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.