Monday 12 April 2010

A View from a SinfoniaStudent on Work Experience

I was lucky enough to spend the first week of April away from my dissertation on a week of work experience with the Britten Sinfonia team. We had both brilliant sunshine and heavy rain in the same week, and the tasks I’ve helped with this week have been equally wide-ranging! The team here are all exceptionally helpful and friendly and told me about their different roles in the organisation in detail, Will Harris (Development Director) explained where the money comes from and who supports Britten Sinfonia; and Hannah Donat (Concerts Director) showed me where the money goes in her meticulous concert and recording budgets.

The internet is an incredibly important tool for all arts organisations these days, especially for an organisation like the Britten Sinfonia, which has regular concert series in three different cities and frequently tours the UK and abroad. The website is full of information about the orchestra and its concerts, as well as some interesting things like videos and, of course, this blog (which I’ve read several times on Facebook). On Tuesday I created web-friendly versions of the brilliant new publicity photos mentioned in the last blog entry. I then used these when updating the concerts page for the 2010/11 season.

Wednesday involved a lot of photocopying, as I helped Pippa (Concerts Administrator) with the library. We checked that there were no missing parts in the sets of hired music from this season’s concerts, and also took a record of the bowings in the front desk of the strings in case the same music was hired again. I then updated the OPAS database with all of this past season’s music. In the afternoon I sat in on the weekly Marketing meeting where Claire (Marketing Director) explained about the designs for the new season’s publicity material.

Thursday was the big day of the Britten Sinfonia and Polyphony concert in Trinity College Chapel with Carolyn Sampson. It was certainly a challenge loading the van with all of the music stands, lighting, staging, programmes, CDs and, of course, tea and biscuits for the performers’ rehearsal break. Hannah Perks (Marketing and Development Assistant) and I had to pack, unpack and repack a couple of times to make everything fit! Trinity Chapel was built in the sixteenth century and, as a soprano in Trinity Chapel Choir, I know how beautiful the building and its acoustic are. However, I’d never appreciated the effort it takes to set up all of those chairs! Brute strength is a definite requirement of this job, although Hannah Tucker (Orchestra Management) tells me that most of the venues already have seating in place…

The concert itself was fantastic and the audience clearly enjoyed the new works by Latvian composer Erik Essenvalds, who also gave an entertaining pre-performance interview. Carolyn Sampson was amazingly clear and forceful in Esenvalds Passion and Resurrection, and the percussion in Arvo Pärt was so atmospheric that we didn’t know if the concert had started or if it was chapel bells, but I have to say that my favourite item was Miranda Dale, Tom Gould and the Britten Sinfonia’s beautiful performance of the Bach double violin concerto. I joined the team of volunteer stewards to sell programmes, help people to their seats, and sell Britten Sinfonia CDs in the interval, and then helped put all of those chairs away again once the audience had left.

Because the new season will soon be on sale in Norwich, on Friday I wrote a letter to our regular subscribers there to let them know about the coming season’s concerts and the 20% discount and other offers that subscribers get. I helped to mail a letter to the Cambridge subscribers, inviting them to an interval drinks reception at the forthcoming Imogen Cooper concert at West Road, Cambridge. Finally, I helped Sophie (Creative Learning Director) come up with some Halloween names for all the events at the Family Music Day. Make sure you you ‘Come and Cackle’ with your ‘Little Spooks’ in October.

For the meantime it’s back to exams for me – but I’m looking forward to the At Lunch concert on 27th April where the Ravel Piano Trio will be perfect revision for my paper on Ravel!

Joanna Harries

All of us at Britten Sinfonia are extremely grateful to Joanna for all her hardwork during her work experience. Joanna is part of Britten Sinfonia's Sinfonia Student scheme - find out more about the scheme here.

Wednesday 7 April 2010


We’ve just uploaded the orchestra’s new publicity photos on to flickr! Take a look and let us know what you think.

Photographing an orchestra in an interesting way is always a challenge – trying to capture a live and dynamic ensemble is quite difficult with a static photo. You come up with an idea and then realise another orchestra has already done it or it dawns on you that it just won’t work.

For this set of images we worked with photographer Sussie Ahlburg. She’s photographed a number of soloists and ensembles in an engaging style. Firstly, we had a meeting with her to discuss what we wanted the new set of photos to convey and how we would be using them. At our meeting we realised the location for the photos was going to be key and set Sussie the challenge of finding somewhere that would be suitable. Sussie came back to us with some ideas and we settled on the Wapping Hydraulic Power Station. This is a fascinating industrial building tucked away in a corner of London. It is now used as an exhibition space and café/restaurant (they serve excellent coffee!) but still houses a lot of the machinery used when it was a power station.

Our next challenge was finding a date that the musicians could attend. We wanted a selection of players who represented the different sections of the orchestra. Britten Sinfonia is made up of a core group of freelance musicians and as with all freelancers it’s always difficult to get them in one place at the same time!

Eventually it all came together and late last year we congregated at Wapping Power Station. Once all the lights had been set, furniture moved and the make-up artists had done their work it was time to start the shoot. Sussie started with the smaller group photos and then on to the whole group. Sussie’s experience paid off as she worked fast to capture the smaller and whole group shots; standing around for even a short amount of time can lead to people looking bored in still shots. After these photos we then moved on to individual portraits of some members of the orchestra which will be great to use in programmes or online when they feature in a specific concert.

We’re all really pleased with the results of the photos and will be using them online, in print and for press purposes for the coming season. Hope you like them too!

Claire (Marketing Director)