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!"