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.