Monday 12 December 2011

Germaine Greer and Britten Sinfonia go Dutch!

In November Britten Sinfonia went to Amsterdam and Eindhoven for a series of chamber concerts and conversation with speakers from world of science, journalism and philosophy. Concerts Assistant James Calver gives us a reflection on their trip.

The Concertgebouw and Muziekgebouw Frits Philips welcomed Britten Sinfonia principals Huw Watkins, Thomas Gould, Miranda Dale, Clare Finnimore and Caroline Dearnley for a mini chamber tour in the Netherlands last week.

We were joined by Professor Germaine Greer, delivering a stimulating talk on the subject of biodiversity, as a prelude to a programme featuring Messiaen, Takemitsu and Cage. The event entitled ‘Sharpthinkers’ is the brainchild of the Muziekgebouw Frits Philips and forms part of a wider series providing a platform for eminent intellectuals to deliver lectures on their specialist topics.

In Amsterdam we discovered the beautiful surroundings of the Recital Hall of the Concertgebouw; built in the 1880s, the 478-seat auditorium forming part of the larger Concertgebouw structure proved the perfect setting for this intimate event. The experience was repeated in the similarly intimate, but modern surroundings of the Small Hall of the Muziekgebouw Eindhoven.

Huw Watkins’ flawless performance of two excerpts from Catalogue d’Oiseaux followed by Takemitsu Rain Tree Sketch I & II (the second of the Rain Tree Sketches, dedicated to Oliver Messiaen following his death in 1992) were very well received and complimented John Cage’s Quartet in Four Parts (1950) which rounded-off the evening’s proceedings. The Quartet is based on the Indian notion of the seasons (creation, preservation, destruction and quiescence) with its four movements entitled Quietly flowing along, Slowly rocking, Nearly stationary and Quodlibet.

The trip concluded with a rather unexpected, but very pleasant dinner at a casino in Eindhoven. I can assure readers that none of the party were tempted to have a flutter at the blackjack tables.

Despite the anticipated strike delays when flying back into Heathrow on Wednesday, our travel plans ran very smoothly and Huw Watkins managed to make it to the RPS British Composer Awards, where he received the song category award. Congratulations, Huw!

We look forward to returning to Amsterdam Concertgebouw on Tuesday 20 December to perform Handel’s Messiah.

James Calver
Dec 2011

Thursday 8 December 2011

Meet David Hill

On the last Sunday before Christmas we will be performing Handel's Messiah in Norwich Theatre Royal with renowned choral conductor David Hill. The concert will then be performed at Amsterdam's Concertgebouw on  Tuesday 20 December. Ahead of the events we asked David a few questions for our Q&A series, we hope you enjoy his answers below.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Conducting a Gala Concert at Covent Garden in which the Bach Choir sang ‘Belshazzar’s Feast, the Prince of Wales joining the Choir in ‘Zadok the Priest’.

When are you happiest?
When I’m with my family on holiday. It’s the only time I don’t work.

What is your greatest fear?
Being stranded on a desert island without music.

What is your earliest musical memory?
Playing the theme tune to Z Cars on the piano to aged great aunts and grandmother when I was three. I was equally baffled as to why I could do it!

Which living person do you most admire, and why?
Mariss Jansons: He is the greatest orchestral trainer living with impeccable ears.

If you were an animal what would you be?
I’ve always wished to be taller so a giraffe would be good.

What is your guiltiest pleasure?
Eating chocolate bars by myself in the car.

How do you relax away from the concert platform?
I enjoy cooking, drawing and reading.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
It was a long time ago but the first disc for Hyperion we recorded with Westminster Cathedral Choir won a Gramophone Award much to my surprise.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
Humility; the most successful people I have come in to contact with are some of the most humble.

Sunday 4 December 2011

Spirit of the Games - Creating a new Anthem for Norfolk

Britten Sinfonia Creative Learning Department has just embarked on a new project - working in harmony with local school children to compose an anthem for Norfolk’s Village Games.

Pupils from Framingham Earl High, Rockland St Mary Primary and Surlingham Community Primary School are taking part in the project, organised and funded in partnership with South Norfolk Council and Orchestras Live.

On Thursday 17 November, we headed up to Norfolk to meet 35 children from feeder primary schools, and 30 instrumentalist from Framingham Earl High School for a Big Ideas event.

Orchestral players from the orchestra, music leader James Redwood and librettist Hazel Gould held creative workshops throughout the day to encourage youngsters to come up with inspirational lyrics and music. The students were also joined by Active Norfolk, who ran Olympic-themed games and activities to get pupils into the spirit of composing the sporty anthem and Olly, Active Norfolk’s mascot also came along to oversee the proceedings.

By the end of day one, we had completed the outline of the song, entitled ‘Spirit of the Games’ had written a catchy chorus and were working on the melody for the verse. We all went away at the end of the day humming to ourselves.

The creative team will be back in January with the completed lyrics, to finish the compositional process, to develop the instrumental parts and some more vocal harmonies.

The finished anthem will be premiered at a special concert at Poringland Community centre on Friday 27 January 2012 with players from Britten Sinfonia accompanying the musicians and singers from the schools.

Isobel Timms
Creative Learning Director

Thursday 1 December 2011

Meet Roderick Williams

Next week we'll be performing Berlioz's L'enfance du Christ in London, Cambridge and Brighton. Baritone Roderick Williams will be performing in our cast of soloists under the baton of Sir Mark Elder. In our regular series of Q and A's Roderick answered a few questions;

What has been the highlight of your career so far?
That’s very hard to answer – perhaps singing on stage at La Scala Milan, even if it was for the ballet… but at least I got to stand in the Maria Callas spot.

When are you happiest?
When I’m out walking in the countryside with a clear blue sky and a beautiful view.

What is your greatest fear?
That something might happen to my family,

What is your earliest musical memory?
Recorder and singing lessons with Mrs Druce (or was it Mrs Juice?) when I was about four or five. She taught me how to hold my hands when I sing.

Which living person do you most admire, and why?
Bishop Desmond Tutu is probably hard to beat.
If you were an animal what would you be?
A dolphin.
What is your guiltiest pleasure?
Cornish clotted cream.
How do you relax away from the concert platform?
Walking, for me, is one of the simplest and best ways to relax mind and body, and find a real sense of perspective.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Probably writing the music for an entire broadcast of BBC R3 Choral Evensong. How many composers get that chance, even dead ones?

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
That it is never too late to learn and you can learn something valuable from anybody.

Friday 25 November 2011

Berlioz and Sir Mark Elder

Sir Mark Elder recently spoke to our programme note writer, Jo Kirkbride about his forthcoming performances of Berlioz’s L’enfance du Christ. Despite a career dedicated to Berlioz’s music the tour with Britten Sinfonia will be the first time he has conducted L’enfance du Christ, so it is a wonderful opportunity for him to embrace this unique work, as he remarks;

‘I can’t even remember ever hearing it live – since it is very rarely done. Of course I’ve studied it, and thought about it, and I think I have an old recording of it... I’ve been thinking about L’enfance du Christ for many months and letting it marinate inside me.’

Berlioz had been criticized by the French press for his style of composition. At a concert in 1850 Berlioz presented a short choral work entitled L’adieu des bergiers (The Shepherds Farwell) under the name of a ficitional composer – the critics adored it and this confirmed to Berlioz that it was his name and not his music that the critics were biased against. Emboldened with this knowledge he continued the work and it was finally completed in 1854.

Sir Mark says “Everyone thought that this was Berlioz finally learning how to write music but that is so short-sighted of them. What’s fascinating for me is that he conceived the work as a series of pictures, and that he then went about finding a sound-world for them. There is a deliberately judged archaic quality to the music that needs a great sensitivity and yet it must never be sentimental, it must never be filled with a false emotion. Everyone must trust the intimate, honest, direct quality in it.”

When talking about the drama and colour of L’enfance du Christ Sir Mark commented; ‘I am always reminded of those Renaissance painters who painted a series of smaller pictures which would be adjoined by their colours – I see this piece very much like that. Each particular scene has its own timbre. It is not a rich, twentieth-century sound but rather more restrained with little vibrato in the voices and instruments. One has to make the drama of the words live without being too respectful – you need to give it full blood. Thinking about this and getting to grips with this is something that I adore.’
Berlioz’s L’enfance du Christ will be performed in London at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall on Thursday 8 December, West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge (sold out) on Friday 9 December and Brighton Dome on Saturday 10 December.

This blog post uses extracts from the programme note for L'enfance du Christ by Jo Kirkbride which will be available online from Thursday 1 December.

Monday 14 November 2011

Meet Sarah Connolly

In December we'll be performing Berlioz's L'enfance du Christ in London, Cambridge and Brighton. Mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly will be performing in our cast of soloists under the baton of Sir Mark Elder. In our regular series of Q and A's Sarah answered a few questions;

What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Mahler 2 with Riccardo Chailly and the Leipzig Gewandhausorchester.

When are you happiest?
When singing with responsive musicians or at home, playing with my daughter.

What is your greatest fear?
Generally, fearing for my daughter's safety. Musically, forgetting my words!

What is your earliest musical memory?
Improvising nursery rhymes at the piano and discovering infinite possibilities.

Which living person do you most admire, and why?
The Dalai Lama. "Love is the absence of judgement". "Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength. No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful experience is, if we lose our hope, that's our real disaster".

If you were an animal what would you be?
A female wolf.

What is your guiltiest pleasure?
I'm not telling ! Second guiltiest ? Chocolate.
How do you relax away from the concert platform?
A glass of wine, a bath, reading a story with my daughter.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Giving birth to a wonderful child.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
Don't take anyone for granted and be kind.

Tuesday 1 November 2011

A New Addition to the English Choral Tradition

We're busy organising our next major project - performances of L'enfance du Christ with Sir Mark Elder. These concerts will mark the debut of our new vocal enxemble, Britten Sinfonia Voices and takes place in London, Cambridge and Brighton. Below Eamonn Dougan, Chorus Director of the new ensemble talks about the new chorus;

In England we are fortunate to have a choral tradition which has continued uninterrupted for hundreds of years. The cathedral and collegiate traditions continue to contribute many into the profession who are equipped with skills which will stand them in good stead throughout their careers, while institutions such as the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain continue their tireless and inspirational work in developing young singers of all ages. Choirs and choral works hold a special place in our affections and interests as a nation, something which is not limited only to those who regularly attend classical concerts. With television series such as the BBC’s Sacred Music and the recent recording by I Fagiolini (Britten Sinfonia collaborators at the 2010 BBC Proms) of a long lost Italian renaissance masterpiece claiming a place in the pop charts no less, choirs remain very much on our musical and cultural radar..

This season will see the inaugural performances by Britten Sinfonia Voices, the new regular chorus of Britten Sinfonia. The chorus will be made up of a mixture of emerging talent alongside more experienced singers – a combination in keeping with Britten Sinfonia’s ethos, so that the next generation of performers are cultivated by learning from those around them.

The initial two projects are seasonal favourites. First up in December is Berlioz’s sacred trilogy L’enfance du Christ with Sir Mark Elder. A dramatic depiction of Herod’s dream of a child who will overthrow him and Mary and Joseph being warned by angels to flee to Egypt forms the first part. Part 2 is their flight into Egypt (including the perennial favourite The Shepherd’s Farewell) and the trilogy culminates with their safe arrival and an appropriately heavenly final chorus. This will be followed in the same month by performances of Messiah, including a debut for the chorus at the Concertgebouw under the direction of David Hill.

These two works provide a wonderful platform from which to launch Britten Sinfonia’s own in-house chorus. While travelling on the tube recently I was confronted by a poster of Sir Mark Elder telling me that there are many ways to perform a piece of music, but one should never play it safe. This maxim will be at the forefront of my mind when we start rehearsals and will be one which we will aiming to keep to in the projects that lie ahead.

Eamonn Dougan
Chorus Director, Britten Sinfonia Voices

Wednesday 12 October 2011

Meet Will Harriss

In another post in our occassional series of Q and A's with soloists, musicians and staff our Development Director, Will Harriss answers a few questions. Will is responsible for all our fundraising initatives from individual donors to our friends scheme, corporate sponsorship deals to raising funds towards commissioning new works. Will is also the brainchild behind our Tenner for a Tenor campaign.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Raising enough money to fund two different orchestral academies. The second is a work in progress, but seeing it develop as we head towards its launch is totally brilliant.

Any low points?
Any project which can’t happen because of a lack of funds isn’t great. I hope there won’t be too many in my career, as part of fundraising is always to try and have a plan B should the unexpected occur. But there will always be some uncomfortable moments.

When are you happiest?
Up a mountain somewhere. Or discovering a new country. Ideally up a mountain in a new country, and preferably with my wife.

What is your greatest fear?
Being trapped inside a small box where no-one can hear me.

What is your earliest musical memory?
Not being able to play a piano piece aged 6 or 7, and having a complete tantrum as a result.

Which living person do you most admire, and why?
Jointly, it’s Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. They’ve really put philanthropy on the map, and I just wish that more people with extreme wealth would follow their lead. Doing something for humanity, such as helping to save lives, enabling great art, or doing something positive for the environment has to be better than acquiring a second yacht.

What is your most treasured possession?
My wedding ring. It’s a relatively new possession, and I’m looking forward to it being an old and treasured possession.

What would your super power be?
It would have to be invisibility coupled with the ability to fly like superman. I’d use the invisibility to avoid airport queues, although thinking about it I’d probably not need to land at airports.

If you were an animal what would you be?
A polar bear.

What is your favourite book?
An Equal Music, by Vikram Seth.

What is your guiltiest pleasure?
That extra glass of wine. I wouldn’t say no to combining that with a James Bond film. Oh dear.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
Ok, I might start with the Archbishop of York and Barack Obama – as I consistently admire their leadership. Paul Merton and Sandi Toksvig would be fun. I’d like a philanthropist like Bill Gates or Warren Buffett round the table. I might have someone like John Adams to provide a musical perspective on things, and I’d quite happily have Bill Evans on the piano in the corner. Gordon Ramsey can do the food. With that lot, I think I’ll need to take advice on the wine.

If you could go back in time, where would you go?
Probably to the time of the Romans. They were pretty much on top of their game with villa building, city building, and empire building. It certainly puts my house DIY into perspective.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you and in a nutshell what is your philosophy?
Try not to prevaricate – come to a decision and live with it (although for me this is still a work in progress!). Eat well. Laugh lots, especially in the face of adversity. Listen to those around you, whether it’s your family, friends or colleagues – although there’s a definite art to unlocking the right advice at the right time. Be positive rather than negative. Obstacles can nearly always be overcome with a positive approach – or at least approached from a different direction. Don’t ever be afraid to dance – I guarantee you won’t look as bad as me.

Thursday 29 September 2011

Two Virtuoso Violinists

Virtuoso violinists throughout the centuries have arguably, more than any other instrumentalists, achieved a ‘god-like’ status with the public. From the Italian Paganini in the 1800’s described as the first Romantic virtuoso, to Nigel Kennedy, who today is not only famed for his interpretation of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons but his work with musicians from other genres - violinists have both enthralled and entranced audiences with their brilliant technique and golden tone.

This October we will be exploring the artistry of not one but two violinists. We will be touring with Norwegian violinist, Henning Kraggerud who will performa specially commissioned work by British composer Piers Tattersall which explores the style of Fritz Kreisler – an Austrian violinist and composer of the early 20th century..

Henning is an artist of exquisite musicianship, who combines an unusually sweet tone and beauty of expression with impressive virtuosity, drawing audiences and critics alike towards the genuine quality of his playing. This summer, on tour in Mexico, Henning and Britten Sinfonia players established a great rapport with Henning and are looking forward to performing with him for our regular audiences in Norwich, Cambridge and London.

Part of the programme is a new work by the young composer Piers Tattersall. In the process of writing this new piece Piers and Henning discussed in great detail how the new work would develop and what the inspirations behind it were. Entitled Kreisler, l’entre deux guerres the work is informed by elements of the life and music of Kreisler. Perhaps the most popular violinist of the early 20th century Kreisler was known for his expressive sweet tone and brilliant technique. He played in what has often been described as a ‘cosy’ style and had a taste for ‘pastiche’. In the 1930’s Kreisler caused controversy when he admitted that a number of pieces he’d published which he’d ascribed to other composers (e.g. Vivaldi, Couperin and others) were in fact his own compositions. Kreisler answered complaints by declaring that critics had already deemed the compositions worthy and he explained his motive was to build well-rounded programmes for his concerts that would contain virtuoso pieces by established composers, rather than a series of pieces under his own unknown name.

Piers Tattersall’s Kreisler l’entre deux guerres is commissioned by Britten Sinfonia with support from the William Alwyn Foundation and additional funding from the RVW Trust. For more information about the concerts click here. The première will take place at Norwich Theatre Royal on Sunday 2 October and then tours to Cambridge’s West Road Concert Hall on Wednesday 5 October and London’s Southbank Centre on Friday 7 October.

Tuesday 27 September 2011

Read All About Red!

A Britten Sinfonia quartet consisting of Miranda Dale, Alexandra Reid, Sarah-Jane Bradley and Caroline Dearnley performed with singer-songwriter Emma Salokoski and guitarist / theremonist Jarmo Saari as part of the London Design Festival last week. The red dress designed by Aamu Song and Johan Olin is made up of 550 metres of plush red fabric and appeared in London for the first time as part of a series of events promoted by the Finnish Institute; eerily, but beautifully transforming the interior of the 1930s music hall, York Hall in Bethnal Green.

The dress, which has become a national treasure in Finland has appeared at several European venues including the Design Museum in Helsinki (2007), the Ourfestival in Tuusulanjärvi, Finland (2008), Elizabeth Church in Designmai, Berlin, Germany (2008) and Muziekgebouw Frits Philips, Eindhoven, Netherlands (2010).

Audience members experienced the hour-long concert from pockets around the skirt of the dress, the bodice of which was raised above floor level seamlessly rotating and pivoting as Emma delivered her performance of a number of Nordic tracks.

Highlights included a new piece entitled ‘Red’ written by Lauri Salokoski, Emma’s brother and a number of other tracks, some with ancient Finnish lyrics, many of which had been arranged to feature string quartet, previously performed at the Lake Tuusula Chamber Music Festival, curated by virtuosic violinist Pekka Kuusisto.
Britten Sinfonia got into the red spirit, dressed completely in red, with the addition of a rather fetching red hairpiece on the final night.

Events concluded with a red cocktail at a trendy East London bar. Certainly not an event to be forgotten and hopefully the beginning of a long lasting friendship with this inspirational team of artists.

Many thanks to all involved, especially Hanna Harris and Suvi Saloneimi at the Finnish Institute.

James Calver
Concerts Assistant

Photos copyright Thomas Skovsende

Tuesday 20 September 2011

Chariots of Fire!

Sunday 18 September saw a team of six Britten Sinfonia staff (well 3 office staff, one person on maternity leave, one violinist and one fiancé) meet on a gloriously sunny morning at an unusually busy Queen’s Green in Cambridge. We are a sociable bunch but before 9am on a Sunday morning is a rare occurrence but it was for a good reason – the annual relay race, Chariots of Fire, through the city to raise much deserved funds for charity! The Cambridge race has been an annual event since 1992 and this year saw over 1800 participants run the 1.7 mile course to raise funds for the

BS team from L to R: David, Sophie, Miranda, Hannah T, Hannah P, Will

This year’s Britten Sinfonia team was made up of our Chief Executive, David Butcher, Orchestra Manager, Hannah Tucker and her fiancé Will Bates, Principal Second Violin Miranda Dale, our Creative Learning Director, Sophie Dunn, who’s currently on maternity leave and myself, Hannah Perks, Marketing and Development Assistant. Our Finance Director, Rebecca Walsh, was on hand to make sure we were all in the right place at the right time and to be principal cheer leader for the team after an injury meant she was unable to run this year.

I’ve not been running regularly for very long and am still a bit of a plodder rather than elite athlete but other members of our team have been enjoying the benefits of running for years. With our team t-shirts on and race number, 255, pinned into place found a good spot for the team to cheer on our runners from...

The atmosphere on Queen’s Green was very friendly and the warm up led over the loud speaker got everyone going ahead of the race. As 9.30am approached our first runner, Will, headed to the start line...he got us off to a flying start! He surprised us all, and we nearly missed him come past us on the final corner, as his time was a fantastic 9mins 40ish seconds! Hannah T took the baton and continued the great work on the second leg.

Sophie and Hannah T

Sophie was our third runner and was still smiling as she came up to pass the baton to me at the finish/start line! I then bumbled round the course; it was great to see Rebecca and her daughter outside King’s College cheering us on. This was the first race I’ve done and the encouragement of spectators, stewards and other runners was great! The course weaved its way along King’s parade, through the back of Trinity, Clare and King’s before crossing the river and heading back along to Queen’s Green. As I passed my team members cheering me on I gave a final push to pass the baton onto David who was waving frantically at the start/finish line!

David and myself, Hannah P

He picked up the pace again and achieved a good time. Miranda had been keeping herself psyched up throughout everyone else’s runs and was raring to go when David handed her the baton. She also achieved a good time and the team had an overall time of 1hour, 21mins and 34 seconds!


Most of the team then enjoyed a well deserved bacon sandwich to finish the morning. Hopefully we’ll be back next year!Team BS with medals. From L to R: David, Sophie, Hannah P, Hannah T, Will, Miranda

Hannah Perks
Marketing and Development Assistant

Tuesday 13 September 2011

A View from a Musician

As the start of the 2011-12 season draws closer Principal 2nd violinist Miranda Dale talks about what its like to be a member of Britten Sinfonia.

Why Britten Sinfonia? For me it’s been the orchestra which has mirrored my career: as I left full-time musical education Britten Sinfonia was formed and our long-term musical affair began nearly 20 years ago. Since then we have achieved so much - our programming now stands firmly at the cutting edge of the international music scene and we are now touring extensively throughout the UK and internationally. This season we make our debut in both Dublin and New York both of which I am much looking forward too. The thrilling development of Britten Sinfonia has kept me inspired as a means of expressing myself both musically and personally.

Not a project goes by when we are not being stretched to capacity in some respect. Whether learning new techniques such as historically informed performances of Messiah, collaborations with some of the finest jazz or world musicians, or giving world premieres of new works by both established and up-and-coming young composers, each project involves a new and exciting challenge. I should at this point probably give further examples of musical genres which we are required to embrace but the beauty of Britten Sinfonia, I feel, is that there is no need to differentiate or categorise, music is just music!

All this clever programming and marrying together of like-minded international artists would not work, however, if the orchestra were not run in such a transparent and communicative way. In some respects we are all (musicians and management alike) artistic directors of Britten Sinfonia which is what makes us unique. I can think of numerous occasions over the years when I’ve had ideas about artists, players or the orchestra and have freely approached David Butcher, our Chief Executive, to be met with an enthusiastic response. Any problems are also handled with similar gusto and with a willingness to listen and act. In my opinion everybody pulls together, board members, management team and orchestral players to bring a dynamic, fresh approach to the modern chamber orchestra and the wonderful world of music.

Miranda Dale

Miranda will be leading the 2nd violins in the first concerts of the 2011-12 season which feature Norwegian violinist Henning Kraggerud in music by Mozart, Schubert, Berio and a new work by Piers Tattersall.

Wednesday 31 August 2011

Creative Learning visit to the Instituto Baccarelli, Sao Paulo

The Instituto Baccarelli is an amazing and inspiring organisation based in the favelas or slums of Sao Paulo. It provides high quality musical education for the children of the area. They run the Heliópolis Symphony Orchestra, and the students who are members of this orchestra are given financial support,so that they can dedicate themselves to their artistic development. The Instituto also provides musical education to younger instrumentalists and singers.

The view from the Music School - acres of slums and Sao Paulo in the background

To get to the Instituto we drove through rows and rows of higgledy-piggledy shacks, built one on top the other, before arriving at the Instituto’s modern building. We were welcomed by the Choir who performed to us and gave us an incredibly warm reception. Straight away we were put at ease by these wonderful smiling children. Through their performance I could feel their innate sense of rhythm and musicality as it seemed to just flow out of them.

This was my first ever time giving a masterclass and I loved it! Supported by a wonderful translator who was one of the string tutors, I spent half an hour each with 5 violin students – aged between 16 and 29. They all presented heavy-weight concertos to me, including Lalo Symphonie Espagnole. The standard of the students was incredibly high and they were technically advanced. Only being able to spend 30 minutes with each student, we spent most of the time on performance help – for example, how to project their sound to the back of the hall, or different ways to use the bow to get a variety of colours in their sound.

I found the students extremely receptive and eager to learn and develop and it was a joy to work with them. We were also really pleased to see some of the students and their teacher attend our concert later that night.

I was humbled by my experience of the Instituto, which is doing incredible work in extremely challenging circumstances. They are currently trying to raise the money to build a concert hall next to their music school – and we wish them all the very best with their venture.

Nicola Goldscheider
Violin, Britten Sinfonia

Tuesday 23 August 2011

Meet Henning Kraggerud

For the opening concert's of Britten Sinfonia's 2011-12 season the orchestra will be joined by violinist Henning Kraggerud. In this edition of our occasional series of Q and A's with soloists, musicians and staff, Henning answers a few questions.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Hard to single out, but probably Beethoven with Orpheus Chamber Orchestra in Carnegie Hall, but I also loved Tchaikovsky at the Proms in 2010.

When are you happiest?
With my family at Christmas.

What is your greatest fear?
You think I will tell?

What is your earliest musical memory?
Listening to Beethoven symphonies as a toddler.

Which living person do you most admire, and why?
Haruki Murakami, because he is like Beethoven in the way that he didn’t give up before he became a genius through hard work, rather than born a genius like Mozart.

What is your most treasured possession?
My violin.

What would your super power be?
Controlling the flow of time.

If you were an animal what would you be?
Pan-dimensional being, partly mouse, as described by Douglas Adams.

What is your favourite book?
At the moment 1Q84 (Haruki Murakami), but is has been Lord of the Rings, Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy, Never Let Me Go, The Corrections…

What is your guiltiest pleasure?
Peshawari naan and Madras curry with Cobra beer.

If you could go back in time, where would you go?
To listen to Chopin play maybe?

How do you relax away from the concert platform?
Reading lots of books.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Having 2 children

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
Not believing in easy answers you can write in one sentence.

In a nutshell, what is your philosophy?
Those who have both legs firmly planted to the ground go nowhere.

Henning will be directing and performing with Britten Sinfonia in Mozart's 4th Violin Concerto, Mahler's arrangement of Schubert's Death and the Maiden and a new work by Piers Tattersall. Concerts take place at Norwich Theatre Royal on Sunday 2 October, Cambridge's West Road Concert Hall on Wednesday 5 October and in London at the Southbank Centre's Queen Elizabeth Hall on Friday 7 October. For more info click here

Friday 12 August 2011

Tour of South America

I’m snatching some time prior to boarding my (14 hour) flight home to London from Buenos Aires. The orchestra meanwhile, after two concerts at the Theatro Colon and with concerts in Rio and San Paulo behind them, are now off to Montevideo and then a return to Sao Paulo for the final concert of this epic South American Tour.

Well so far it’s been a hugely successful tour. How does one qualify successful though? With this group it’s about more than the performances; more about the camaraderie and joie de vivre that also reflects positively on the concerts – a good example of how important touring is for achieving the highest artistic results. Certainly the strings have been on cracking form, led by the unique genius (a description I don’t use lightly) that is Pekka Kuusisto. His innate and edgy musicality inspires performances that are never the same and always electrifying. The rapport is there for all to see and was also evident with our tenor Allan Clayton, whose roles ranged from singing Purcell to Britten so movingly, as well as being our encore triangle player! Fresh in my memory this morning is an extra encore last night from Pekka for audience and orchestra: a Finnish tango (yes, really) with the violin plucked and strummed like a mandolin and the tune expertly whistled by our multi-talented soloist. The 2300 porteños who filled the Colon cheered their approval.

A few other random memories (from too many to mention)…

· A three hour tango lesson for the orchestra, and dancing into the early hours in on of BA’s finest tango halls where they took to the dance floor with many of the locals.

· An impromptu party in our San Paulo hotel after the first concert, where we were joined by
our great friend Angela Hewitt who coincidentally was playing in a concert in the same hall as us earlier on that day. (Angela wisely avoided Caipirnaha – Brazil’s national (and lethal) cocktail – being sampled by everyone, as she was due to play the Goldberg’s the next afternoon!)

· The BS running team following a route along Copacabana & Ipanema beach followed by
freshly coconut milk for all.

Ipanema Beach


· Too many delicious meals to mention, many a number courtesy of our generous sponsors Ashmore Brasil and Cambridge University Press.

· Entertainment (usually at airports and backstage) from two young recruits - Rachel Byrt’s and Suzanne Lose’s daughter and son respectively – Yoga, tango, monopoly all demonstrated admirably. On returning to school their answers to “what did you do the in holidays” should provide for colourful responses.

· An inspirational (and moving) workshop performance at the Institute Felix F. Bernasconi – courtesy of support from the British Council - with Pekka and 3 of our players and 20 or so young musicians from across Buenos Aires.

Young people in concert

· Some of the said young musicians reaction on seeing the Colon & mixing with the orchestra
backstage – awestruck!

Teatro Colon

I’m sure there will be more to report following the next three or so days in Montevideo and Sao Paulo before the journey home*… my flight’s been called so “ya me despido” for now.

Chief Executive, Britten Sinfonia

* I hear the orchestra’s Montevideo flight has been cancelled; the new plan is to go by ferry to Mondevideo (3 hours!) to arrive just in time for the show at 8pm! Let’s hope they make it!

Thursday 28 July 2011

Rivers of the World... Creative Learning Project in Buenos Aires

Getting ready for rehearsal!
Next week Britten Sinfonia is going to South America. We’ll play 6 concerts in 3 different countries. It’ll be a bit of a whistle-stop tour – we’re going to Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, then back to Sao Paulo and then home! Phew.

La semana próxima, Britten Sinfonia visitará a Suramérica. Presentaremos 6 conciertos en 3 distintos países. Será una gira relámpago por Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, São Paulo y por fín a casa!

On their day off in Buenos Aires, 3 members of the orchestra and our soloist Pekka Kuusisto will be spending a day with talented young string players who have been especially chosen by the British Council Argentina to take part in a concert at the Instituto Bernasconi.

Tres miembros de la orquesta, más nuestro soloísta Pekka Kuusisto, pasarán un día libre en Buenos Aires junto con un grupo de jovenes instrumentistas de cuerda talentosos, escogidos por el Consejo Británico en Argentina. La culminación del proyecto será un concierto al Instituto Bernasconi.

The concert will be inspired by the theme of Rivers of the World and during the day, the string players will compose a new piece inspired by perhaps, Rio de la Plata in Buenos Aires, the River Thames in London and perhaps some of the many lakes and rivers in Finland (Pekka’s homeland). The string players who we will work with on the 9th August have already started rehearsing other repertoire which they will perform in the concert, under the baton of the amazing music teacher Humberto Lopez from Northlands School, Buenos Aires. All of the pieces are inspired by water, so the students are practicing Scott Joplin, The Cascades, Argentinian Tangos called Orillas del Plata (Silver Shores) and Leyenda del Río (Legend of the River) and Claudio Griggio has composed a new piece called H20 especially for our visit.

La inspiración del concierto sera ‘Los Ríos del Mundo’ y durante el día, los instrumentistas escribirán una nueva pieza, tal vez con la inspiración del Río Plata en Buenos Aires, o quizás el Río Thames en Londres, o los ríos y lagos de Finlandia (la tierra natal de Pekka). Los instrumentistas con quienes trabajaremos el día 8 de agosto, ya empezaron ensayando otro repertorio, que se presentará al concierto, bajo la batuta de Humberto López, distinguido profesor de música de la escuela Northlands en Buenos Aires. Todas las piezas son inspiradas por el agua, asi que los estudiantes estan practicando Las Cascadas de Scott Joplin, los tangos Argentinos Orillas de Plata y Leyenda del Río, y además Claudio Griggio ha compuesto una pieza nueva, H2O, especialmente para nuestra visita.

We can’t wait to meet the students in 2 weeks time and to hear the result of their hard practice!
If you are taking part in this project, please tell us what you are doing, so we can learn about it before we arrive!

Anticipamos con mucho placer conocer a los estudiantes en dos semanas, y a disfrutar el resultado de toda la práctica dura.

Best wishes
Britten Sinfonia Creative Learning Team
Saludos de Britten Sinfonia
Equipo de Educación Creativa

This project is taking place through a partnership between the British Council and Britten Sinfonia. Special thanks to the Instituto Bernasconi who have let us use their fantastic concert hall.

Wednesday 20 July 2011

A new work by Luke Bedford

Will (Development Director) went to see a performance of Luke Bedford’s new opera, Seven Angels, at the Linbury Theatre recently.

“The opera shows glimpses of Luke Bedford’s stunning grasp of musical texture and colour. There are wonderful passages, with some fantastic singing too from the seven-strong cast (Rhona McKail, Emma Selway, Louise Mott, Christopher Lemmings, Joseph Shovelton, Owen Gilhooly and Keel Watson). I think we’re going to be in for a real treat when we give the world premiere of Luke’s work for our ‘At Lunch’ series as part of our 2011-12 season. His ability to control and nurture shades of light and dark will really work well in the hands of our players, and I’m particularly looking forward to hearing how it sounds when set against the Franck Piano Quintet, with all its passion and emotion – it’s a work I’ve never heard live before.

More generally, I’m looking forward to hearing all of our new commissions across 2011-12, from the likes of Elspeth Brooke, Charlie Piper, Piers Tattersall, and Jonathan Dove. Nurturing the future of music is vital so that we keep our repertoire fresh, relevant and alive. It’s no overstatement to say that hundreds of donors are helping us make our ambitious commissioning programme a reality, and helping Britten Sinfonia lead the way. It’s going to be quite a season!”

You can hear Luke Bedford’s new work for Britten Sinfonia in Brighton, Norwich, Cambridge, and London from 03 March 2012. The concert will also be recorded for broadcast on BBC Radio 3.

More Info

Wednesday 29 June 2011

Creative Learning in Mexico!

Judith Kelly leading a sectional

Ali Read in the full rehearsal

We've just got back from two extra days in Mexico working with the Carlos Chavez Youth Orchestra. While the rest of the orchestra spent Monday evening at the airport, I [Ali Reid] went with Judith Kelly (violin) and Bridget Carey (viola) to a hotel on the other side of Mexico City to meet with teachers from the youth orchestra.

We had a fascinating discussion hearing about the project which was founded twenty years ago: two orchestras of the best young musicians in Mexico form a school that the students attend daily. Their orchestral work is complemented by individual tuition from some of Mexico's top professionals as well as more wide-ranging lessons including Alexander Technique and movement classes with a dancer. Having told us about their work the teachers were keen to hear about the British system. We also discussed the difficulties facing music education on opposing sides of the world: some problems are the same everywhere, but they have unique challenges to face and were keen to hear our views.

It was inspiring to meet such a fascinating group of teachers together with the visionary Julio at their helm, and it helped to prepare us for the two days ahead.

Early the following morning we departed the hotel for sectionals with the violins and violas. We spent 3 hours with them (and a translator of course!) putting them through their paces with Britten's Sinfonia da Requiem and Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony. They were enthusiastic and really receptive: they have two concerts at the end of the week so were keen to work hard together before the afternoon's full rehearsal.

Having finished the morning we all piled onto two buses to go to the full rehearsal - packed lunches on the way! We arrived at a vast complex for the Arts in another part of the city. Not only is it home to a concert hall, but there's also a theatre, art gallery and dance studio just around the corner! This was the first meeting of the orchestra with their conductor for the week (Kenneth Jean) and he played through all of the programme, which also included a new Spanish work. We sat within the sections which was really useful: we could give some help as well as see how things felt in the thick of things!

The following day was a similar pattern of morning sectionals then full rehearsal. I think the three of us found this day even more productive. Having got to know the students and their playing we progressed quickly, and the full rehearsal that afternoon already sounded like a different orchestra. Sadly we had to dash to the airport straight from the hall, so won't have a chance to hear how they change towards the concerts. But we had crammed a lot into two days!

Before leaving we had several good chats with the students, who were also keen to hear all about musical life in England - we will hopefully keep in touch through the wonders of email! They are a really exciting group and the whole project is doing amazing things for the future of classical music in Mexico. An inspiring few days!

Ali Reid

Second Violin with Britten Sinfonia

Our Creative Learning work in Mexico was generously supported by Cambridge University Press, our International Partner.

Friday 24 June 2011

Photos from Mexico

The musicians and management team safely touched down at Heathrow airport on Tuesday afternoon following their successful tour of Mexico. We're currently hearing tales of tequila, beautiful concert halls and grass hoppers....

The following pictures were taken by our Orchestra Manager, Hannah Tucker;

Zocalo - the cathedral in Mexico City

The view of Cathedral square from the hotel terrace

Dancing in the square

Amy Wein and Bridget Carey enjoying a glass of wine at a reception following the first concert which celebrated the British Chamber of Commerce in Mexico's 90th anniversary

Violinists Miranda Dale, Kathy Shave and cellist, Juliet Welchman

Gillon Cameron and Ben Chappell talking to a guest at the reception

Walking towards the concert hall in Leon

Teatro del bicentenario - Leon

Inside Teatro del bicentenario

Rehearsing in Leon

Henning Kraggerud and some of his fans after the concert in Leon

Henning talking to some younger fans

Enjoying some food after the concert in Leon

Thomas Gould and Henning Kraggerud deep in conversation

The band at the restaurant

Walking to the Sala Nezahualcoyotl, Mexico City

Sala Nezahualcoyotl Concert Hall

Rehearsing at the Sala Nezahualcoyotl Concert Hall