesday 12 December 2007

'Filigree dexterity, superbly controlled'

Our Monday night concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall attracted an enthusiastic audience (and a number of national critics), rounding off our tour with Imogen Cooper. Sponsored by 'one' (the railway company), the evening included an electric performance of Prokoviev's Classical Symphony, directed by leader Jacqueline Shave, and an illuminating interpretation of Beethoven's Piano Concerto no.4, given by Imogen Cooper.

The Times wrote: 'it remains a treat to listen to orchestral players who spark off each other with such enthusiasm. That was as true in the Beethoven as it was in the first half of the concert, when Jacqueline Shave directed from first violin. First came the pearly luminosity of Harrison Birtwistle’s Bach Measures, Bach organ vignettes laid bare in teasing arrangements for strings, brass and woodwind. And then the acidic wit of Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony, poured out with filigree dexterity, superbly controlled.' You can read Nick Kimberley's Evening Standard review here.

So, off to Krakow next, and then Birmingham, Cambridge, London and Norwich with Ravel, Mozart and a new work by Richard Causton: Britten Sinfonia at Lunch.

Monday 10 December 2007

Birtwistle's Bach Measures

Sir Harrison Birtwistle's Bach Measures opens our concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall tonight. Described by Andrew Clements in the programme book as 'More Bach than Birtwistle', it's an intriguingly textured treatment. Jacqueline Shave directs. Prokofiev's Classical Symphony follows, before Imogen Cooper joins us for Beethoven's Piano Concerto no. 4.
Tickets for tonight can be booked online.
Tonight's concert is the end of a tour which has taken in the Wiltshire Music Centre, Dartington, Norwich and Cambridge.
Britten Sinfonia's next project starts in Krakow next weekend on the 16th at noon, with a new work by Richard Causton, who will be contributing to our blog later in the week.

Thursday 6 December 2007

Memories of South America

(l. to r) David Butcher (BS), Stewart White (BBC), Katherine Stevens (CUP), Nigel Atkinson (CUP), Emma Baxter (CUP), and John Bickley (BS)

The first Arts & Business East Awards took place last week at the Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds. David Butcher and I had a most enjoyable evening with several of our coporate sponsors and supporters, including Cambridge University Press, Savills, 'one' Railways, and Mills & Reeve. Our partnership with CUP was one of the featured collaborations, focusing on our tour to Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay last May. CUP has a large operation in South America, so there were excellent synergies in this relationship. We have great memories of that tour and Britten Sinfonia will be returning there in 2010.

The search for new corporate partnerships goes on, of course, and several new ones are on the verge of being sealed, particularly in that toughest of arts sponosrship markets, London.

We are playing tomorrow with Imogen Cooper in Norwich: Birtwistle, Prokofiev and Beethoven's 4th Piano Concerto. Call 01603 630000 for tickets.

John Bickley

Tuesday 4 December 2007

BBC Radio 3: In Tune

Join Petroc Trelawny as he talks to David Butcher about Britten Sinfonia's fifteenth birthday on Monday's In Tune on BBC Radio 3. Jacqueline Shave, Joy Farrall and Huw Watkins perform extracts from Stravinsky's Soldier's Tale Suite. Fire up the BBC Radio Player, select Radio 3, scroll to In Tune, and click on Mon. Use the fast forward buttons to move to 1.15.00, where the package starts.

Monday 3 December 2007

Imogen Cooper

Imogen Cooper is one the UK's most distinguished pianists, and our players love working with her. Following last year’s acclaimed performances of Beethoven’s first two keyboard concerti, we are now mid-tour with performances of the tranquil and serene fourth, coupled with works by Prokoviev and Birtwistle.

In the words of Prokofiev, his Classical Symphony offers us an intriguing vision of a symphony ‘as Haydn might have written it, had he lived in our day’. Using 18th-century orchestral forces and borrowing Haydn’s formal structures (as well as his clarity and wit), Prokofiev produces a gem of a work that both charms and entertains. Completing this programme is Harrison Birtwistle’s tribute to the great J.S. Bach, Bach Measures.

The first concert at the Wiltshire Music Centre in Bradford on Avon last Friday was sold out. There are further performances in Dartington on Wednesday 5th, Norwich on Friday 7th, Cambridge on Saturday 8th, and at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London on Monday 10th December.

Friday 30 November 2007

Gil Evans in the Town Hall in Birmingham

As our project 'In the Spirit of Gil and Miles' draws to a close, I wanted to share with you this splendid photo of Gil Evans taken in the Town Hall in Birmingham in the early 1970s. It comes from the colection of Our concert there on Tuesday was followed on Wednesday night by the BBC Radio 3 broadcast of the London performance. This is still available to listen to online: go to Performance on 3 (Wed.).

Tuesday 27 November 2007

'In the Spirit of Gil and Miles' heads for Birmingham

'In the Spirit of Gil and Miles' is at the Town Hall in Birmingham tonight. Gil Goldstein, Luciana Souza, Romero Lubambo and Alex Acuna join Britten Sinfonia in a programme Gil Goldstein has described as 'viewed through the lens of Miles Davis' and Gil Evans' paradigm-shifting work together'. You can still hear Gil's thoughts on our SinfoniaCast.

Anyone who has been to our concerts in the last few years will know we often work without using conductors. Why? Well, much of the music we perform simply works better when the players themselves take reposnsibility for the shape and sound, creating a chamber feel which works in surprisingly large-scale and complex pieces. We also frequently work with player/directors such as Imogen Cooper - watch out for our next project, during December.

Symphony orchestras still have to engage conductors, however, so you might be interested to see the thoughts of one of the UK's more perceptive writers on music, Ivan Hewitt, who discusses some of the new generation of maestri appointed by British orchestras in recent months in a newspaper article earlier in the week.

Monday 26 November 2007

Sell-out 'In the Spirit of Gil and Miles'

Luciana Souza, Romero Lubambo and Alex Acuna joined Britten Sinfonia in a sold-out Queen Elizabeth Hall concert on Saturday night, as part of the London Jazz Festival. Directed from the keyboard - and the accordion - by Gil Goldstein, In the Spirit of Gil and Miles ranged across the masterpieces of Gil Evans and Miles Davis, and took in music by Federico Mompou, Rodrigo, Egberto Gismonti, Villa-Lobos, Hermeto Pascoal and Bach, and the premiere of Jackie's Dance by Gwilym Simcock (whose first album Perception is currently causing a stir).

Read John L. Walters, writing about the concert in today's Guardian: 4-star review.

The concert will be given again in Birmingham on Tuesday evening at the Town Hall: you can book tickets here.

If you can't make it to Birmingham, catch the BBC Radio 3 broadcast on Wednesday evening at 7pm.

Thursday 22 November 2007

A busy Britten Sinfonia day

Chatham House rules preclude me sharing any anecdotes, but the Association of British Orchestras' Development and Sponsorship Managers' group had a particularly lively meeting at the Wigmore Hall yesterday. Our first guest speaker John Holden provoked much debate as he described his recent work as Head of Culture at think-tank Demos. He has been researching and reporting on a wide range of arts-related topics, including cultural diplomacy, the value of culture, and the relationships between publicly funded culture and the creative industries. His reports are well worth reading, and are available for free download.

Dr Willi Steul is Regional Broadcasting Director of SWF in Stuttgart, having had a distinguished career as a foreign correspondent and political journalist. His passion, though, has been the setting up of Young Euro Classic, a festival of international youth orchestras which has been taking place in Berlin since 2000. What is of interest is the financial model on which it is based, which is unusual for Germany: close to 95% of the funding comes from corporate and commercial investment.

Finally, we had a discussion led by Michelle Wright, Development Director of the London Symphony Orchestra, on international sponsorship for orchestral tours.

It was a busy day all round for Britten Sinfonia yesterday: some of our players were travelling back from a concert in Cockermouth on Tuesday; Thomas Gould, Joy Farrall and Huw Watkins launched our new Britten Sinfonia at Lunch series in the Town Hall in Birmingham (next concert on 17 December); and the soloists flew in to London from the USA and Spain ready to start rehearsing In the Spirit of Gil and Miles for concerts in London on Saturday and in Birmingham next Tuesday.

John Bickley

Monday 19 November 2007

New York, New York

David Butcher, our Chief Executive, went to New York to work on In the Spirit of Gil and Miles. Here are his reflections on his visit, with insights into how this project has been developed.

'I'm writing this listening to the latest Sinfoniacast, which brings back some memories of meeting Gil Goldstein in New York recently. Was it only three weeks ago? I was over discussing future Britten Sinfonia projects with a number of key venues: Lincoln Centre, Brooklyn Academy of Arts, 92Y and Carnegie Hall (now run by ex-LSO chief Clive Gillinson, on fine form, and, rumour had it, preparing for his first New York marathon). It was the last day of my visit and Gil and I had arranged to meet at my hotel for the interview and from there to lunch in his favourite NYC Italian restaurant (Trattoria Dell’Arte at 900 Seventh Avenue) to catch up on progress. The familiar "Hey David" rang across the foyer as Gil negotiated a crowded hotel foyer weighed down by various scores and bags. Following lunch, it turned out, he was off to his house in Long Island to work in isolation.

Gil Goldstein is probably the ideal collaborator for a contemporary take on the famous Gil Evans and Miles Davis partnership. He worked closely with both men and is today one of the most respected arrangers working in jazz – taking on the Gil Evans mantle perhaps, although he’d demur at the comparison? Just look at the people he's arranged for and you're into a who’s who of jazz. I was quickly aware, too, that Gil's an interviewer's dream: one stumbling question from me and we’re off with slalom replies on all levels recounted with discernment, insight and hilarity in equal measure.

Romero Lubambo awaits us and, though we’ve only spoken on the phone before, his avuncular warmth and wide smile are unsurprising. He's one of Brazil's most celebrated guitarists and, along with Luciana Souza and Alex Acuna, is one of Gil’s first choice musicians for our collaboration. It’s quickly evident that they’ve all been in close touch on the ‘phone and are all fired up about the project.

Gil has retained a similar orchestration to the originals whilst adding more flutes and a few strings, and, significantly, has replaced Miles’ trumpet with voice – and an amazing one at that – that of Luciana Souza. I’d vaguely come across her via Grammy nominated Brazilian songs. She’s also known for her collaboration with Golijov and performances of Falla’s El Amor Brujo with the New York Philharmonic. A few weeks earlier, Gil pointed me to Herbie Hancock’s latest album For Joni which features luminaries including Tina Turner, Norah Jones, the eponymous Joni Mitchell and, singing Amelia, Luciana Souza. I listened. Spookily, Luciana in Amelia sounds more (to me) like the Joni in Hejira – the original album from which it comes - than Joni in For Joni! I admit to a minor dalliance with Ms Mitchell’s music during those distant early-80s student days, and was drawn to dig out and play my old LP, much to the amusement of my children. Whatever, it’s clear to me why Gil was so convinced and inspired by Luciana’s flexibility and range to take on the pioneering and original move of replacing Miles’ flugelhorn with Luciana’s voice.

Back at lunch, and Luciana, it transpires, has been singing sections of “Concierto de Aranjeuz” second movement and discussing the finer points of phrasing with Gil down the line from her home in LA the previous night. Gil, at this point, had been putting the finishing touches to his arrangement of Bachianas brasileiras No.5 and poor Romero, frustratingly, was trying to get through at the same time to recommend a piece he and Luciana perform as a duo.

Over pasta (Gil), fish (Romero) and lasagne (me) we talk around a number of practicalities relating to the project - rehearsals, venues, amplification, flights, hotels, but, for me, it’s fascinating to hear about Gil’s progress now that he’s so obviously completely absorbed in orchestrations. I almost feel the spirits hovering. He’s had exclusive access to original scores thanks to a strong (and generous) relationship with Gil Evans’ son Miles - yes, named after you know who. Gil’s established many inaccuracies between the score and studio recording of the Concierto de Aranjeuz which he’s been studying. He’s also found a score in the archive that’s never been performed, so will be including this piece in the programme – great, a Gil Evans world premiere! Every time I speak to Gil, there’s a new slant or thrilling development in the project, making its genesis so different from many other BS projects, where we know years in advance about artists and programme. I guarantee things will change right up to the first performance, but it makes it all the more exciting (if nerve-wracking).

I tell Gil that, later in our season, we’re giving London premières with conductor Maasaki Suzuki of some Stravinsky arrangements of Bach Prelude and Fugues written close to his death. Full details are here. Gil’s eager to see the scores, particularly as he’s about to arrange Bach’s Ricercare 3 from the Musical Offering. It’s obvious that his knowledge of composers such as Bach and Stravinsky is as well informed as his understanding of Evans or Gismonti. Such pluralism brings a fresh insight to our project and to so-called classical music in general.

Weighed down by puddings and gratis chocolates (but buoyed up by double expressos) we head off into New York’s steely light: Gil to Long Island; Romero to rehearse with Diana Reeves – with whom he’s about to tour – and me, with just enough time before my flight, to dive into Phoenix Stone & Beads on 5 West 37th, for a present for Susie, my wife. This unprepossessing store is an Aladdin’s cave of precious stones at unbelievably low prices (humungous pearls for $20). I choose (unusually wisely as it turns out) some seraphinite stones from Siberia, sometimes called angel stone due to an (as yet unproven) ability to communicate with angelic forces. Allegedly, they also improve the circulation of the blood, assist with general "colds and chills" and help with weight loss (not relevant in this case of course!). Surprising they’re not more widely known really, although they simply look rather pretty to me. Another tip from polymath GG: who else?'

Book now for In the Spirit of Gil and Miles : Saturday 24 November at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London and Tuesday 27 November at the Town Hall in Birmingham.

Finland, Cambridge.........the world

Seppo Kimanen, erstwhile founder and artistic director of the Kuhmo Festival - one of Finland's most brilliant summer festivals - has, for the last three years, been the Director of the Finnish Institute in London. Just before leaving to take over responsibility for the promotion of Finnish music and musicians at their Embassy in Tokyo, he hosted a drinks reception for the International Artist Managers' Association. Why is a chamber orchestra such as Britten Sinfonia a member of IAMA? Well, we work closely with many of the management companies based in London who look after the soloists we work with; we also benefit from the legal and other support services on offer to members; but above all, it is another excellent networking arena, as we spread the word about Britten Sinfonia's activities. Thence to a dinner at the Garrick with the IAMA board, with an exemplary 2003 E. Guigal Cotes du Rhone.

One of the dilemmas of being based in Cambridge is deciding which of the world-class choirs to go and listen to during term-time. King's, Trinity and St. John's are all within a few hundred metres of each other. It's a tough call, but I often get my Sunday morning choral fix at the latter. Today, Messiaen and Dupre, with the Messe Solennelle by Louis Vierne, a setting which veers between early-20th century romanticism and music which is just this side of bombast (but perfect for the St. John's organ!).

Our audiences in Cambridge and Norwich will remember the Haydn Masses we have performed with the Choir during recent seasons. David Hill has moved on now to the BBC Singers, but his replacement at St. John's as Director of Music, Andrew Nethsinga, is already making his mark.

Our last project with David Hill was to record works by Bairstow. Full details are available from Hyperion, and copies can also be ordered from Britten Sinfonia.

Friday 16 November 2007

Britten Sinfonia at Lunch in Birmingham

A new city for our Britten Sinfonia at Lunch series, to join Cambridge, London, Norwich and Krakow: Birmingham. The newly-refurbished Town Hall is the setting on Wednesday 21 November for the first of five concerts between now and March. Thomas Gould, Joy Farrell (clarinet) and Huw Watkins (piano) play works by Stravinsky, Watkins, Michael Zev Gordon and Bartok. Full details are on our Britten Sinfonia website, and ticket information is available from the Town Hall. The concert is at 13.00 and tickets are just £7.50 (£5 concessions).

Wednesday 14 November 2007

Jazz in the House

To the House of Commons for the annual 'Jazz in the House' reception, hosted by the Parliamentary Jazz Appreciation Group. This is always an occasion to catch up with friends and colleagues from Serious (the Festival promoters), the BBC and the world of politics. Hosted by Lord Colwyn and Michael Connarty MP, with music from Lea DeLaria and the Janette Mason Trio, this was also a great opportunity to tell people about the Britten Sinfonia concert in the Jazz Festival on 24 November: 'In the Spirit of Gil and Miles'. James Purnell's speech revealed an interest in Miles Davis, so I had a chat with him about our concert. The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport was last seen heading for dinner, clutching one of our leaflets.........

Just missing the train at King's Cross is slightly less tedious than it was now that you can wander over to St Pancras and stand under the miraculously restored roof. Last night it was a hive of quiet activity as the last remnants of builders' detritus was being cleared away, platforms and walkways swept, with Eurostars lined up ready for the first services today.

Monday 12 November 2007

Destination Growth

The performing arts are at the centre of the creative industries, and the creative industries are at the heart of the knowledge economy, which is central to the Lisbon Agenda, so it should be unsurprising that Britten Sinfonia spends time developing its contacts with agencies which support this activity. The East of England Development Agency is one of these and EEDA’s Destination Growth day last week brought together some 700 business leaders for an intensive burst of sessions on innovation and creativity, and a chance to network and build connections.

Keynote presentations from Jerry Greenfield (of Ben and Jerry’s Homemade Ice Cream) and Gerald Ratner, anchored by Sarah Montague of BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, were highlights, as was the opportunity to meet business leaders face-to-face for ‘Conversation under Concorde’ (the day was held in the newly-refurbished AirSpace at the Imperial War Museum in Duxford).

But for me, the best hour was the chance to attend a seminar by one of my management gurus, Edward de Bono, the proponent not only of challenging thinking but of challenging ways of thinking. Management fads come and go (often in cycles, often simply with changed - and more tortured - semantics), but I reckon occasional forays into de Bono’s writings (backed up by Lucy Kellaway’s incisive column each Monday in the FT) are pretty much all you need to help run an organisation effectively. After the seminar I had a chance to chat to him. Sadly, I can’t report in any detail on the conversation: his line in viola jokes is extensive and definitely inappropriate here.

The funding of the arts is a complex mix of funding from public sources, from trusts and foundations, and from individual donors. But investment from the corporate sector - together with partnerships with innovative and creative organisations both inside and outside the creative industries sector - is the crucial fourth element. Destination Growth was an excellent opportunity to reinforce our commitment to developing this strand of our activity.

John Bickley

Sunday 11 November 2007

Sunday Times: This was a top-rate concert performance in its own right

There have been some excellent reviews for the Michael Clark Company Stravinsky project at the Barbican last week. Here is another thoughtful contribution, from David Dougill in today's Sunday Times. You can read some of the other coverage on our website. It has been a great project for Britten Sinfonia to take part in; next week we move on to prepare for 'In the Spirit of Gil and Miles'. Bookmark this blog to keep up with our news.

Friday 9 November 2007

The last two performances with Michael Clark Company

Just two more shows with the Michael Clark Company at the Barbican, tonight and tomorrow: there is very limited ticket availability, but do try for returns here. Check the reviews on the Britten Sinfonia website.

Wednesday 7 November 2007

Backstage at the Barbican

Our Concerts Officer, Hannah Green, is managing our residency at the Barbican Theatre: 'Looking after an orchestra in a pit rather than a concert hall is a totally different experience, both for orchestra manager and players – especially when said pit is 5 levels underground with no fresh air or windows, like backstage at the Barbican! However, once you acclimatise to the bunker-like existence, working in the pit can become exhilarating and fun.

For the past two weeks the Britten Sinfonia string section, pianists and percussionists have been rehearsing and performing with Jurjen Hempel, conductor, and the dancers from the Michael Clark Dance Company for the final in the trilogy of Michael Clark’s Stravinsky Project.

The most challenging task in the pit for this project was to work out how to fit everything and everyone in and this was no mean feat! Apollo had a much larger string group than Britten Sinfonia has ever used before with 8 1st violins, 8 2nd violins, 6 violas, 8 cellos and 4 double basses! This in itself would not have been such a problem to fit in if it were not for the 4 timpani, xylophone, huge bass drum and, not forgetting, the 4 grand pianos that had to remain at the back of the pit ready to be rushed into place during the interval, ready for Rite of Spring and Les Noces!

Once everything was fitted into the pit, albeit very cosily, the players arrived, and sitting so close together, with just lit music stands for light, there became a real sense of camaraderie. This grows with each rehearsal and performance and our players, who usually do not get the opportunity to see each other so often, get to know each other well.

Being able to watch rehearsals take place is an added bonus when managing a project and I felt this feeling of unity and friendship from the orchestra really permeated through their playing and out into the theatre for the audience to experience whilst watching the dance, all combining to create an incredible performance.'

Monday 5 November 2007

Silky string-playing

An early review for our Stravinsky collaboration with the Michael Clark Company - Mark Monahan in the Telegraph: 'You know you've witnessed something special on stage when 25 minutes whizz by with the speed of a lightning bolt and you sorely want to see it again, immediately. Such was the impression left by I Do, the third, final, all-new part of Michael Clark's three-year Stravinsky project.............

Throughout the evening, the music-making – all live – was excellent, with conductor Jurjen Hempel coaxing silky string-playing from the Britten Sinfonia in Apollo, sharp pianism in Rite, and sterling work all round in Les Noces. Close your eyes and it could have been a concert performance. But my, what you'd have been missing out on..............'

Read the full review here.

Contact the Barbican for tickets (not many left!) for the remaining performances this week.

John Bickley

Friday 2 November 2007

BBC Radio 3 at 19.00 GMT today

Britten Sinfonia's first broadcast of the autumn (with apologies to our southern hemisphere followers) on BBC Radio 3's main evening slot is today at 19.00. Listen on 90-93FM, DAB or online. Recorded at the Queen Elizabeth Hall last week, Performance on 3 features Hartmann's Concerto Funebre. Alina Ibragimova is the soloist. The programme opens with Bach's Violin Concerto in A minor, BWV 1041 and his Prelude and Fugue No 20 in A minor in a new arrangement by Tansy Davies, and ends with Schoenberg's Verklaerte Nacht.

John Bickley

Thursday 1 November 2007

Richard Morrison in The Times last week summed up well a central element of the Britten Sinfonia philosophy: 'How refreshing to find a full house for a concert with the dread names of Schoenberg and Karl Hartmann on the programme. It’s a signal of the trust that the Britten Sinfonia has forged with its audiences. The regular punters know that, however unfamiliar the repertoire or disconcerting the leaps across era or genre, this adventurous chamber orchestra will always put across the music with flair and commitment.'

He came to our concert in Cambridge with Alina Ibragimova - repeated later in the week in Norwich and London - and we know from our audience feedback that many of you agree with him: you can read the full review here. Karl Hartmann's Concerto Funebre was both a discovery and a revelation for many, and Alina's impassioned yet controlled playing made a huge impression.

This week and next we are with the Michael Clark Company at the Barbican Theatre. His three year Stravinsky Project culminates with a new work, I do, presented alongside O and Mmm… in one highly charged evening. I do, set to Les Noces, concludes Clark's dialogue with Stravinsky in the affirmative, confirming and celebrating the marraige between classicism and modernism, tradition and innovation - a marriage which is at the heart of both Stravinsky's music and Clark's compelling choreography.

Last night was the first preview, and there are eight more shows: tonight, and then on 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 November. Tickets available online.

John Bickley

Thursday 25 October 2007

Rave Reviews for Britten Sinfonia recording

The classical music world is buzzing with news of extraordinary young Russian violinist Alina Ibragimova. Aged just 22, her newly-released debut CD, featuring music by neglected 20th-century German composer Karl Amadeus Hartmann has won stunning reviews from the music industry’s most respected critics. Named ‘Disc of the Week’ on BBC Radio 3’s CD Review (1 September 2007), it is also Editor’s Choice in the September issue of prestigious Gramophone magazine. Meanwhile, in The Times , critic Geoff Brown awards her four stars, describing Ibragimova as ‘a scorchingly good violinist … she brings passion without mawkishness; and the control wielded at high altitudes is phenomenal’.

The disc is the fruit of an intense collaboration with Britten Sinfonia whose playing was also singled out for special praise. Guardian critic Andrew Clements, writing in BBC Music Magazine’s September issue, eulogises: 'the way in which the Britten Sinfonia support and enfold their young soloist's beautifully nuanced and textured playing is a model of close-knit ensemble playing.'

The good news is that concert-goers can hear Ibragimova playing live with Britten Sinfonia, in a programme that includes the very concerto that bowled the critics over, Hartmann’s Concerto Funèbre , written in 1939 to protest against Hitler’s occupation of Prague . The programme also includes a Bach violin concerto and Schoenberg’s luscious string work, Verklärte Nacht .

Thursday 10 May 2007

Britten Sinfonia wins prestigious RPS Music Award

Britten Sinfonia has won the ensemble award at this year’s RPS Music Awards, the UK’s most prestigious recognition in the field of live classical music.

The award was presented to Britten Sinfonia Chief Executive, David Butcher, by soprano Dame Josephine Barstow at a ceremony at London’s Dorchester Hotel (8 May) at which members of the orchestra also played live. A special programme on the RPS Music Awards was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Wednesday 9 May.

The jury, consisting of some of the music industry’s most distinguished practitioners, made the award to the “innovative” Britten Sinfonia “for its aspirations in presenting music countrywide in a stylish and accessible manner; for its exciting and constantly evolving projects from the fantastical Bach Meets Moondog and its first foray into opera in a premiere by Stuart MacRae to its refreshing exploration of Beethoven Piano Concertos with Imogen Cooper - highlights of an extraordinarily varied schedule that embraces classical, jazz and world music.”

BS Chief executive David Butcher comments:
“We are enormously grateful to the Royal Philharmonic Society for recognising Britten Sinfonia’s work with this magnificent award. For us, making music is a sheer pleasure so to be rewarded for something so enjoyable feels almost too good to be true.

Over the years, Britten Sinfonia has built a reputation for fearless programming matched by peerless playing. This award, therefore, really belongs to our players whose talent, hard work, enthusiasm and boundless thirst for musical adventure have made us the orchestra we are today. Over the course of the past season, to stand alongside our work in London , the East of England and across the UK, we have developed an increasingly strong international profile. With a new residency in Krakow Poland, concerts in mainland Europe and a recent first tour of South America, we are looking to the future with energy and enthusiasm.”

Tuesday 10 April 2007

Welcome to Britten Sinfonia News

In our first blog entry we want to introduce Britten Sinfonia, a chamber ensemble of which the Telegraph recently said, 'this band can do anything and make it seem effortless fun'

In later posts we'll introduce the musicians, but here's a quick peek at some of them for now...