Thursday 31 January 2008

James MacMillan in Cambridge

Britten Sinfonia is always keen to promote new talent, and on Saturday 2 February we are holding a special event showcasing work from the best student composers at the University of Cambridge. The Composers’ Workshop, which will be held in the Recital room at West Road Concert Hall, is a superb opportunity for you to hear new works by up-and-coming young composers, performed by an ensemble comprising Britten Sinfonia musicians and talented students. The group will be conducted by one of the UK’s most respected composers, James MacMillan, who will also be giving advice to the young composers about their work.

The Composers’ Workshop runs from 10.30 to 15.00 and you are welcome to turn up at any time to watch the fascinating process of rehearsing these new pieces. Audience members will also be able to listen to, and join in with, discussions between James MacMillan, Britten Sinfonia musicians and the composers about strengths, weaknesses and improvements which could be made to the music. This should be an intriguing opportunity to eavesdrop on, and perhaps even influence, the compositional process.

At 15.30 there will be a concert performance of these new works by Britten Sinfonia and the student musicians. James MacMillan will introduce each piece and discuss any particular issues which were uncovered during the rehearsal process. The concert will finish at approximately 16.30 and audiences will be able to ask questions of James and the student composers at the end of the concert.

Tickets for both the workshop and concert are free of charge however numbers are limited so we advise you to book should you wish to attend. For further information, please call Sophie Dunn, Creative Learning Director at Britten Sinfonia on 01223 300795 or email

Tuesday 29 January 2008

Five Temperaments premiere in Leeds

Our latest commission is from Robin Holloway: Five Temperaments receives its world premiere performance at the Leeds College of Music on Thursday evening: full information and online booking is available here.

Robin Holloway writes: 'Traditionally it's four temperaments, of course. But these five movements do not depict the traditional ‘humours’ (choleric, phlegmatic, sanguine, melancholic) of medieval humanism (though perhaps a couple overlap). Rather, they are five states of mind, evoking human moods shared in varying mixes and proportions by everybody.

I hope I won't be accused of coyness in not revealing them explicitly! I'm relying on the music itself to suggest the individual
temperaments contained within. Which is perhaps a hangover from another piece written at the same time as this wind quintet (Summer 2007): a setting for six-part vocal consort of riddles, conundrums, teases, that deliberately doesn't provide answers.'

There are further performances during our next At Lunch cycle, which begins in Birmingham on Friday. You can find full details on our website.

Thursday 24 January 2008

Postcard from Seville

The Britten Sinfonia blog has always had two underlying, occasional themes: architecture and matters gastronomic. Well today, with an hour or so to spare in Seville before going to the airport to move on to Barcelona, these themes came together: lunch outside in the square next to the east end of the Cathedral and the incomparable Giraldo tower. The sunshine helped, as did sitting under an orange tree replete with fruit (I had a couple of opportunities of experiencing what Newton noticed as I ate). It is the kind of situation where you would not mind if the chips were soggy (actually, the sole was excellent), but El Giraldilla is worth a visit for its food alone. I suspect, in the height of summer, you cannot get a table for love nor money. But in January, there are not too many tourists about: although I did see a group of Koreans trying to come to terms with the cultural crunch of Christianity and Islam, signified in adjacent centuries-old buildings.

Tuesday 22 January 2008

Britten Sinfonia blog comes home (briefly)

For all sorts of reasons, Britten Sinfonia’s blog was pretty much started in Madrid. We were en route to Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay and had a couple of hours at Barajas last May. Having just invested in a new MacBook and decided to start a blog, it seemed a good time to get to grips with the blogging process. It now seems second nature (with credit to our investors, Cambridge University Press and Arts & Business East, and to our technology guru Bill Thompson).

So, David Butcher and I find ourselves once again in Madrid, this time on a mission to uncover opportunities for Britten Sinfonia in Spain, whether for a full-scale tour here, or for a further extension of our At Lunch series. We are – jointly and severally - off to Valencia, Santander, Seville and Barcelona in the next few days. In a year or two, you should see the results.

John Bickley

Tuesday 15 January 2008

Bach, Grime and Brahms

Just back from the UK premiere of Helen Grime's Into the Faded Air, in our Cambridge lunchtime concert. There is some splendidly luscious writing; an extended duet for two violas dominating the second movement; a chord of inspired richness at the end of the third; and - in Helen's own description - a 'serene chorale' at the end of the final short movement.
The most commonly reproduced photos of Brahms tend to be of him at the end of his life, with long hair and a profuse beard. Here is one of him in 1860, the year after he wrote his String Sextet no. 1. As our viola player Clare Finnimore said in her spoken introduction to the concert, this piece does not get many public airings, though string players love getting together to play it at home. Bach was a huge influence on Brahms (the concert today opened with the Ricercar a 6), and I am indebted to my friend (and Britten Sinfonia's chief programme note writer!), Jo Kirkbride, for pointing out one of Brahms' favourite sayings: 'Study Bach! There you'll find everything.' The Sextet goes further than this, with Schubert, Beethoven and CPE Bach all audible in the texture.

You can still catch this concert in London tomorrow (Wigmore Hall at 1.00pm), in Norwich on Thursday (The Assembly House at 1.00pm), and in Birmingham on Friday (Town Hall at 1.00pm): full details are here.

Friday 11 January 2008

Into the Faded Air

Happy New Year! Our first premiere in 2008 is Helen Grime's Into the Faded Air. It's first performance is in Krakow on Sunday, and it is then toured on our Britten Sinfonia at Lunch circuit: Cambridge on Tuesday 15, London on Wednesday 16, Norwich on Thursday 17, and Birmingham on Friday 18.

This project showcases the cream of Britten Sinfonia’s superb string section and gives us the chance to revel in the rich texture of the string sextet, with paired violas and cellos deepening the sonority. Bach’s astounding Ricercare is the composer’s masterful response to the challenge set by King Frederick II of Prussia to write a six-part fugue out of a long and complex musical figure written by the king himself. Brahms’ first sextet shows the composer’s mastery of the form, with writing that is at times dense and lush, at other times taut and biting. Helen's piece is for the same forces, providing a contemporary take on a classic chamber line-up.

Catch up on our busy Creative Learning programme here.