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