Sunday 21 December 2008

Messiah in London

St. John's, Smith Square - situated in the heart of Westminster - is one of the masterpieces of the English Baroque, and a fine setting for our performances of Messiah with Polyphony on 21, 22 and 23 December.

"Just to come across it in that quiet square is an event. To enjoy its spaces, to listen to fine music, is an experience not to be matched in conventional halls..."
Sir Hugh Casson

Monday 15 December 2008

Messiah moves on to Ely

Our next performance of Messiah with Polyphony takes place on Thursday evening under the Octagon in Ely Cathedral. I await some objective opinions, but the tour got off to a tremendous start in Norwich last night at the Theatre Royal: sold out! The new acoustic system there - which we first tried at our Night Music project in October - worked well with the chamber choir steeply raked behind the orchestra (for a fuller description of how this works, follow the links in On An Overgrown Path).
Next week's performances are at St John's Smith Square in London on 21, 22 and 23 December. Book here: not many tickets remaining, I gather.

Wednesday 10 December 2008

Poznan concert

Our concert in Poznan went pretty well last night, I gather: more news when the team get home. In the meantime, here's a short video on YouTube, with music by Vivaldi and Piazzolla, and some background from a Greenpeace staffer and our leader Jacqueline Shave.

Sunday 7 December 2008

Britten Sinfonia in Poznan

Britten Sinfonia is off to Poznan this week for a concert at the UN Climate Change Conference. Presented in collaboration with Greenpeace, it features violinist Pekka Kuusisto in a programme which intersperses Vivaldi's Four Seasons with Astor Piazzolla's Seasons in Buenos Aires. The concert is free and takes place in Plac Wolnosci on Tuesday evening.

Thursday 27 November 2008

Richard Hickox and British music

To my college last night for Evensong. Queens' dedicated this service to Richard Hickox, who died at the weekend. Richard was Organ Scholar in 1967-70 and an Honorary Fellow since 1996, until his untimely death at the weekend. Sir David Willcocks directed the choir in a sequence of works by some of the British composers whom Hickox championed: William Harris, Henry Balfour Gardiner and John Tavener. I got to know Richard post-Queens' when his City of London Sinfonia first started doing concert series at the Barbican and I managed the marketing. Richard Morrison's Times article encapsulates his career and Fiona Shaw talks of his work on the ENO production of Vaughan Williams' Riders to the Sea which he was to conduct, opening tonight.
Richard always supported the commitment of orchestras such as ours to young composers, and so, on a happier note, I must remind you that our Britten Sinfonia at Lunch series begins again in Krakow on Sunday, before moving on to Cambridge, London, Birmingham and Norwich. The featured British composers are Colin Matthews and Charlotte Bray.

Monday 24 November 2008

Today's Classic FM Arts Daily features Britten Sinfonia

David Butcher discusses our At Lunch series and our partnership with Cambridge University Press with Bob Jones on today's Classic FM Arts Daily podcast.

Tuesday 18 November 2008

Charlotte Bray at Lunch

Our new series of Britten Sinfonia at Lunch begins in Krakow on 30 November. This year, not only does every concert have a commission from a young composer, but each one has a 'senior' composer who has helped shape the programme. Colin Matthews has nominated Charlotte Bray, so we will hear both his Elegiac Chaconne and her new work Alliance.

Charlotte has written: 'My inspiration for Alliance grew from vivid and distinct images of natural light in various forms: sunlight burning through dense clouds, piercing glimpses of blinding light catching your eye as you rush through the air. Although the opening changed direction considerably as other ideas and inspirations came to the fore, the material generated from this motivation was exploited, finally taking on a more simple, prelude-like character.

The title was chosen for various reasons. Part of my inspiration came from a Neruda poem entitled Alliance (Sonata), from the collection Residence on Earth. Perhaps representing Neruda’s feelings of isolation and alienation from the world around him; he searches through his physical environment for something or someone to connect with. My piece centres on contrasts of bleak and uplifting characters, reflecting highs and lows of an emotionally unstable personality. So energised by Neruda’s imagery, I used words from the poem to inspire each movement: I abandoned sun; II trail of light; III the struggle of the days white with space; IV upflight of butterflies.

After discovering the poem, the title seemed appropriate and fitting with my musical ideas: a journey where members of the ensemble are at times in alliance with one another and sometimes apart. Who is with who? The idea of partnership within the ensemble was powerful in structuring the work.'

Monday 17 November 2008

'What the future of music will be like': 5-star review

Richard Morrison in his 5-star review in today's Times of our London Jazz Festival opening-night concert with Dhafer Youssef and Joanna MacGregor: 'A classical chamber orchestra on the opening night of the London Jazz Festival with a Tunisian oud player? Purists on every side must have been steaming from all orifices. But this is the future of music. And it works, as this exhilarating fusion showed.'

Wednesday 12 November 2008

London Jazz Festival

Our collaboration with pianist Joanna MacGregor continues at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on Friday, the opening night of the London Jazz Festival: full details and booking here. I was at the Parliamentary Jazz Appreciation Group's 'Jazz in the House' celebration to launch the Festival last night (live music by Guy Barker). There are more concerts this year than ever before: Courtney Pine is at the Barbican on 20 November; Scene Norway is a festival within a festival, with eight days of concerts at Kings Place curated by Fiona Talkington; and a celebration of the life of Esbjorn Svensson on Sunday at the Southbank Centre - these are just three of the three hundred events on offer.

Monday 10 November 2008

London Jazz Festival

On Friday evening we are performing in the London Jazz Festival, with Joanna MacGregor, Dhafer Youssef, Peter Herbert and Satoshi Takeishi. Works by Dhaffer Youssef and Arvo Pärt frame the programme, and there is music by Bartók and Gabi Luncă. Joanna has written of Luncă: 'Spoken of as ‘Tziganza de matase’, the silken Gypsy woman, the silvery-voiced Gabi Luncă came from a poor family of musicians in the village of Vărbilău. In a unique musical partnership with her husband, the accordionist Ion Onoriu, she was seen as among the greatest Rumanian singers, the grande dame of Lăutari (Roma) music. Motherless from the age of three, and never forgetting her deprived childhood as one of twelve children, she built a children’s home next to her house in Bucharest. She was recorded in her heyday in the 1960s, her songs elegantly speaking of yearning, anguish and loss; in Sus în deal, pe poienită a blackbird sings ‘Why do some have luck in abundance, while so little left for me?’'

Thursday 6 November 2008

Hisham Matar on Dhafer Youssef

Booker Prize-shortlisted author Hisham Matar ('In the Country of Men') has written a very thoughtful piece in the New Statesman about Dhaffer Youssef, with whom we are performing in the London Jazz Festival on 14 November. He concludes: 'Unlike, for example, the Arabic novel, which apart from very few exceptions is struggling to gain the attention its literary heritage promises, Arabic music like Youssef's seems to have found ways to remain vital and ambitious, relevant, and engaged.' I also like his attempt to unravel the confusion caused by the description 'world music': 'The problem seems to be with the word 'world'; as an adjective it has come to mean a sort of anthropological, homogenised muddle, and so does little to reflect the careful, earnest engagements of artists such as Dhaffer Youssef.' Read the full article!

Tuesday 4 November 2008

Germaine Greer on the viola

Britten Sinfonia board member Germaine Greer has written in the Guardian on the viola. You might have heard some of the jokes before, but she makes a convincing case about the instrument's historical roots.

Monday 3 November 2008

Performance on 3: tonight

Our Night Music project will be broadcast tonight on BBC Radio 3 at 19.00 in Performance on 3. Presented by Tom Service, it was recorded at the Queen Elizabeth Hall last Monday, with music by Stravinsky, Birtwistle, Handel, Britten and John Woolrich. You can still read the programme notes and follow the texts on our website. Mark Padmore and Maxim Rysanov are the soloists.

Friday 31 October 2008

In darkness and light

Another interesting reaction to our Night Music project, this time from Richard Fairman in the FT. The debate about how we presented the event continues to rage. OK, we had a lighting designer and tried to make the stage picture reflect the mood and tone of the music; we had stage consultants and had thought about the way the concert should flow; the musicians had rehearsed the links between pieces so there was no chance of them banging into their music stands. And yes, having the house-lights down meant that the audience could not see their programmes: but is that any different to going to see a play or an opera? All your attention can be directed to the music, and when the diction is as clear as Mark Padmore's you don't need to follow the texts. We always put our programme notes and any texts on our website a week before our own promotions, so there is plenty of time to read up in advance. Anyway, we wanted to provoke a debate, but we obviously don't want to alienate our audiences. Let us know your views!

Tuesday 28 October 2008

Darkest materials

'Joviality has its place in music but its most life-enhancing consolations often derive from the darkest materials.' A great summary of our Night Music programme from Fiona Maddocks in today's Evening Standard: read her full review. There is a final chance to hear this programme in Southampton tonight

Saturday 25 October 2008

Thursday 23 October 2008

Night Music SinfoniaCast

Fiona Talkington introduces our latest SinfoniaCast in which Mark Padmore and Kate Kennedy consider the importance of text in our Night Music project. The first concert is in Cambridge tonight at 8.00pm: Kate and Mark will discuss the ideas in the podcast in greater depth before the concert at 7.00pm.

Wednesday 22 October 2008

Ulysses Awakes

John Woolrich's note on his piece 'Ulysses Awakes' belies what, to me, is one of his finest works: 'There are two great arias at the beginning of Monteverdi’s opera II ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria: one for Penelope, and this one for Ulysses, waking on the shore of his homeland. In this retelling the viola sings Ulysses.'

We are joined by Maxim Rysanov as soloist in our Night Music project.

Tuesday 21 October 2008

Night Music

Mark Padmore joins Britten Sinfonia for a programme exploring the theme of night, with music by Birtwistle, Stravinsky, Britten, Woolrich and Handel. Full details are here. The concerts are in Cambridge on Thursday, Norwich on Friday, London next Monday, and Southampton next Tuesday. The literary delights equal the musical ones, with texts by Milton, Shelley, Tennyson, Coleridge, Middleton, Wordsworth, Owen, Keats and Shakespeare. Watch out for Mark's own analysis of the programme in next Saturday's Guardian Review.

Monday 20 October 2008

Family Music Days on two continents

Our new season is getting going, and what a brilliant (if exhausting) start: two Family Music Days on consecutive days. The children in Cambridge get the special opportunity of taking part in gamelan workshops. Having just come back from Korea, where I witnessed a similar event in Jeonju, I can't resist some photos from each continent. The fascination with percussion instruments is universal, and I suspect UK children would love the chance to learn dragon dances as well. More news later this week on our Night Music project with Mark Padmore, and do check our newly revamped website.

Wednesday 17 September 2008

Oxford English Dictionary: a quick read?

I heard a fascinating item during the night on The Word, the BBC World Service programme about books and writing. Ammon Shea revealed why he chose to spend a year of his life holed up in a library in New York reading all twenty volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary from cover to cover. It is worth a listen. I have been wondering what the musical equivalent would be? Reading the whole of Grove I suspect would be a revelation; listening to all recorded music would probably be impossible. Any ideas?

Tuesday 9 September 2008

Pawel Lukaszewski on Hyperion

A new recording of choral music by Pawel Lukaszewski has recently been released on Hyperion. Performed by the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, and conducted by Stephen Layton, it makes a brilliant precursor to our recording with Polyphony of Pawel's Via Crucis, due out in the first part of 2009. BBC Music Magazine said: 'Layton's affinity with this radiant, accessible music is clear as he guides the Trinity College Choir, which sings with passion and purity throughout the programme.'

Tuesday 19 August 2008

Edinburgh International Festival to the V Festival...

Back from Hylands Park near Chelmsford. Last weekend the Edinburgh International Festival, and this weekend the V Festival, a rite-of-passage to teenager-hood for my younger son, and an eye- and ear-opener for me. Eighteen or so different bands and singers and over 20 hours of live music across the two days of which at least 80% was hugely enjoyable: Amy Macdonald (see photo) and the Kings of Leon were my highlights, but the Pigeon Detectives, the Stranglers and The Feelings were also amazing, as were Duffy (brilliant backing group) and the unique Amy Winehouse (you have to hear her live to understand why she is simultaneously so immensely popular yet derided); and – dangerous as it is to admit in public – Girls Aloud. Their material might be thin, but their stage performance is incredible: classy, highly produced, unashamedly overpowering.
I need to think more about this, but I had time to start reflecting on what are the deeper differences between V Festival and the conventional classical music model. V Festival seems expensive until you divide the ticket price by the 100+ bands you can choose from to hear; and the ticket-price is way below top prices at the Royal Opera House for a single evening; classical audiences outside London complain if they are charged more than a few pounds for a concert programme (often as meaty as a short paperback), yet hundreds of thousands of people over the two days of V Festival are happy to part with £10 for a magazine-style booklet and a set of laminated cards to hang around their necks with the running-order. There is much for Britten Sinfonia to learn, both from the economic model, the scale, the sophistication of the presentation, and the audience demographic. Examining all this could be a useful project to look at in our on-going collaboration with MBA students at the Judge Business School. Food for thought, anyway.

Tuesday 12 August 2008

British Council A&B International Award nomination

We are delighted that the sponsorship by Cambridge University Press for our tour to South America last year has been nominated for an Arts & Business Award in the British Council A&B International category. We won't know whether we have won until late November, but you can watch the chair of the jury's summary of the shortlisting here and read the full list of nominations here.

Monday 11 August 2008

Mykietyn's music in Edinburgh

Paweł Mykietyn is the next Polish composer Britten Sinfonia has commissioned: we will premiere his work in Krakow next March. I took the opportunity for a flying visit to the Edinburgh International Festival on Saturday to see TR Warsawa’s production of Dybbuk, for which he wrote the music. Well, hardly a flying visit: the high value of various metals leaves our fragile transport infrastructure vulnerable to the theft of signalling cable, and the whole of the East Coast mainline ground to a halt on Saturday morning after just such an incident. So a long, interrupted journey using umpteen train companies and one’s rather hazy geography of central England ensued, making it to Scotland only just in time for the show.
Dybbuk (based on a play by Szymon Anski and a short story by Hanna Krall and adapted by Krzysztof Warlikowski) is a dark tale with two interconnected strands: the suffering soul of a holocaust victim takes over the body of his American half-brother; and a woman is possessed by the spirit of her lover, and must choose between continuing this supernatural union and taking a living but unloved husband. In Jewish folklore, a dybbuk is a restless dead soul which inhabits a living person. The play works through decisions of whether to embrace or abandon the past.
Mykietyn’s music creates a powerful yet scary bridge between these overlapping stories: chilling, heartless but still hearfelt – has he, I wonder, written film music?
Read Benedict Nightingale's review in The Times.
There is another performance tonight – don’t worry if, like me, you don’t speak a word of Polish: the surtitles will get you through. Book online.

Wednesday 6 August 2008

Vibrato Wars

Sir Roger Norrington has stirred up a debate since his recent Prom on whether and when string players should use vibrato: will he or won't he ban it at the Last Night? See Tom Service's blog in The Times for the full story.

Wednesday 30 July 2008

Berio, Bartok, Prokoviev, Stravinsky.....chamber works on BBC Radio 3

You can hear some great chamber music - some familiar works, some less well-known: all taken from concerts we gave in Cambridge back in the 2006-07 season - next week on BBC Radio 3. During Afternoon on 3, when five of this year's Proms get early repeats, the interval slots will include Berio's Folksongs (at c.4pm on Monday 4 August), Prokoviev's Overture on Hebrew Themes and Stravinsky's Three Songs from William Shakespeare (at c.3.45pm on Tuesday 5 August), Falla's Harpsichord Concerto (c.4.10pm on Wednesday 6 August), works by Bach and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies (c.4.05pm on Thursday 7 August), and Stravinsky's Soldier's Tale Suite and Bartok's Contrasts (at c.3.55pm on Friday 8 August). If you miss these gems when they are broadcast they will be available for a further seven days on iPlayer, and I'll put the links up as next week progresses in our Recent Broadcasts slot.

Wednesday 23 July 2008

Dr Who Prom

Our principal horn Stephen Bell conducts the Dr Who Prom on Sunday morning at the Royal Albert Hall: it's a family concert featuring music from the BBC's Doctor Who series, and including a specially filmed scene, written by Russell T Davies and starring David Tennant. There's also a selection of classical favourites with a strong flavour of time and space. Join Freema Agyeman (aka Martha Jones), and others from the Doctor Who cast, for an intergalactic musical adventure - with a little help from Daleks, Cybermen and other aliens from the series. It's not all Murray Gold: Copland, Holst, Wagner and Prokoviev are included, plus the premiere of Mark-Anthony Turnage's The Torino Scale.

Monday 21 July 2008

Poulenc airplay

More coverage of our recording of Poulenc's Gloria on BBC Radio 3's CD Review last Saturday morning: you can listen to Andrew MacGregor's comments and a full performance on the iPlayer at 1:55.30 - available until next Saturday morning.

Made with Polyphony, the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, conducted by Stephen Layton, and available on Hyperion.

Friday 11 July 2008

The Traveller in Lichfield

'The literary patchwork was fluently stitched together, and Roth's score, which had both Brittenesque moments, and highly accessible anthem-like choral writing, nicely varied the pace'. So wrote Andrew Clements in today's Guardian of the last of the performances of Alec Roth's The Traveller which we have been giving at the festivals in Salisbury, Chelsea and Lichfield.

For the texts, Vikram Seth wrote six new poems and translated some 25 Indian texts from a rich variety of traditions and languages, including Sanskrit, Pali, Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, and Tamil. Here is an extract:

Child of son, of daughter,
Tombed and wombed in water,
Flesh to bind and bound me,
Darkness all around me,
Neither seen nor seeing,
Being and not being,
In my world's cessation
Lies my re-creation.

© Vikram Seth

Mark Padmore was the tenor soloist, in what was the last concert project of our season. He joins us again in the first tour of next season in October, in an enticing project with Katie Mitchell: Night Music.

Wednesday 9 July 2008

Follow that cab...........

Alina Ibragimova arrives in the Britten Sinfonia taxi

I went to a conference at the John Innes Centre in Norwich yesterday. There is always a slight thrill as the train approaches the station: will the Britten Sinfonia taxi be in the queue and if it is, will it reach the front of the queue at the same time as me? I’m not sure how many taxis there are in Norwich, so I can’t even begin to calculate the probability of this happening, but yesterday, yes, it was there, and no, somebody one place ahead of me stepped into it. Amazingly, for the next 20 minutes, my taxi followed the Britten Sinfonia taxi, to the same destination: I could, for once, have said ‘follow that cab’.

Monday 7 July 2008

Pushing the boundaries

Wearing another hat as Chair of the Early Music Network, I spent 24 hours at the weekend enjoying the opening of the Cheltenham Music Festival. New festival director Meurig Bowen had included three concerts by ECM artists: Trio Mediaeval, the Rolf Lislevand Ensemble and John Potter’s The Dowland Project. I guess ECM is one of the labels which most closely matches the eclectic interests and enquiring minds of the majority of our Britten Sinfonia fans, so you are probably aware of Manfred Eicher’s brilliance as the founder of ECM and creative genius behind the label. If you don’t know the label, you could do worse than start exploring it through these three groups’ recordings. Trio Mediaeval – three Scandinavian sopranos – have found a unique way to meld exquisite medieval English pieces, with commissions and Norwegian traditional folksongs; Rolf Lislevand overlays early baroque music with jazz and folk-like fantasies – continuo heavy, it is both laid-back and intense; and John Potter’s collaboration with saxophonist John Surman has moved on from Dowland to works by Lassus and Josquin. Try them all!

Thursday 3 July 2008

Britten Sinfonia eBulletins

We continue to try to find easier and more effective ways of spreading the word about our activities. Approaching 2000 people will have received our July eBulletin in the last few days - it is really simple to sign up for this monthly e-mail, and we promise not to bombard you with too much material. Do keep reading the blog, though.............!

Monday 30 June 2008


Our Creative Learning Director, Sophie, has been telling me about the final planning stages for one of Britten Sinfonia’s biggest Creative Learning projects this season. SENSE is a collaboration between Britten Sinfonia and Random Dance and the result of almost a year of discussions, workshops and rehearsals. The performances, which will take place on 10 & 11 July, will involve around 100 young people from Ipswich dancing and performing music which they themselves have played a key role in creating.

Back in January, composer Stevie Wishart (in our photo) and BS viola player Bridget Carey began making regular visits to three Ipswich schools – Beacon Hill, Kesgrave and St Joseph’s College. Over the course of a number of weeks, ideas became musical themes, and themes became longer pieces of music. Each school had a unique take on the project: Beacon Hill’s pupils built up a wall of sound using electric guitars and keyboards; Kesgrave’s music technology students recorded and distorted sounds to make pieces of digital music, and St Joseph’s College focused on live performance involving voices and string instruments. Stevie then took all of these elements and wove them together to form a piece – which will form the background to a piece of dance subsequently choreographed by Wayne McGregor and his team at Random Dance.

Having searched throughout Ipswich for a suitable space in which to perform this new piece (last year’s project culminated in a performance in a car park, so we couldn’t revert to traditional theatres!) we finally found Endeavour House. Suffolk County Council’s office building has an amazing glass-walled atrium: a wonderful place for exploring the different dimensions of sound and movement which inspired the piece’s title and content.

A few tickets are still available for the performances: Box Office 01473 433100.

Saturday 28 June 2008

BBC Radio 3 broadcast

Our Aldeburgh Festival concert with Pierre-Laurent Aimard will be broadcast tonight, Monday, at 19.00 on BBC Radio 3.

Wednesday 25 June 2008

New partnership with the Institute for Manufacturing

With our office being based in Cambridge we have a range of activity and contacts with the University and its colleges: the Music Faculty, King's, St John's, Trinity, Jesus, Queens' and Corpus, and the Judge Business School are all regular partners. But we were recently approached by the Institute for Manufacturing , and subsequently worked with four MPhil students on various business development research projects. They came along to our concert with Pierre-Laurent Aimard last week and took the chance to meet some of our players.

The Traveller

Local TV news coverage in Salisbury at the time of the premiere of The Traveller by Alec Roth and Vikram Seth can be seen here (you might need to load the clip and then play it again). The next performance is at the Lichfield Festival on 8 July.

Sunday 22 June 2008

The Iron Cockerel Sings

Polina Leschenko joins us at Aldeburgh on Monday evening for a performance of John Woolrich's The Iron Cockerel Sings. A young, Russian-born pianist, now living in Brussels, Polina combines a phenomenal technique with deep sensitivity and abundant imagination. Her busy career combines concerti, recitals and chamber music. A regular visitor to the Hallé Orchestra, she recently took part in their 150th Birthday Concert and created a sensation with her peformance. David Fanning wrote in The Daily Telegraph, 'Equally breathtaking ... was the young Russian pianist Polina Leschenko, who produced a dazzling firework display in the Weber Konzertstück.' She will tour South America tour with the orchestra next season. Leschenko has appeared in recital at the Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Wigmore Hall, Amsterdam Concertgebouw and Vienna Konzerthaus, and returns to the Konzerthaus and Concertgebouw next season. Leschenko is a passionate chamber musician and her regular partners include Christian Poltéra, Heinrich Schiff, Priya Mitchell, Alexander Sitkovetsky and Patricia Kopatchinskaya.

Saturday 21 June 2008

Lichfield Festival

There is a further chance to hear our Traveller project - with Mark Padmore, and featuring the new work by Alec Roth to Vikram Seth texts - at the Lichfield Festival on 8 July. You might also like to read the festival director's blog. There are some great links in his 19 June entry to material on and about Vikram Seth, including some video interviews.

Thursday 19 June 2008

The air buzzed.....

Geoff Brown in The Times on our concert at Aldeburgh last weekend: 'On Saturday night at the Maltings the air buzzed. There was scarcely a spare seat. For this Britten Sinfonia concert gave us a tantalising preview of the Aldeburgh Festival's future under its next artistic director, the pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard. Not for him, or Britten Sinfonia, a concert shaped like a string of sausages. Instead we were taken on a questing journey. Primed by the restless imagination of Haydn (Symphony No 22), we leapt into gnomic 20th-century miniatures, adrift in space and time. Mysterious slivers of György Kurtág followed expressionist slices of Schoenberg. Webern's Op 5 pieces, arranged for string orchestra, muddied progress a bit. But nothing stopped Ives's The Unanswered Question sounding thrillingly strange.'

You can hear the same programme in Cambridge tonight. Tickets from 01223 357851

Monday 16 June 2008

Cello doubling harmonium

The difference between festival concerts and other concerts is partly the collegiality of performers, composers and creative teams engendered by the context, all working together in one place over a period of time. Only at a festival such as Aldeburgh would two eminent pianists perform on the celeste in the same concert and a front-desk cellist double on harmonium. Modest moments in themselves, perhaps, but indicative of the kind of concert programme which integrates the performers fully, enabling the compelling sequence of Webern, Schoenberg, Kurtag and Ives at the centre of our concert on Friday with Pierre-Laurent Aimard to make maximum impact. We await the view from the packed press gallery, but the audience seemed to be enjoying themselves. You can hear this programme again on Thursday in Cambridge (still a few tickets available as of today) or catch the BBC Radio 3 broadcast of the Aldeburgh concert on 26 June: I'll put the links on the blog nearer the time.
And thence on Sunday morning to Aldeburgh Church where our string principals were playing in a liturgical performance of Schubert's Mass in G (D.167), with a Mozart Epistle Sonata included for good measure. This service will be on Radio 4 on Sunday 29 June: again, more details later.

Friday 13 June 2008

Student tickets for £5

Students can hear Charles Ives' The Unanswered Question in Cambridge next Thursday for just £5. Pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard directs Britten Sinfonia in a programme ranging across Haydn, Schoenberg, Kurtag and Webern, and featuring Mozart's Piano Concerto no. 26 in D K.537 'Coronation'. Student tickets can be bought in advance from the Corn Exchange Box Office on 01223 357851 or at the door (West Road Concert Hall - concert starts at 8pm). Aimard also gives a pre-concert talk at 7pm.

Tuesday 10 June 2008

The Answered Unanswered Question

Our thanks to the Aldeburgh Festival and writer Marc Dooley for these notes on the two works by Kurtag we are performing in Aldeburgh on Saturday and in Cambridge on 19 June: 'This cosmic landscape is encountered by György Kurtág in his Ligatura – Message to Frances-Marie (The answered unanswered question) Op.31/b written in 1989 for (and to) the cellist Frances-Marie Uitti who has pioneered a technique for playing the cello with two bows, one above, one below the strings. The piece exists in three versions, for two-bow cello, two violins and celesta; for two cellos, two violins and celesta (as today); or for two organs and celesta (or upright piano). As with Ives, Kurtág places his three musical elements far apart from each other in the performing space, this exploration of physical space being an important aspect of several of his major works from this period. Kurtág references Ives’s ‘Silences’ with slow moving cello chords. These are juxtaposed with chords (at first the same chords transposed up a fifth) played by the two violins, unsynchronized with the cellos. Finally the celesta joins in with three final chords bringing the ensemble together for the first time. Is this the answer? Can you even answer an unanswered question? The celesta part was left out in the world première. Haydn would surely have enjoyed the ambiguity, but Kurtág’s message to Frances-Marie remains private.'

'Mihály Andrásnak Irka-Firka születésnapra, (Doodles for András Mihály’s Birthday; also known as Irka-Firka) was composed on 6 November 1991, Mihály’s 74th birthday, and revised in April 1994, shortly after his death. András Mihály was a cellist, composer, conductor and friend of Kurtág’s. He is the dedicatee of Kurtág’s 12 Microludes for string quartet, in which his cello concerto is referenced, and is remembered in the last movement of Stele for large orchestra written at the time of his death and based on an earlier Játékok piano piece also dedicated to him. This affectionate birthday tribute places two violins and two violas at a distance from the central cello and double bass – the ensemble seems to echo the essence of some folk tune before disappearing into silence.'

Monday 9 June 2008

György Kurtág

György Kurtág is a featured composer at the Aldeburgh Festival this year. We are playing Irka-Firka and Ligatura - Message to Frances Marie [The Answered Unanswered Question] there on Saturday. You might like to read Paul Griffiths' excellent feature on Kurtág in the Financial Times.

Friday 6 June 2008

Britten Sinfonia at the Aldeburgh Festival

Just a week or so to go until the first of our three appearances this year at the Aldeburgh Festival: 14 June with Pierre-Laurent Aimard; 15 June at the Festival Service; and 23 June with Polina Leschenko. Returns only, I understand, for the first concert, but there are still tickets available for the 23rd.

Wednesday 4 June 2008

Outside the box

What do you get when you combine 150 business students, a string trio, and a big box of percussion instruments? Well, if our recent session at Cambridge’s Judge Business School is anything to go by, the answer is an inspiring blend of learning and laughter. Britten Sinfonia musicians Lizzie Ball, Martin Outram and Ben Chappell opened day 2 of the MBA programme’s Creativity Workshop with a fascinating insight into the inner workings of a chamber ensemble and clear demonstrations of how the skills which make for a successful performance in the concert hall might also be of use in the boardroom. The workshop was presented by Dr Allegre Hadida of the Judge Business School, who helped the students to observe and articulate the many parallels between their world and that of the musicians.

After the workshop, student Daniel Vankov, who joined the MBA programme in 2007 after a number of years as a Finance Manager in the publishing industry, commented: “The Britten Sinfonia workshop demonstrated that what you create together is more important than individual competition. It expanded our thinking outside the business school ‘box’ and demonstrated that individuality and teamwork are both necessary components of creative harmony.”

And the Britten Sinfonia musicians learned a lot from the experience too. Lizzie Ball told us: "The workshop at the Judge was a uniquely rewarding and fantastically enjoyable experience! To work with Ben and Martin was as always a real joy, and the three of us were very like-minded in our approach to this seminar, and found that the challenge of relating what we do as chamber and orchestral musicians to the world of business made us think more deeply about how unique our jobs are and how much they are admired by others in a different world. The opinons of the MBA students were fascinating as they really understood so profoundly what we trying to achieve, and were also interested to draw comparisons with their experiences of the concepts of leadership, listening and team work that form such a vital part of a musician's skills also. To work with Allegre on this was enlightening, as we gained another perspective from the business angle, and Sophie was a star in co-ordinating everything and organising us all, and also finding the correct words for the African song that we taught all the students at the end!"

Sunday 18 May 2008

Imogen Cooper wins RPS Award

We were delighted that Imogen Cooper was the Instrumentalist Award winner at the RPS Music Awards, presented last Thursday evening at the Dorchester. The citation sums up why we enjoy working with her so much: 'Imogen Cooper's distinction as one of the most formidable musicians of her time is widely recognised. But the intellect, musicality and programming skills that she has demonstrated in her music-making in 2007 have, we feel, taken her to new levels. This award celebrates her achievements as a deeply thoughtful soloist, an inspirational keyboard director and a fastidiously accomplished chamber musician.' Britten Sinfonia next performs with her in February 2009 when we continue our Beethoven concerto cycle with no. 3. The concerts are in London, Cambridge and Norwich. Stephen Moss' article in the Guardian last week about Imogen makes fascinating reading. You might also enjoy Mark Padmore's discussion of Schubert's song cycles in the same paper: more of our next project with Mark later.