Thursday 26 November 2009

Pictures from Morelia (part of our tour to Mexico)

Here are some pictures of Morelia which we visited as part of our tour of Mexico earlier this month. Stephen Bourne, CEO of Cambridge University Press and Britten Sinfonia board member is the photographer.

Lunch in Morelia

Views of Morelia

Rehearsals with Joanna MacGregor in Morelia

Wednesday 25 November 2009

Mexico Tour Blog from Stephen Bourne

Britten Sinfonia performed in Mexico earlier this month with pianist Joanna MacGregor. In this blog posting Stephen Bourne, Britten Sinfonia Board Member and CEO of Cambridge University Press (who sponsored the tour) talks about his experiences on tour with an orchestra and the benefits Cambridge University Press receive through sponsoring Britten Sinfonia;

Two years ago, Cambridge University Press was one of Britten Sinfonia’s sponsors on its extraordinarily successful tour of South America. This year, we repeated the venture, wrapping a two-concert tour of Mexico round a business agenda for me and the Press’s Mexican team.

If you've never toured with an orchestra, it's a thrilling experience - particularly when it's a chamber orchestra like Britten Sinfonia. This is a band that consistently manages to bring together first-class musicians and world-renowned soloists, who together put on exciting programmes for audiences at home and abroad.

The short Mexico tour in November 2009 was no exception. Only two of the players had previously visited Mexico, so we began with a tangible anticipation of exotic things to come. Even the otherwise tedious business of a long flight can become an entertainment, with all the buzz generated by a swarm of musicians, marked out by the cellos cases seated amongst them, like a cluster of chubby totems.

It was only a matter of minutes after hotel check-in before the musicians sallied forth into the dusk and onto the streets of Mexico City’s Centro Historico, in search of tacos and mezcal and salsa – and that was the shape of things to come. Although bed came relatively early that night, at only 11.00 pm, it was already 5.00 am back home in England. Small wonder, then, that many of the team were somewhat subdued during the 4-hour coach journey to Morelia the next morning!

Morelia is the state capital of Michoacan, in the west of Mexico. The occasion for our visit was rather more significant than we had at first realised, in three respects: it was a coming-of-age for the Morelia Music Festival, its 21st anniversary; the United Kingdom had been chosen as the special guest country, with our Ambassador participating in the opening ceremonies; and Britten Sinfonia had been selected to perform the inaugural concert with soloist and conductor Joanna MacGregor.

Such venues are never without their hiccups, and there were stressful moments while we waited for piano-tuner to work his wonders, and while the bassists accustomed themselves to their borrowed instruments. But the rehearsals provided me with the kind of education to which so few of us in the business world ever have access: education in leadership, in collegiality, in the pursuit of excellence, and in patience. These are the hidden gifts of participation in tours of this kind. And there are opportunities to do the altogether unexpected, such as ascending into the vaulted roof-space of the concert hall, in my self-appointed role as Tour Photographer, to take photographs from on high of the band in rehearsal!

The Morelians proved to be an audience who appreciated excellent music, but probably did not receive their fair share of the world’s talents. Without doubt, the wide-ranging programme was a huge success with them, showcasing JS Bach, the gentle beauty of Tudor composer John Dowland, Brazilian Egberto Gismonti, Stravinsky and Scotland’s James Macmillan – all rounded off with a thrilling encore from Astor Piazzolla that elicited a standing ovation for Joanna and the orchestra.

Morelia was a lovely place to visit, offering us an instant glimpse of Mexican history, through its gorgeous haciendas, palacios, museos and its cathedral.

Two days later, and after further detailed but fascinating rehearsal, we were back in Mexico City, performing at the Sala Nezahualcoyotl of UNAM, the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico. This is a splendid auditorium, where Joanna and the band again delivered another storming performance, the finale this time being three Piazzolla pieces, including Milonga del Angel, a delicate trio played by Joanna MacGregor (piano), Jacqueline Shave (violin) and Roger Linley (double bass), who together were responsible for many a misty eye in the audience. And then the inevitable encore, a movement from Macmillan’s Piano Concerto #2, which ensured that the concert-goers ended the evening on their feet, stomping and whooping.

But for me and my colleagues, as business sponsors, there had to be more than that. The concerts presented us with opportunities to entertain our publishing connections in a manner they had never previously experienced from any other business associate. Booksellers, wholesalers, authors, teachers, printers, typesetters, shippers: such people are the bread and butter of our industry, and we are able to thank them for their loyalty to us by inviting them to a reception and to an unforgettable concert. Afterwards, they were able to meet the players and to share enthusiastically their several experiences. We know that brief interludes of this kind will result in Cambridge University Press remaining in their memories, as generous hosts, as purveyors of quality products, and as constant patrons of the arts, even in difficult economic times such as these. Thereby, we enhance our corporate image. But the appreciation of these people provides us with the real payback on our investment.

Nor should we forget our own staff, in our offices around the world. For them, such moments provide a tremendous thrill, as well as a first-hand insight into the things the Press holds dear and into the effort that goes into striving after perfection. These musical tours provide an opportunity to thank them, too, for their efforts on behalf of our business.

For me, though, as a member of the touring party, the greatest surprise and delight was still to come. Back in the hotel after the final concert, those of us who were too drained to spend another night in the musical bars had a final drink or two together. Then David Butcher, Chief Executive of Britten Sinfonia, dragged me away at 11.00 pm to spy on an impromptu string quartet, formed by Jackie Shave just a few minutes earlier, sight-reading Bartok’s incredibly difficult String Quartet #1. Fortified by the odd swig of tequila from a convenient hip-flask, players were heard to mutter ‘I think I played a wrong note’ (just one?), or ‘That was almost right, wasn’t it?’ (having never seen or heard the piece before). It was a performance to turn any Bartok-sceptic into an instant believer. Close to midnight, I finally retired, utterly inspired by the devotion and brilliant musicianship of these players. There is much to be learned from examples such as theirs.

The next day, I sat down with Cambridge University Press’s Mexican management team for a day’s business discussions in the office. Oddly, perhaps, no-one resented being there, despite it being a public holiday. We were still re-living the treat of the weekend with Britten Sinfonia. And we talked some really good business.

Stephen Bourne, Chief Executive, Cambridge University Press

We hope to have some pictures of the tour online soon - watch this space!

Monday 23 November 2009


With all the stormy weather we've been having recently I've been looking up at the sky quite a bit to see whether we're likely to have another downpour or I can leave the house without the umbrella. Not sure whether I've seen any Noctilucent clouds though. These are clouds that form in the highest regions of the earth's atmosphere which appear as sun-illumined silvery waves on the threshold of space. Apparently they are extremely rare and are still a mysery to science.

The reason I write about this is the new work Christian Mason has composed for the first of this seasons Britten Sinfonia At Lunch concerts is titled Noctilucent. Like the clouds Christian has said "the piece inhabits the upper regions of available pitch-space, with shimmering string harmonics, piccolo arabesques and bright piano octaves illuming the line which flows through the piece." Below is a picture that Christian asked to be in the programme but unfortunately we are unable to include it so thought I'd post it here.

I'm certainly looking forward to hearing the piece at its UK premiere in Cambridge on Tuesday 15 December. The piece will receive its world premiere a couple of days before in Krakow (13 Dec) and after Cambridge will be performed at London's Wigmore Hall (16 Dec), the Town Hall in Birmingham (17 Dec) and the Assembly House in Norwich (18 Dec). Click here to find out more about the programme and ways to purchase tickets.

Claire (Marketing Director)

Wednesday 4 November 2009

Digital Music Stands

Britten Sinfonia, is adding a hi-tech element to its upcoming Dialogues concerts. In lieu of traditional paper sheet music, three of the soloists will read their music on a Sahara NetSlate™ Tablet PC by TabletKiosk that is running MusicReader software from Leoné MusicReader.

MusicReader and TabletKiosk developed a special solution for Britten Sinfonia using the Sahara NetSlate a230T Tablet PC on a custom music stand. For page turning the AirTurn AT-104 wireless foot pedals will be used. This combination gives the soloists the flexibility they need for a seamless and uninterrupted performance.
The three "Dialogues" concerts will be performed on November 6, 7 and 9 in Norwich, London and Cambridge respectively and feauture pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard.

Wednesday 28 October 2009

Family Music Day - Years Ahead of it Time

Hannah Ellis, Family Music Day Co-ordinator talks about this year's Family Music Day;

With Back to the Future replays filling our screens, echoes of ‘Let’s do the Time Warp again’ ringing in our ears and Hollywood inviting us to meet the ‘Time Traveller’s Wife’, Britten Sinfonia has jumped on the time travelling bandwagon as this year’s Family Music Day promises to take you on a journey through the centuries. Our Creative Learning department is busy excitedly planning the day taking place at West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge, on Sunday 1 November, this year directed by Tim Steiner from CBBC’s Clash, who boasts a wealth of experience in family concerts.

This event has been hugely popular over the past few years (and we’ve nearly sold out for this year, so get your tickets fast!), and it provides the ideal opportunity for families to learn more about how music is played and composed in a fun and informative way. What’s more, you don’t need any prior musical knowledge to be able to enjoy the day!

As well as the usual fantastic workshops – percussion, gamelan, instrument building, and strings, wind and brass workshops – we’ve listened to what you have told us in previous years and as a result this year also sees the addition of singing and guitar!! There’s also lots of other activities going on throughout the day and at the moment we are putting together our Composers’ Time Machine (collective ‘ooooooooooohhhh’ please!), to be unveiled on the day! Not forgetting face painting, the Boomwhacker challenge and various competitions with fab prizes!

So as you can see, this year looks set to be even bigger and better than previous years, and with Tim Steiner captaining the (space)ship, you can guarantee everyone will enjoy themselves.

Forget the X Factor and even Britain’s Got Talent, Britten Sinfonia’s Family Music Day is the place to showcase your musical talent.

So grab your nearest flux capacitor and come and join us for a fun filled day!

Wednesday 21 October 2009

Christopher Hogwood conducts Martinu

Rehearsals are currently taking place for two performances conducted by Christopher Hogwood. The programme includes works by composers who are all celebrating significant anniversaries during 2009 including Czech composer Boshulav Martinu (see the full programme here). Not as well known as many fellow 20th century composers, Martinu engaged with a large variety of forms (from a myriad of chamber combinations to symphonies and concerto to opera and oratorio) and also embraced the tides of inspiration that flow through much classical music in the 20th century (including jazz, folksong and neo-classicism).

I own a disc of Martinu's chamber works performed by the Dartington Ensemble which I have tresured (and listened to frequently) for a number of years and I'm looking forward to hearing Hogwood's interpretation of one of Martinu's larger scale works - the Sinfonia Concertante. Inspired by Haydn the work is scored for solo violin, oboe, bassoon and cello with orchestra giving a chance for some of our principal players to shine under the spotlight.

The concerts take place on Thursday 22 October at West Road Concert Hall Cambridge (Box Office 01223 357851) and on Monday 26 October at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, London (Box Office 0871 663 2500).

Monday 19 October 2009


Last week we said goodbye to our Marketing & Development Assistant, Frances who is off to live in the big smoke, London and start a new job at Sing Up. We gave Frances a good send off - which involved doing some of the things she has never got around to doing in Cambridge. In the afternoon most of the Britten Sinfonia team went for a game of golf at our local club.

David (Chief Executive) had the best round - however the rest of us did well for complete novices! This was followed by drinks in the Elm Tree and a lovely meal at Mai Thai overlooking Parker's Piece in Cambridge.

We will all miss Frances at Britten Sinfonia but wish her all the best on her new job.

Wednesday 30 September 2009

Latitude Video

In July 2009 Britten Sinfonia were the first orchestra to perform at Latitude Festival in Suffolk. Here is a video which brings to life what it was like to perform at this brilliant festival.

Britten Sinfonia at Latitude from washmedia on Vimeo.

Wednesday 23 September 2009

A view from a student on work experience

A couple of weeks ago David Allen, a student at Cambridge University visited us on a two-week work experience placement. Here he talks about what it was like;

Ah, the life of a student. Lazy days spent doing very little indeed, the occasional lecture if you remember to get out of bed in time, no responsibilities and the drinks bill to match. In between the sessions spent watching reruns of The West Wing on DVD, however, thoughts occasionally turn to the future.

Which is why I’ve spent the last two weeks on work experience at Britten Sinfonia. For me, there’s no better prospect than helping to produce great music with a wonderful orchestra. I’ve been working in the marketing department, so there have been plenty of envelopes to stuff with promotional material for our new season, alongside the odd bit of filing and database updating.

There’s been more exciting stuff. My big project has been working out how to get more of my peers at Cambridge University to Britten Sinfonia concerts: hours of lateral thinking later, and I’ve come up with a cunning plan… Best of all, though, was the afternoon I spent with the Creative Learning department. We ran a workshop for Essex County Council showing how music could teach teamwork and leadership skills. I even made my conducting début in a quickly improvised piece for untuned percussion, chime bells, and viola (not a common combination, granted).

It’s been a brilliant two weeks, and I can’t wait to come back!

David Allen

We are pleased that David had such a positive experience (despite a lot of envelope stuffing) and are grateful for his hardwork particularly his suggestions on how to get more of his fellow students to our concerts. He's also promised to come back and help with some ushering (and maybe a bit more envelope stuffing!)

Friday 18 September 2009

A couple of pictures from Colchester

Here are two pictures from our weekend in Colchester as part of National Heritage weekend. They show Oliver Cox and Owen Gunnell getting a few tips on tabla playing from Kuljit Bhamra.

Monday 14 September 2009

Colchester Heritage Weekend

The orchestra have just spent the weekend in Colchester as part of the National Heritage Weekend. Performing in historic buildings in Colchester throughout Saturday and Sunday to create a unique musical tour which included five new commissions inspired by the buildings (Colchester Town Hall, Tymperleys Clock Museum, Castle Museum, Bourne Mill and Hollytrees Museum) the new works were performed in. I was based at Bourne Mill with two percussionists, Owen Gunnell and Oliver Cox who performed a new work by Colchester based composer, Michael Spearman. Bourne Mill is a beautifully preserved 16th century watermill set in tranquil grounds beside a stream and millpond. The weather was fine for the weekend making it a lovely place to sit and watch the ducks and geese playfully skimming the water in between the short performances. As well as performing the new work Owen and Oliver also played some jazz and classical music to the delight of audiences and the local allotment society who were having a fayre at the mill on Saturday as well (Oliver also took the opportunity to buy some weird shaped vegetables for his dinner that night).

On Saturday evening all the musicians came together for a concert at Colchester Arts Centre. The first half gave audiences the opportunity to hear the new works afresh and an audience favourite was tabla player, Kuljit Bhamra’s new work for violin and tabla performed at the Castle Museum earlier in the day. The evocative combination of violin and tabla thrilled the audience with many wanting to hear the piece again. During the rehearsal for the evening concert Owen and Oliver had a go at trying to play the tabla under Kuljit’s instruction – one of them definitely got the hang it better than the other (I won’t say which!) and we’ll have some photos of them giving it a go here on the blog tomorrow. In the second half of the evening Jacqueline Shave led the orchestra in performances of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, Arvo Part’s moving Fratres and Rautavaara’s The Fiddlers.

Claire (Marketing Director)

Friday 28 August 2009

Blog sign off

Today is my last at Britten Sinfonia, and what a great way to finish - I'm off to Glyndebourne this morning to see The Yellow Sofa. Way back in April 2007, when we were getting our digital act together, we thought Britten Sinfonia should have a blog and, for reasons I don't clearly remember, I took on the writing. Well, it's been brilliant fun trying to give a wider perspective on the orchestra's work, starting with our tour of South America (the very first proper entry being uploaded from Madrid airport at vast expense (it was pre-wi-fi)). Umpteen visits to Krakow, promotional visits to Spain and Asia, blogs on many of the multifarious composers we have commissioned, the tours around the UK, our collaborations with the Michael Clark Dance Company and the Royal Opera House, London Jazz Festival concerts, concerts in some of the most beautiful buildings in the country (not least our reegular haunts of Ely and Norwich Cathedrals and King's College Chapel here in Cambridge): it is a rich vein from which to draw, and I know the blog will continue to illuminate our work. I'm off to The Sixteen as Acting General Manager, so paths will cross...........

John Bickley

Monday 24 August 2009

The Yellow Sofa

There are two more performances of Julian Philip's new opera The Yellow Sofa at Glyndebourne, tomorrow and on Friday. I haven't seen it yet, but reports from colleagues and members of the orchestra suggest it is well worth trying to see. The libretto, by Edward Kemp, is adapted from a novella by one of Portugal's best loved writers, Eca de Queiros. It tells the story of Godofredo Alves, a small businessman who comes home from work one day to find his wife in the arms of his best friend and business partner. He determines at once to seek revenge. A tale of sex, a city and the seductive power of furniture.

Monday 17 August 2009

Cricket result

Closest match yet, but we still lost our third cricket match against Aldeburgh Music. Even with a brilliant wicket keeper (one of the Buddhist monks on our team from the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery). It was a Twenty Five/25 match, and Aldeburgh scored 96 in their alloted overs, before getting us out for 72. Brilliant Suffolk afternoon, as light rain gave way to warm sunshine. There are some pictures of the Snape mandala on On an Overgrown Path, the cricket being a short break from the intensive work its creation takes. I'll add some cricket photos in a day or two.

Wednesday 12 August 2009

Monks of the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery return for a cricket match

We welcome back our friends the Monks of the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery for our annual Britten Sinfonia vs. Aldeburgh Music cricket match, taking place this afternoon at Sudbourne, nr. Orford, in Suffolk. You can see them above at last year's match in Cambridge. The Monastery was founded in Tibet in the 15th century and re-established in exile in South India three decades ago.
Whilst here for the match the monks are also giving a concert in Snape Maltings tomorrow evening: 'the sacred world of Tibet is filled with the chanting of Buddhist texts, the recitation of mantras, the ringing of bells and cymbals, the blowing of long horns and the beating of drums.' There is also a programme of workshops, and on Sunday they will perform the Sand Mandala Striking Ceremony. My photo below shows the equivalent event outside King's College Chapel, a few days after last year's match.

Monday 10 August 2009

Pianos Day: first reviews

Geoff Brown in The Times on yesterday's Proms. I'll add more reviews as they emerge. Here's The Guardian one, just published.

Our BBC Prom

The sound (and view) might not have been perfect from my seat in our Loggia Box yesterday, but there was a fantastic atmosphere at our Prom yesterday. You can't really beat a sold out Albert Hall, especially when there are alot of family groups, excited children, and a packed Arena. All three pairs of piano soloists were good, but the Labeque sisters have that little extra star quality. Time was when admitting to enjoy their performances was akin to liking Girls Aloud; but that inverted snobbery seems to have waned - their experience and delight in entertaining shone through. Anyway, you can judge for yourself if you missed the live transmission: a few clicks via our website news pages will take you to the BBC iPlayer link to the broadcast.

Friday 7 August 2009

A breath of fresh air?

Conductor Charles Hazlewood's article in the Guardian the other day certainly seems pretty ironic here, when last month we actually played to more people outdoors than inside concert halls. It is, I realise, the silly season, but as there is increasingly limited coverage of serious music in the press, you would think editors could commission better-researched pieces. Traffic on our twitter feed overwhelmingly disagrees with him, too.

Tuesday 4 August 2009

Morlot and Meredith on In Tune

Conductor Ludovic Morlot, who joins Britten Sinfonia for our BBC Prom on Sunday afternoon, will be on In Tune on BBC Radio 3 on Thursday evening at around 7pm, discussing with composer Anna Meredith her new work Left Light which receives its first performance in the concert.

Monday 3 August 2009

Lidija and Sanja Bizjak

It is the week of our BBC Prom, when we are performing with three pairs of piano soloists, including Lidija and Sanja Bizjak. Full details are here.

Thursday 23 July 2009

Latitude Festival 2009

John, BS's usual blogger, was unable to attend Latitude Festival, so today's blog is from me, Frances (Marketing Assistant). The orchestra should, by now, have recovered from the intensely exhilarating and very tiring experience of being the first orchestra to perform a classical set at Latitude Festival. The festival itself is an ambitious undertaking - over 700 different artists performing over a variety of stages and arenas throughout Henham Park Estate, to an audience of around 25,000 people.

BS was performing on the Waterfront Stage - an uncovered area - which was beautifully positioned on the edge of the lake, while the audience encrouched on the shades of the woodland nearby. It was one of my favourite spots at the festival. Deck chairs lined the lake shore opposite the stage whilst the festival-goers streamed across the main bridge adjacent to the stage, connecting the festival entrance to the world of activity beyond. Giant flowers floated by, and multi-coloured sheep contributed an occassional bleet to our performance.

The whole Latitude experience is about openness, acceptance, and free abandon to try absolutely anything you can think of. Artists and performers are no longer so bound by genre and audiences seem happy to mingle between styles and artforms. Musical highlights from here in the office, to name but a few (!!) included Icelandic band Hjaltalin, Bat for Lashes, Fever Ray, Nabokov Theatre, The Irrespressibles, Sadler's Wells and of course Nick Cave!

Lizzie Ball made an excellent point in her video diary about audiences at a festival, and in particular the audience we met at Latitude. They're noticeably more relaxed, in no hurry to shoot off, or having to beat people (not literally!) out of the car park. Audiences could wander freely in and out and were readily showing their appreciation for our performance. Increasingly, but certainly not the same as in a festival environment, we see a more open response from audiences in concert halls, they don't feel so bound by the serious environment of our classical music venues.
Sadly, we didn't get to do an encore at our first set, time slipped away from us, but I think generally encores are always expected at gigs. But are they expected at our usual concert hall concerts? Does the nature of the works generally mean playing an extra piece could be overly lengthy, mood breaking from the carefully structured programme, or simply not in the frivolous spirit one envsiages for an encore. Nick Cave, interestingly, did not do one. The audience cheered in delight and wolf whistled approval but only the techies appeared to tacitly signal us out of the arena.

Playing outdoors (acoustics, wind, rain!) certainly makes for a more challenging environment, and I was pleasantly surprised by how well the balance and nuances of the orchestral performance were transmitted. Other highlights were the Loch Fyne food stalls (mussels!), compost loos (!), the random artwork dotted around and generally the cleanliness - people seemed much more considerate than normal festivals/gigs...perhpas due to the £2 cup deposit! I highly recommend Latitude for next year! See more pictures from Latitude

Fen Soundscape

Here's a video from our Fen Soundscape project. Since March 2009, children at Ramsey Spinning Infants School and young people from the nearby village of Yaxley have been working with professional musicians and composers to write, record and edit music inspired by the Great Fen.

On Tuesday 21 July, the results of all their hard work were displayed to the public for the first time at St Thomas a Becket church in Ramsey. On entering the church, visitors were greeted by the sounds of birdsong and a series of signs and arrows taped to the floor. Following the arrows around the church, they came across doormats concealing "trigger pads" which, when stepped on, triggered a series of sounds to be played from the speakers attached to the church's pillars. Sounds ranged from the peaceful (birds twittering - both real and as interpreted on flutes and violins) to the more startling (geese flying overhead, a simulated storm). The whole thing added up to a magical experience brilliantly recreating the sounds and atmosphere of the Great Fen.

A series of performances included young children from Ramsey singing some of the Little Songs for the Great Fen which they have written with composer Jane Wells, followed by a Britten Sinfonia flute quartet playing Mozart and Rossini. Speeches, including a polished performance from Yaxley teenager AJ Mulley, set the scene and explained how the Soundscape had been put together.

The exhibition continues at St Thomas a Becket Church, Ramsey, until Sunday 26 July. Entry is free, and the exhibition is open daily from 8.30am to 5.30pm, except during Sunday services.

Monday 13 July 2009

Tango meets Vivaldi

Astor Piazzolla's take on Vivaldi's ever-popular Four Seasons is - like all his music - very clever, but not in an arch or arcane way. It's hugely enjoyable and we look forward to playing two of the movements (Autumn and Summer) during our sets at Latitude this weekend. We are scheduled to be on the Waterfront Stage at 18.00 on Saturday and then again at 11.00 on Sunday morning (but look out for any last minute changes: we'll tweet any changes).

Tuesday 7 July 2009


Being based in Cambridge, we know the platforms at King's Cross pretty well. But those other types of platforms - the digital ones - are becoming increasingly vital to what we do. Our own digiSpace has created considerable interest, but we are always exploring new outlets for our digital material. Yesterday I went to the launch reception for Plushmusic Live's website It is still in beta but it's worth a look. The competition for this type of channel is increasing rapidly as more and more audio and video platforms are established, and different financial models are tested. One of my favourites is MonteVerdi.

Thursday 2 July 2009

Updates, multifarious

There has been so much interest in our appearances at Latitude Festival on 18 and 19 July that I thought you might like to know what we are planning to play:

BACH Brandenburg Concerto no. 3
PIAZZOLLA Autumn from Four Seasons in Buenos Aires
VIVALDI Concerto for Four Violins in B minor from L’estro armonico
PIAZZOLLA Summer from Four Seasons in Buenos Aires
BACH Concerto for Two Violins
with, as a possible encore,

Perfect, whatever the weather!


'It is Ibragimova's ability to pick out those melodies and shape them with deceptively unfussy nuance that makes her mesmerising.' Erica Jeal in the Guardian the other day, reviewing Alina Ibragimova's two concerts of bach's solo repertoire, part of the City of London Festival, in which we are playing tonight.

Wednesday 1 July 2009

Esa-Pekka Salonen's Stockholm Diary

The virtuosic Stockholm Diary for string orchestra was commissioned by the Stockholm Concert Hall Foundation for the Stockholm Phiharmonic Orchestra and Stockholm Chamber Orchestra to mark the occasion of Esa-Pekka Salonen's Composer Portrait at the Konserthuset in Stockholm October 2004. Salonen's work receives its UK premiere in our concert tomorrow night at the Mansion House in London. You can see the full programme here.

Tuesday 30 June 2009

Not one, not two, but six pianists

Anna Meredith has written Left Light for two pianos and Britten Sinfonia; commissioned by BBC Radio 3, it will receive its world premiere at our Prom on 9 August. We will be joined by no fewer than six pianists: Katia & Marielle Labèque, Simon Crawford-Phillips & Philip Moore, Lydia & Sanya Biziak. Full repertoire here, but as well as Anna's new piece, there are works for two pianos by Mozart and Lutosławski.

The afternoon of 9 August seems many hot, lazy days away, but I am flagging this concert up now because it is selling fast and I don't want you to miss out on tickets!

Monday 29 June 2009

With Henning Kraggerud at the City of London Festival

We are joined by Norwegian violinist Henning Kraggerud for our concert on Thursday at the City of London Festival. The movements of Vivaldi's ever-popular Four Seasons are interspersed with works by Erik-Sven Tüür, Einojuhani Rautavaara and Esa-Pekka Salonen, reflecting this year's festival theme, which focuses on 'the latitude of 60°N, connecting the Northern Isles of Scotland to the Baltic shores of Russia through music and other artforms. Like London, the northern cities of Kirkwall, Oslo, Stockholm, Helsinki, Tallinn and St Petersburg are historic maritime trading places and are also vulnerable to rising sea-levels as a consequence of climate change. We explore the nature of these northern places through the work of world-class dance and music performers, classical music composers and other artists. The environment and sustainability are common themes running through the Summer Festival.'

Friday 26 June 2009

Botanic Garden celebrations for Cambridge University Press

Our brass players are performing in the University Botanic Garden later today, at a garden party to celebrate the 425th anniversary of one of our major sponsors, Cambridge University Press. As I write, a major thunderstorm is passing over Cambridge, but this being England in June, there is every chance of it blowing over and the sun shining later.

Friday 19 June 2009

To Wyastone with Alina Ibragimova: Bach Plus

We return to Wyastone on 28 June for another performance of our Bach Plus programme, with Alina Ibragimova:
JS Bach Keyboard Concerto No. 5 in F minor
Berg Lyric Suite
JS Bach Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor*
JS Bach Art of Fugue (movements)*
György Kurtág Signs, Games and Messages*
JS Bach Violin Concerto No. 2 in E*

The concert contrasts four of Bach's works with two seminal 20th-century pieces by Berg and Kurtág. The unsurpassed master of counterpoint – the language of the Baroque – Bach wrote his 'Art of Fugue' as a definitive exploration of the fugue form. Three Bach concertos are played by ‘scorchingly good’ (The Times) young Russian violinist Alina Ibragimova. Kurtág acknowledges his debt to Bach in his Signs, Games and Messages, which includes ‘Hommage à J.S.B.’, an exploration of a Bach-like melodic line.

‘With Ibragimova, every tone colour is at her fingertips, yet she's never the mechanical doll. She's already gone beyond superb technique; she feels and lives the music.’ The Times

Wednesday 17 June 2009

Parthenogenesis at ROH: last two performances

'...but most of MacMillan’s score, which is superbly played by the Britten Sinfonia under the composer’s direction, is much more jolting, visceral and jittery: harsh, quickfire bursts of instrumental dissonance, or sweet, smeary consonances that are, if anything, even more disconcerting.' Richard Morrison in the Times on James MacMillan's Parthenogenesis (you can read his full review here). It is a dark tale, but with those searing moments which MacMillan creates with such intensity. Some critics have suggested the work is not really an opera; I disagree - it is certainly cerebral, but Katie Mitchell's production unpicks an 'unrealistic' story to make you think carefully about its central issues: the conflict between genetic science and virgin birth, what is a contemporary angel, and the uncomfortable mother-daughter relationship.
Amy Freston and Stephan Loges are the singers, and James MacMillan conducts.

Some tickets are still available for tonight and for the final performance tomorrow, 18 June.

Monday 8 June 2009

Katie Mitchell talks to Andrew Marr

Katie Mitchell joined Andrew Marr on his 'Start the Week' programme on BBC Radio 4 this morning to discuss her production of James MacMillan's Parthenogenesis. This opens on Wednesday at the Linbury Theatre in our co-production with ROH2. Listen again on iPlayer. Tickets for some performances are still available.

Tuesday 2 June 2009

James MacMillan: Parthenogenesis

Back now from half-term holidays, just as we gear up for our next project, a collaboration with the Royal Opera House. James MacMillan's Parthenogenesis opens in the Linbury Theatre on 11 June, with further performances on 13, 15, 17 and 18 June. You can book tickets here. I'll be writing more about this production in the coming days, but do listen to James discussing his work on our latest SinfoniaCast.

Saturday 16 May 2009

Paul Lewis plays Mozart

Our concert in Cambridge with Paul Lewis next Thursday is sold out (although you might be lucky and get a return: check with the box-office on 01223 357851). There are still a few tickets left though for the London performance on Monday at the Queen Elizabeth Hall: book here. It's a great programme, contrasting Richard Strauss and Mozart, with two piano concertos, nos. 12 and 27.

Wednesday 13 May 2009

RPS Awards double

We are delighted to win a second RPS Award, this time in the Chamber Music category: 'This award goes to a flexible ensemble drawn from an orchestra which further enhanced its reputation for innovative programming with a lunchtime chamber music series. Touring in the east of England, London, Birmingham and Krakow, this remarkably fresh project included a range of commissions from established and emerging composers, a collaborative programming process, and the opportunity to highlight the Britten Sinfonia's extraordinary artistry as chamber musicians and soloists.' This follows on from our RPS Ensemble Award in 2007, awarded when we were touring Brazil.

Wednesday 6 May 2009

John Woolrich

John Woolrich's Whitel's Ey receives its premiere in a few hours (I look forward to hearing it myself tomorrow in Cambridge). John has written: 'There is no tabula rasa in music: every piece of music is connected to something else, certainly other music, but also perhaps a poem, a picture or a person. Or even a landscape. Some composers have used landscape as a metaphor for the structure of a piece, others have attempted to evoke the atmosphere of landscapes real (In the Fen Country) or imaginary (Egdon Heath).

Whitel’s Ey started with a walk in the Great Fen and conversations there. Later I looked at John Clare’s poetry and journals and Iain Sinclair’s book, Edge of the Orison, which traces John Clare’s ‘journey out of Essex’. The piece grew out of the memory of the landscape and the texts, and also thoughts about the two resonant spaces where the piece will have its first performances. Iain Sinclair’s book gave me the title, Whitel’s Ey, one step away from Whittlesey.'

Tuesday 5 May 2009

Great Fen Project

One of Britain’s most exciting conservation efforts, the Great Fen Project is creating a 9,000 acre fenland habitat in Cambridgeshire. It will create a haven for wildlife and open new opportunities for business, education and recreation. Imagine walking for hours without retracing your steps in a vast mosaic of meadows, woods, streams and marshes.....

Britten Sinfonia is giving two concerts this week to raise awareness (and some money) for this project: in Peterborough Cathedral on 6 May and in King's College Chapel, Cambridge on 7 May. John Woolrich has composed a new work Whitel's Eye for the occasion, and there is music by Vaughan Williams, Sibelius, Britten and Mahler. Paul Gambaccini introduces the Peterborough performance, Stephen Fry the Cambridge one, and Alina Ibragimova is the violin soloist.

Tuesday 28 April 2009

Efterklang concert on YouTube

You can see some highlights from our concert with Efterklang last weekend in Leeds here and here. Photos by Antje Jandring.

Wednesday 15 April 2009

You’re Hired v. You’re Fired!

Our Creative Learning intern, Hannah Ellis, reflects on her time (so far!) at Britten Sinfonia: 'With The Apprentice’s latest reject, Majid, having been pulled apart in the boardroom and sent packing, it got me thinking – which is better, a day in the life of an Apprentice contestant with Sir Alan Sugar or a day in the life of a Creative Learning intern with Britten Sinfonia? For me there is no contest: one is the opportunity of a lifetime and the other is, well, working for Sir Alan! You might be muttering “She’s deluded! I know which I’d rather!”, but think again; for six figure salary or not, working at Britten Sinfonia is more my cup of tea (even if it is me making it!).
At a time when jobs were (and undoubtedly still are) few and far between, this internship provided the ray of hope that I needed, and if internships were the new rock n’ roll, then I wanted to be Elvis Presley. So what do I actually do everyday? Well, anything I do contributes to the aims of the Creative Learning department which is to enable audiences (schools, businesses, families, students etc.) to learn more about the music Britten Sinfonia plays and to get them involved in making their own music. This, however, ranges from putting together budgets and proposals for new projects, fixing musicians, securing funding, contacting schools, and liaising with venues; to paying musicians, organising travel arrangements and more recently, squelching in the mud with children from
a local primary school as part of the Great Fen Project (see Karl Heidel's photo)……to name just a few! And that’s only one month in! Of course there is the obligatory photocopying to be done and cups of coffee to be made (after all ‘intern’ can also mean imprison!) but fortunately there isn’t too much of it and I’ve taken to looking at it as ‘character building’! In fact the emphasis is much more on my personal and professional development hence why I have already been given my own project to manage and why I will also gain experience in marketing, concerts and fundraising whilst I am here.
Consequently, no day is ever the same because, a bit like that box of chocolates in Forrest Gump, I never know what I’m going to get next - unlike Majid and the other Apprentice contestants who face corporate task after corporate task. Hence not only do I gain broader experience and in a more interactive way but arguably I get greater job satisfaction and in a team that works together in harmony rather than competes against each other; this job is mine to make my own and mould how I want instead of jumping through hoops for the televisual entertainment of the nation (although don’t get me wrong, I enjoy watching as much as the next person). Talking of which, nor do I get ridiculed by the nation but instead work in an environment conducive to learning where I receive constructive comments rather than just criticism, and, unlike Rocky, a catering manager and the previous weeks’ reject who was fired after a catering task (ouch!), I am not damaging my future career prospects, but enhancing them.
As a French graduate, this internship may not have been the obvious choice but I saw it for the excellent opportunity that it is to mark out a career in events management. At the end of the day, despite our differences, what I and the Apprentice contestants have in common is that the processes we’re going through are all about striving for that dream job – it’s just that I get to do it in a much nicer way! One final way I trump Majid’s experience? He left with those immortal words “You’re fired”; I’m hoping I leave on a much better note! (At which point one of you might be lucky enough to be the new intern!)

Friday 10 April 2009

CD Review Disc of the Week and the Proms

Our recording of Lukaszewski's Via Crucis with Polyphony and Stephen Layton is Andrew MacGregor's CD of the Week on BBC Radio 3's CD Review on Saturday morning (and available for the following week on iPlayer). It will be at around 11.40. Our other BBC news is on our homepage: details of our Prom, announced last week.

Monday 6 April 2009

At Lunch on BBC Radio 3

Our most recent At Lunch concert series is being broadcast on BBC Radio 3 this week, starting tomorrow at 13.00. You can listen live or online or via the BBC iPlayer for 7 days after each transmission. Presented by Louise Fryer, there are new works by Charlotte Bray (Tuesday), Ryan Wigglesworth (Wednesday), Richard Harrold (Thursday), and the UK premiere broadcast of a piece by Polish composer Adam Walaciński (Friday).

Friday 3 April 2009

'Why we are shutting children out of classical music'

A thought-provoking piece in yesterday's Guardian from Tom Service, with a cogent analysis of the state of music education in schools. Orchestras' Creative Learning teams - not least ours - do brilliant work, but can themselves only reach a limited number of children each year.

Monday 30 March 2009

Fuseleeds09 with Efterklang

In a Fuseleeds09 exclusive and UK premiere, Britten Sinfonia and Copenhagen-based Efterklang come together to create a unique project, encapsulating the truly eclectic fusion, and pioneering, diverse vision of the festival.

Fuseleeds is a major biennial music festival celebrating the wealth and diversity of today's vibrant new music scene. When the festival launched in 2004 it broke the mould by presenting a programme that encouraged artistic risk-taking across genres through commissions and collaborations presented in new and exciting ways.

Our concert on 25 April at Leeds Academy will include John Woolrich's Stealing a March, Tansy Davies' Hinterland, and three Frank Zappa classics: Be-Bop Tango, Outrage at Valdez and G-Spot Tornado. Then we will present the UK premiere of Efterklang's score to their celebrated 2007 album Parades (The Leaf Label) for band and orchestra. The band will perform their majestic, otherworldly pop songs alongside Britten Sinfonia.

Box office details are here.

Thursday 26 March 2009

The news is out

Our visit to the Latitude Festival in July has been announced. Final details are being resolved (and will be on our website at the earliest opportunity), but this is another great chance for us to take our message about what a modern orchestra is about to a wider audience: see Charlotte Higgins in yesterday's Guardian (Budge up, Nick Cave and Grace Jones - Britten Sinfonia set to play Latitude).

Friday 20 March 2009

What are we listening to?

So, what are we in the Britten Sinfonia office listening to (the first of an occasional series............)?
'Eclectic' is a cliche, but best describes The Marketing and Development team's current range.

Frances' current list:
'Fleet Foxes (this one’s a bit trendy!)
Biffy Clyro (this one’s a bit EMO, eek)
Alphabeat (this one’s a little shameful, electro pop)
Red Arc/Blue Veil – by John Luther Adams (experimental)

I enjoy Walton’s incidental music for Henry V: Passacaglia, The Death of Falstaff, and Touch her soft lips and part. – I’m sure it must be a classic FM favourite

Lauridsen Nocturnes (I love track 9)?

Bartok, Allegro Barbaro is a favourite at times and String Quartet No. 6.'

Claire's current favourites:
'At the moment in the car I’m listening to;
Earth Wind and Fire – Best of – you can’t beat a bit of disco for late night driving after a concert
Eleanor McEvoy’s album Yola – fantastic Irish singer/songwriter who’s quite folky – saw her live at artsdepot last year
Brahms – Symphony No.1 with Bernstein conducting
Mexican Institue of Sound – Pinata – it’s hilariously good

And on my hi-fi the most recent things I’ve listened to in the last week or so are;
Kate Rusby – either Awkward Annie, Underneath the Stars and The Girl Who Couldn’t Fly – all fantastic albums – I’m looking forward to seeing her live again in April
Janacek – Sinfonietta – the brass opening is fantastic
Freak Power – Turn On, Tune In, Cop Out – heard them live at a festival last year and although the album is a bit old school its still great
Esbjorn Svenson Trio (EST) – Tuesday Wonderland and Seven Days of Falling – fabulous and such a shame Esbjorn died last year, lucky enough to see them live 3 times (I also love listening to EST Live ’95 on my ipod)
Finzi Clarinet Concerto with Richard Hickox conducting
Radiohead – The Bends – simply because it is one of the best albums ever
The Cardigans – Life – perfect for a sunny day
Satie – Piano Works with Joanna MacGregor – I lent this CD to someone and have only just got it back so its great being able to listen to this again
Nico Muhly – Mothertongue – research/finding out about music BS is performing next season
And of course Britten Sinfonia’s new CD Songs of the Sky!

Haven’t listened to my ipod in the last week (no long train journeys) – but most recently;
Amy Winehouse
Brahms String Quintets 1 & 2
Stravinsky – The Firebird suite
EST Live 95
Lucie Silvas – Breathe In (not sure whether I want to admit that one).'

This all makes my list a little prosaic!
The Sixteen's new CD of Purcell and James MacMillan, Bright Orb of Harmony

Anything by Christina Pluhar and L'Arpeggiata, especially their new Monteverdi CD Teatro d'Amore

Concerto Italiano's recording of Vivaldi's L'Olimpiade, starring the amazing Roberta Invernizzi
Amy MacDonald, whom I heard live at the V Festival last summer
Our own recording of Lukaszewski's Via Crucis.

More soon........!

Thursday 19 March 2009

Bach Plus with Alina Ibragimova

Alina Ibragimova joins us for Bach Plus in Cambridge (19 March), Norwich (20 March) and Inverness (22 March).

Music by J.S. Bach, Alban Berg, and Gyorgy Kurtag.

Friday 13 March 2009

György Kurtág

Opportunities to hear György Kurtág's music are all too rare, although the Aldeburgh Festival did something to rectify this last summer: Pierre-Laurent Aimard is clearly a fan. Our next project features Kurtág's Signs, Games and Messages , when we will be performing six selected movements:

I: Hommage à J.S.B.
II: Népdalféle
III: Jelek VI
IV: Panaszos nóta
V: Hommage à Ránki György
VI: The Carenza Jig

Jo Kirkbride has written: 'Born in Romania in 1926, Kurtág’s musical career began with piano and composition lessons from the age of 14, and it was not long before Kurtág began dreaming of joining Béla Bartók’s composition class at the Lizst Academy in Budapest. Sadly, news of Bartók’s death came shortly before he was able to join the Academy, but this disappointment brought Kurtág closer to a fellow student who was also lamenting his loss: György Ligeti. The two composers developed a lifelong friendship, built upon a shared outlook on music and an insatiable curiosity for life. Quoting Ligeti after his death, Kurtág noted their shared ambition, which rested on a desire to inspect and question at all times: ‘As different as the criteria for art and science are, they are similar in that those who work in them are driven by curiosity. The key thing in both areas is to investigate coherences still undiscovered by others, and to create structures that haven't existed until now.’

While typically concise and elegantly executed, Kurtág’s music sets out to explore the complexities of life and to distil these ideas into musical form. As Zoran Minderovic writes: ‘Spellbinding, expressive, mysterious, and deeply engaging, Kurtág's music is a constant effort to describe the indescribable, to explore the human microcosm, to shed light on the human experience.’ His fascination with the fragility of life derives in part from his interest in the works of Samuel Beckett, a trait which is reflected throughout his oeuvre by a fascination with musical games and signs, and with the potential expressivity of silence.

Signs, Games and Messages is itself a game, playing upon the titles of Kurtág's earlier works: Signs, Op. 5 is a work for viola written in 1961, Games for piano was begun in 1973 and Messages of the Late R V Troussova, Op. 17 was written between 1976-80 for soprano and chamber ensemble. Kurtág's ‘reuse’ of earlier works also extends to the musical material – a number of the movements from Signs, Games and Messages also appear elsewhere in earlier works, though Kurtág hoped that by ‘reassembling’ them into an alternative work he might draw attention to similarities and connections that would otherwise go unnoticed. This unusual approach to compositional development extends forwards as well as backwards: as well as reusing earlier material and ideas, Kurtág also leaves compositions ‘open’, so that they might be expanded upon and developed far into the future. As such, Signs, Games and Messages does not have an Opus number, nor a date of completion.

Among the movements being performed in this project is the ‘Hommage à J.S.B’: a musical tribute to J.S. Bach, whom Kurtág admired greatly for his finely-wrought, intricate compositions. Initially written for flute, piano and double bass as part of Kurtág’s Bagatelles, Op. 14d, the movement is built around a single melodic line by Bach, whose structure implies the coexistence of two different voices within a single part. Fascinated by this kind of structural game, Kurtág explores the developmental possibilities of the melody throughout the movement, effectively carrying out an analysis of Bach’s melody through his own composition.'

You can hear this work in Cambridge (19 March), Norwich (20 March) and in Inverness (22 March), during our Bach Plus concerts with Alina Ibragimova (violin).