Wednesday 17 December 2014

Brussels Sprouts and Christmas Carols

Ahead of the looming excitement of Christmas day we asked our Musically Gifted composers what they're most looking forward to and what they really think about Brussels sprouts... 

All of these composers will have new works premiered by Britten Sinfonia this season, find out how you can get involved on the Musically Gifted website. Watch our Christmas video here

Ben Comeau

What’s your favourite Christmas song and why?
Unashamedly highbrow response!  Any of Bach’s Christmas music, especially O Jesulein süß (O Little One Sweet). Poulenc’s four Christmas motets. Messiaen’s Dieu Parmi Nous for organ.

The one you really can’t stand?
I’m usually very eclectic in my tastes, but Christmas really brings out the very worst in pop music. The tropes and cheap tinsel of Christmas hits are so depressing. I could probably enjoy Slade’s Merry Christmas Everybody if it were an obscurity, but the Pavlovian response when it starts playing in a club brings out a rare misanthropic streak in me...

Favourite thing about Christmas?
Obviously (some of) the music. And if it ever snows, going out on a long walk.

Your Christmas pet hate?
The pop music...

Brussels sprouts, yes or no?
YES and then some! I could eat barrels of them.

Tom Coult

What’s your favourite Christmas song and why?
12 Days of Christmas – hands down the most structurally innovative of all Christmas songs. It’s a cumulative form with an irregular metre and irregular, additive phrase structure – introductory lines and the ‘partridge in a pear tree’ segment in 4/4, then incrementally adding 3/4 bars, excepting the 5th phrase (‘five gold rings’) which is in 4/4, after which point the melody of the following three phrases alters for each subsequent verse. I’ve done a diagram of the phrases in each verse – italics denote the changed melody after ‘five gold rings’:


The one you really can’t stand?
The Holly and the Ivy. The word setting is awful – all the lines seem to have different numbers of syllables that have to fit into the same tune, and accents fall on strange words. 'Of all the trees that are in the wood’ – very odd.

Favourite thing about Christmas?
The Father Ted Christmas special.

Your Christmas pet hate?
People moaning about Christmas decorations going up in October and November.

Brussels sprouts, yes or no?
No. Yes? Dunno. Was Pierre Boulez not available for this Q&A?

Iain Farrington

What’s your favourite Christmas song and why?
My favourite ‘original’ Christmas work is Britten's Ceremony of Carols: fresh, brilliant, and moving. To think it was composed on board a ship on the Atlantic during World War II makes it even more remarkable. Of the ‘traditional’ carols, I love the original 16th Century Coventry Carol which has such tension to it, unsettling major/minor shifts and uneven bar lengths. Also The First Nowell, especially as arranged by Elgar at the end of his The Starlight Express (nothing to do with Lloyd Webber!)

The one you really can’t stand?
Any of the contemporary pieces that are loaded with saccharine sentimentality, cloying harmony and butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-your-mouth naivety. Like having to eat an extra-large Christmas pudding in one go.

Favourite thing about Christmas?
The positive atmosphere, lights, colour, food and drink; all the best things to get through the darkness of winter.

Christmas pet hate?
Dewy-eyed and cynical TV adverts (Sainsbury’s, this year).

Brussels sprouts, yes or no?
Definitely, and all year round too. However, will we have to change the name if we leave the EU?

Joey Roukens

What’s your favourite Christmas song and why?
Although I don’t have any real favourites, I prefer the ‘classic’ Christian hymns and carols such as Adeste Fideles, Silent Night and Hark the Herald Angels Sing, partly because of their sentimental value – I used to sing these as a child at school and with my mother, and partly because they simply have lovely melodies that are both tender and solemn.

The one you really can’t stand?
Most Christmas pop songs I can’t stand, but if I had to pick one, it would be Last Christmas (by Wham!) which I find the most aggravating Christmas song ever penned. All I want for Christmas is you (Mariah Carey) and Simply having a wonderful Xmas time (Paul McCartney) are pretty terrible too. The thing is, even the great Christmas songs become vexatious just by maddening repetition during the Christmas season.

Favourite thing about Christmas?
Christmas dinner with family!

Your Christmas pet hate?
See question #2 – hellish repetition of the same annoying songs, all the crappy programs and movies on TV, massive consumerism.

Brussels sprouts, yes or no?

Nico Muhly

What’s your favourite Christmas song and why?
Well, let’s back up and say that the all-time best is O Come, O Come Emmanuel, because there is nothing more joyful than moving from that minor mode to the expectant major on the word, “Rejoice!"

The one thing you can’t stand?
Everybody losing their mind about Christmas before Advent starts. 

Favourite thing about Christmas?
Having the entire city to myself. Everybody peaces out and I can walk up and down the middle of the street.

Christmas pet hate?
I actually have no idea what this could possibly mean. Do you mean is there a thing my dog hates at Christmas?

Brussels sprouts, yes or no?
Firmly yes! You just have to handle them right. Sometimes raw is the way forward, indeed, and other times, the opposite.  

Monday 15 December 2014

Staff highlights from 2014

As 2014 draws to a close the Britten Sinfonia management team look back on some of their highlights of the year;

Nikola White (Artistic Planning Director)

"There are currently no Eurostar trains leaving St Pancras today"
. So, one of the highlights of my Britten Sinfonia year threatens to be spoilt by unexpected but somehow horribly predictable travel disruption on the Continent.....fortunately several hours later I'm listening to Bach's St John Passion in the illustrious Amsterdam Concertgebouw and can detect no signs of tiredness from our incredible musicians, just complete, utter focus and dedication to this miraculous work (the St Matthew just edges it for my Desert Island, but not by much).

When we first broached the idea of performing the St John without a conductor, it was in somewhat hushed, tentative tones; to pull this off would be quite something.  But under the imaginative direction of our Leader, Jacqueline Shave, along with Eamonn Dougan (our Voices Director), choir, soloists and orchestra became one, and it was incredibly moving to see their collective reverence to the piece expressed so clearly; Nick Mulroy's evangelising was worth a ticket in itself - sure, we all know the story but in his hands (or, more accurately, voice) it seemed I was hearing the narrative for the very first time. We had the chance to perform the work on five consecutive nights, including a performance at the Barbican on Good Friday, which was an infinitely more rewarding Easter experience than my usual: deciding which chocolate egg to eat first.....

Read the reviews from our St John Passion tour here

Elizabeth Hunt (Development Assistant)

My favourite performance from 2014 has to be Thomas Ades' Polaris at Sadler's Wells. The trouble is, I found it so amazing that a few words in a blog post really won't do it justice... plus, I feel the pressure of writing a good piece about it because I know so many of the team here were enthralled by it and wanted to mention it as a favourite (sorry, Will!).

As a dancer, I had been looking forward to the gig for ages, and it did not disappoint. I was blown away by the whole evening and had a brilliant time as a member of the audience on the night of the world premiere and as part of the Patron's Night receptions, held for donors at Sadler's Wells and some of our generous Friends and Chair Partners. I really did see the music and hear the dance that night; the dancers and the choreography brought the music to life, for me anyway. Not being an aficionado of contemporary music (I freely admit), I'm not sure the music would have spoken to me in the same way as it did with the accompanying movement on stage. I was totally immersed in the spectacle of Polaris, the final piece of the evening, with c.60 dancers on stage moving as one, all in black; and being surrounded by fantastic music performed by our players around the auditorium was just incredible. I enjoyed the whole evening, but Polaris... I'm not ashamed to admit I welled up a little from being so wowed and in awe. And my hands hurt from clapping. Got to love a good world premiere.

But, aside from Sadler's Wells, I'm also going to mention the Fields of Sorrow concert at Milton Court as part of our Birtwistle celebrations in May. I really enjoyed Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis and Flos Campi and following a brilliant evening in the company of lovely colleagues from the office and our musicians, I felt very proud to be fundraising for concerts like that; for amazing musicians and music which need to be seen and heard.

See some photos and read reviews of Thomas Ades: See the music, Hear the Dance here

Emily Moss (Creative Learning Graduate Trainee)

A particular highlight for the Creative Learning team was Britten Sinfonia Academy's public appearance in the pre-concert event for our celebratory John Woolrich at 60 concerts in London and Cambridge. A new year of talented young musicians performed two of Woolrich's pieces, one orchestral and one chamber piece. After an intensive weekend of rehearsals the academy members succeeded in presenting a polished and energetic performance and we are immensely proud of their hard work and enthusiasm. Having only recently joined Britten Sinfonia in September 2014 I have really enjoyed my concert experiences so far, ranging from Britten’s War Requiem at Ely Cathedral to the intimate wind quintet performance at the first At Lunch concert of the season, and I look forward to experiencing many more Britten Sinfonia concerts.

Find out more about Britten Sinfonia Academy here.

Annabel Leakey (Orchestra Manager)

It's impossible to choose a single project from 2014 as my favourite, so hopefully I can get away with picking two.... In which case, my first choice would be our mini tour of Bach's St John Passion, performed in the run up to and over Easter weekend. Even for a non-Bach-lover (an admission that's probably going to come back and haunt me in the future) the chance to spend a week absorbing the work in the distinct way you do when you follow a project through from initial rehearsal to final performance was wonderful. One of the most enjoyable aspects of my job is being able to watch how a project evolves. With a masterpiece such as the St John Passion, which members of the orchestra have played many times before with different conductors, directors and soloists, this means seeing how the ensemble, with its collective experience of assorted previous interpretations, gel together to create a fresh perspective on a work they already know well. My first visit to Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw (complete with significantly delayed Eurostar), a midnight supermarket trip for vital Easter eggs, and a 5am flight also ensured this was a project I won’t forget in a hurry…

My joint-favourite Britten Sinfonia project of 2014 has to be our tour to India. Too many experiences to mention within only a few lines, but memorable moments (for both delight and horror!) include meeting and getting to know the gracious Ali-Khan family, finding myself momentarily lost in Old Delhi on Indian Independence day – one of the busiest of the year, the realisation that anything cooked in South India is significantly hotter than anything else I’ve ever tasted, watching the amalgamation of Indian and Western musical styles come to life in Amjad Ali Khan’s Sarod Concerto, discovering that Tablas come in a variety of keys (it seems an obvious oversight, with hindsight), watching a huge bunch of enthusiastic and energetic children at Bangalore’s Samarthanam Centre join in with songs taught to them by Britten Sinfonia musicians, learning about the intricacies of the Indian visa process in a slightly-too-short space of time, and, finally, truly understanding the saying that Travel is only glamorous in retrospect.

Read Annabel’s tour blog – Part I , Part II, Part III, Part IV

Will Harriss (Development Director)

One of my favourite commissions of the year was right at the start of 2014 - a pair of works by the brilliant baritone (and composer!) Roderick Williams. That he both wrote the works and sang in their premieres was enthralling. Stepping back three hundred years or so, I was also mesmerised by our Eastertide performances of Bach's St John Passion. It was so complete a performance - excellent soloists, complemented by our musicians looking as if they were playing for their lives. Finally, our collaboration with Sadler's Wells and Thomas Adès was an absolute highlight of not only this year but, for me, the last few years. Exhilarating doesn't even begin to describe it.

Listen to Roderick Williams discuss his new work in a pre-concert talk podcast

Karys Orman (Marketing Assistant)

My highlight of the year would obviously have to be joining the Britten Sinfonia team in July! I'm very excited to be here and looking forward to what 2015 will bring... A 2014 concert highlight for me was hearing Britten Sinfonia in the Turner Sims 40th anniversary Gala concert, where it was announced that the orchestra will begin a three-year residency there starting next season. Being originally from Southampton myself, it was a real treat to hear the orchestra on home turf, the audience was clearly enjoying the performance a huge amount and this energy really rubbed off on the musicians, creating a brilliant atmosphere and some brilliant music-making!

Check out the Turner Sims Concert Hall website here

David Butcher (Chief Executive)

One of the benefits of Britten Sinfonia’s new partnership with the Barbican, is that we can propose ambitious artistic ideas, and collaborate to make them happen.  The semi-staged production of Harrison Birtwistle’s seminal opera last May, Yan Tan Tethera, is one such example.  Written in 1986 this was its first airing since the premiere and part of Harry’s 80th celebrations.  It’s a haunting and unsettling piece and akin to all great art, works on many levels.
Ostensibly a folk tale about a good and bad shepherd, it explores political and social themes, raising issues of prejudice and exclusion, as relevant now as they were in 1986.  Intriguingly described by the composer as a “mechanical pastoral”, it’s constructed with mathematical precision, musically and dramatically.  The two shepherds (brilliantly sung by Roderick Williams and Omar Ebrahim) emerge automaton-like as figures on an elaborate clock. They are underpinned by Birtwistle’s glistening, mysterious score, with its constantly vacillating "music of the hill" themes which, alongside Tony Harrison’s magically earthbound libretto, brings the story to life.

Yan Tan Tethera should be placed alongside the ground-breaking Punch and Judy, as a key work prior to his later larger scale achievements such as Gawain or Minotaur.  Moreover, in Yan Tan Tethera you experience the detailed musical textures and lyricism of Birtwistle’s instrumental craft, (sometimes obscured within the blocks of sound in his larger-scale works) and we can experience the visceral sensations of the wind sharking around the sarsen stones unveiling the mysteries which lie beneath. 

I hope this opera, alongside other works we performed last May (most notably Melancholia 1), demonstrates Birtwistle as a profoundly English composer, as much as Vaughan Williams or Elgar.  It’s just that Birtwistle’s vision is not one of green bucolic pastoral, but, as Andrew Clements so vividly described, “of something bloodied and cruel, rooted in pagan Albion.”

Read the reviews of Yan Tan Tethera here

Claire Bowdler (Marketing Director)

When I suggested this blog post to everyone and asked for their highlights of 2014 I hadn’t thought what I would pick myself – I’ve realised it’s actually quite hard to pick just one highlight – working with such a talented bunch of musicians and great programming team means that each individual project has something special about it. However if I had to pick one (as I expected everyone else too) it would have to be our project with violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja (or the much easily pronounceable Pat Kop). I’d never seen Pat Kop perform before but had heard great things from colleagues and musicians. In marketing terms it was a great project to work on as Patricia is a fascinating character and amazing performer – we had a wealth of materials to use  and worked in partnership with Wash Media to create a short film trailer which has been our most popular to date.

Pat Kop’s performances were energetic, fierce, impulsive, expressive and more. A highlight of the programme was Bartok’s Romanian Dances of which I had never heard such a frenzied, raw and exhilarating performance. I look forward to the next time we collaborate with this distinctive, virtuosic musician again.

Watch the trailer for our Patricia Kopatchinskaja tour here.

To find out what we have planned for 2015 take a look at the concerts section of the website.

Tuesday 9 December 2014

Sinfonia Students review - At Lunch 1

Sinfonia Students Carl and Simone share their perspectives on our At Lunch 1 programme (in rehearsal and in concert), performed in West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge, on Tuesday 2 December 2014.

Britten Sinfonia Wind Quintet At Lunch: A behind the scenes experience

I enjoy the concert experience - sitting down and watching one or more musicians perform with polish and flair. It is well known that performers spend enormous amounts of time in the practice room, yet the audience will never know any of that build up; a concept conveyed perfectly by this picture of an iceberg. As a performer myself, I have always been intrigued with knowing what went on before the concert. How do professional musicians prepare their performances?

I recently had a rare opportunity to listen in on a pre-concert rehearsal by the Britten Sinfonia wind quintet. Sitting very quietly in the top seats of the West Road Concert Hall, I listened for an hour.

The first thing to strike me was the different seating formation of the quintet. Compared to a string quartet, wind quintets allow more flexibility in regards to where the players sit. In my own experience, the following arrangement was common: (from left to right) flute, oboe, bassoon, horn, clarinet. The Britten Sinfonia players sat: bassoon, clarinet, flute, oboe, horn. Never experiencing such a formation, I was unsure how effective the overall sound would be. I was quickly won over. The bassoon and horn created a ‘surround sound’ bass line coming from left and right, of which the block of three treble instruments projected over the top. By the time the sound reached the audience, it was a perfect blend.

The quintet members did not rehearse every single piece from beginning to end - which I assume was simply not necessary, and they wanted to preserve energy for the concert. Their playing was interspersed with lively, humorous chatter and old stories of concert disasters. The group was clearly more than just five musicians performing a quintet recital; they seemed genuine friends. The issue of leadership in chamber music can often be a challenge, however the members all took turns at directing the flow of the rehearsal.

The four recurring focuses of their repertoire during the rehearsal were: communication (particularly who was showing the beat and leading in the other players), tuning chords, keeping a consistent tempo, and negotiating more effective places to breathe. As a student, it is reassuring to know that professional musicians also have to continue developing these challenging areas of chamber music.

My ‘behind the scenes’ experience ended as I quietly exited the rehearsal while the quintet had a break between pieces. I began to wonder how hearing the rehearsal would affect my experience of the concert. Though, as soon as the quintet sat down to perform, the events of the rehearsal moved to the back of my mind and I was overtaken by the wonderful blend of timbres. 

Simone Maurer (Sinfonia Student 2014-15)

Spectacular Jones, Graceful Nielsen

The wind quintet comprised from leading members of the Britten Sinfonia dazzled Cambridge with its virtuosity and musicianship, in bringing to life three contemporary works, and one more staple piece of repertoire.

Berkeley’s Re-Inventions and Seeger’s Suite for wind quintet were both lively, with the former offering a contemplative approach to the well known Bach repertoire, and Seeger’s exciting work showing the full breadth of wind quintet capabilities.

However, the lunchtime concert really came to life with the OPUS2014 winner, Patrick John Jones’s Uncanny Vale, a new work for wind quintet, which explored harmonic and timbral possibilities in a pioneering way. Creating a strange, eerie atmosphere, the work was altogether more expressive than Berkeley or Seeger, and really captured the audience’s imagination, exploring ideas of fantasy and the mind.

Nielsen’s famed wind quintet is a more familiar work in this size of ensemble, and offered the composer’s unique sonority and handling of tonality. The players from Britten Sinfonia worked well to produce a clean sound, resulting in a poised, elegant but nonetheless vivacious account of the Danish composer’s great work.

Carl Wikeley (Sinfonia Student 2014-15)

Monday 8 December 2014

2014-15 Britten Sinfonia Academy so far...

Our 2014-15 Britten Sinfonia Academy members have been meeting since September for workshops, courses and performances. Clarinetist, Morgan tells us what he's been up to during his first three months as a Britten Sinfonia Academy member;

I was very excited (but admittedly a little nervous) to be accepted as a member of the Britten Sinfonia Academy as I had never been in a regional orchestra before and I really had no idea what to expect. However, from the moment I first met Natalie, Mateja and (later) Emily, I knew I would have no problems at all!

I really enjoyed our induction day in September, when  I got the chance to meet the other members of the Academy, as well as some of the members of Britten Sinfonia itself. As I play clarinet, I particularly got to know Joy, one of the clarinettists in the main orchestra, who offered me help and encouragement which has improved my playing.  I especially enjoyed the improvisational exercises, including a Japanese compositional technique called shōgi. We sat in a circle and each of us came up with a musical idea and then began playing it. Up to five musicians were playing at a time - as one came in, one dropped out, and as the music continued round the circle, a very interesting and very strange piece of music builds up! Versions of The Rite of Spring and different technical exercises were interspersed with London Bridge and my quickly-made-up attempt at a prepared piano. People also used a variety of small percussion and their own bodies to create some interesting patterns - it was imaginative, to say the least. A particular highlight was Joy and her more-than-persistent spoken contribution ("Hey, you guys...") in a variety of styles.

Our first weekend course comprised a heady mix of new and old - Now, that we all knew each other - we concentrated on learning to play together as an ensemble. We covered Mozart's Idomeneo, Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune, Kabalevsky's The Comedians and Finnissey's Plain Harmony, with the afternoons dedicated to chamber music including Ravel's Mother Goose suite. All of these pieces allowed each of the sections of the ensemble their own moments to shine and presented each of us with a few meatier bits to sweat over a bit! But that is a good thing!

As the courses progressed, we in the Academy continued to get to know one another more through the lunchtime football  and some particularly fascinating conversation during the breaks - made more enjoyable by the seemingly endless supply of mini brownies and rocky road bites courtesy of the very important snack rota!

In November, the course weekend focused on preparing for two pre-concert events where the Academy was playing as a "warm-up" act to Britten Sinfonia.  We were all very excited - a gig! These two concerts were retrospectives of John Woolrich (a good friend of Britten Sinfonia) and some of his influences. The Academy as a whole played Woolrich's Stealing a March (dedicated to Frank Zappa) and a quintet played In the Mirrors of Asleep. Woolrich's style is wildly eclectic and very interesting (that much we all agreed) - what we couldn't agree on was whose part was the most difficult (I still think I win).

The next time we met as an orchestra was on November 20th at Milton Court Concert Hall (next door to the Barbican) for the first of the two pre-concert events - the following day, we were back in Cambridge for the second. Nerves were high and we were brimming with excitement. The quintet went first and was received brilliantly. Then the full Academy (with one or two loan instrumentalists from various sources) took to the stage. We triumphantly stormed through Stealing a March, and the applause was rapturous. It was in all honesty, one of the best experiences of my life!

I am sure, if the first 3 months are anything to go by, more fantastic experiences await! I am so grateful for the chance to be a part of the Academy. I hope I can continue for many years!

Clarinet, Britten Sinfonia Academy

For more information about Britten Sinfonia Academy click here

Monday 24 November 2014

Divine Purcell, engaging Woolrich - Sinfonia Student Carl reviews

John Woolrich at 60: Britten Sinfonia @ Cambridge 21/11/14

Divine Purcell, engaging Woolrich

Rich strings and pulsating rhythms transcended the concert hall, serving as an exposition of the thought processes and sources of inspiration for one of today’s great living composers. 

The pre-concert talk was a perfect introduction to the music of John Woolrich, for those who were not already familiar with his work. An engaging presentation, together with the help of the Britten Sinfonia Academy students performing two inspiring works, In the Mirrors of Asleep and Stealing a March, helped give an informative overview of the composer’s style, however it was unfortunate that the composer could not be in Cambridge for the pre-concert talk due to a sudden back injury. We wish him well in his recovery.

The introduction of Purcell and Wolf songs for soprano and strings and solo strings was sublime, with Woolrich’s arrangements of both coming to life in the hands of Britten Sinfonia. The string sound was beautiful, and the leadership of Thomas Gould was well-judged. Susanna Hurrell did an admirable job, standing in for Sophie Bevan at the last minute. Her voice was well-suited to the Purcell, and blended majestically with the orchestra.

Soprano Susanna Hurrell with the orchestra.

The two arrangements provided the perfect backdrop for John Woolrich’s first work of the evening, Ulysses Awakens, an intriguingly named work featuring solo viola, performed with consummate skill by Clare Finnimore. The work featured harmonies identifiable with both the Purcell and the Wolf, however it brought an endearing modal feel, hinting at a folk-type sound. Both beautiful and lively, to the listener the work was a pleasure. 

The first half closed with an admirable performance of Stravinsky’s Eight Miniatures, with Duncan Ward instructing the ensemble well, and with the composer’s ineffable sense of humour and rhythm pervading the work, so as to create a pleasing performance, and a spectacular Per pieta, non ricercate, by Mozart. Hurrell was again wonderful. 

The second half could be seen as being perhaps more conventionally judged, with the lengthy first section contrasted with a relatively brief final period, including two works which functioned symbiotically, so as to create a cohesive performance. Stravinsky’s Dumbarton Oaks, a neo-classical favourite, was effervescent and sparkling in its wit, with engaging rhythms heightening interest. The audience seemed once again enthused, following their mid-concert snooze. The star of the show, however, was Woolrich’s Violin Concerto, a fabulous and endearing work, which was performed in style by Thomas Gould, under the fantastic leadership of Duncan Ward. Ward’s simple yet effective conducting - efficient is perhaps the word - suited the work beautifully, as he brought a clarity to the music that was much-needed. The violin enjoys much interplay with the orchestra in this interesting work, particularly with the marimba, which was well-judged.  

Thomas Gould and Duncan Ward receiving applause after Woolrich's Violin Concerto.

The performance was well-received, and one cannot help but suggest that the applause given to the works of Woolrich was equal to that of the well-established repertoire, indicating the composer’s relevance today. A fitting celebration, and exploration, of the man, and the composer, as he turns sixty this year.

Carl Wikeley (Sinfonia Student 2014-15)

Thursday 13 November 2014

Meet Kitty Whately - mezzo-soprano

(c) Natalie Watts
Kitty Whately will be the mezzo-soprano soloist in an upcoming performance of Bach's Magnificat (6 December 2014) in London's Barbican Hall. She will also be joining Britten Sinfonia abroad in the new year as one of the soloists in an Amsterdam performance of Haydn's Nelson Mass (February 2015).

Find out more about Kitty in this blog post as she reveals her biggest fears, guiltiest pleasures and what animal she would be...

What has been the highlight of your career so far?
That's a tough one. I have been so lucky over the past few years to get to work with some fantastic people in beautiful places. I think I'd say working in the Aix en Pravence festival last summer. It was a newly commissioned opera by Vasco Mendonça, for just two singers. It was directed by Katie Mitchell, and I found her rehearsal process fascinating. It was a great part, and I got on so well with everyone involved. We were rehearsing in a beautiful old chateau in sunny provence and the whole period was fab. 

When are you happiest?
In my favourite place on earth, Aldeburgh, with my fiance Anthony and my 8 year old daughter, Ivy. Anthony and I are getting married there next year. 

What is your greatest fear?
Losing the people I love. 

What is your earliest musical memory?
Singing along to Paul Simon's Graceland, Katheryn Tickell the Northumbrian piper, and Salif Keïtar, an Afro-pop singer/songwriter from Mali and favourite of my dad's, on long car trips with my family. 

Which living person do you most admire, and why?
Oh that's too hard. I'll say my family- I admire my fiance for his kindness and his calm, positive attitude to life, I admire my dad for his hard work ethic, and his well-earned reputation for being an incredibly lovely collegue and warm person, and my mum for her intellegence, her wit, and selflessness and generosity towards supporting her family, especially me. 

What was your most embarrassing moment?
I can't think of any really. I must wipe them. I try to laugh at myself as often as possible so perhaps that helps me to not feel embarrassment? No, I really do. I just can't remember any. 
What is your most treasured possession?
My daughter. Can I say that? If not, my pillow. 

What would your super power be?
Hmm, if I could choose one? I would choose the power to click my fingers and arrive somewhere without travelling. 

If you were an animal what would you be?
A pot-bellied pig. I love food, and I already have the pot belly. 

What is your most unappealing habit?
Licking my plate after a delicious meal. I try not to do it in public, but my family have to put up with it at home. Waste not - want not. 

What is your favourite book?
How To Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran.

What is your guiltiest pleasure?
Watching X Factor.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
Jamie Oliver (to cook), Billy Connolly, Stephen Fry, Caitlin Moran, Jo Brand and Phil and Fern (Schofield and Cotton). 

If you could go back in time, where would you go?
To the era of Jane Austin. I love all that. I'd only want to visit though. I wouldn't want to stay there for ever.  
How do you relax away from the concert platform?
Cooking or watching cookery programmes with my fiance, and watching movies and eating popcorn with my daughter. 

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My daughter. Honestly, I know that's a cliche. But I really do. So often I look at her and I think "I made a human being in my body, and kept her alive! And she can walk and talk and everything!!"
What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
Happiness is a transitional state. You don't arrive at 'happiness' and live happily ever after. It comes and goes. 

In a nutshell, what is your philosophy?
Enjoy the happy moments while they last, and keep strong in the unhappy ones. Remember they will pass. 

Bach's Magnificat featuring Kitty Whately will be performed on Saturday 6 December 2014. More information can be found on our website.

Thursday 6 November 2014

Joey Roukens on composition

Composer Joey Roukens is writing a new work for Britten Sinfonia, which will be premiered on Wednesday 4 March 2015 in London's Wigmore Hall followed by performances in Cambridge and Norwich as part of our At Lunch 4 programme. Joey is one of the composers you can support through the Musically Gifted campaign. Find out more about Joey in this blog post as he answers questions about himself and his music...

How would you summarise yourself in one sentence?
I'm a composer with an eclectic (yet hopefully distinctive) musical language embracing the great diversity of styles and genres that make up our current musical age.

What’s your earliest musical memory?
Probably listening to my father’s vinyl records: mostly crooners, country and folk music. But I also remember a record of songs played by a Dutch street organist, which I was very fond of.

What do you like most about composing?
What I like most is when you stumble upon an idea that seems brilliant and you think this is going to be the masterpiece you’ve always wanted to write… only to realize the next day that the idea is not that brilliant after all and the piece you’re working on is definitely not going to be a masterpiece. For the most part, it’s not fun to compose: it’s an agony – 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration!

What inspires you?
Anything can be a source of inspiration – a good movie, a museum, a night club, etc. But what inspires me most is other music. When I hear music that really moves or excites me I get inspired to write my own.

When was the last time you experienced writers’ block, and how did you move on from it?
With each piece, I go through a stage of writers’ block, sometimes it lasts only a day, other times it can last many weeks or even months. Frustratingly, there’s not much you can do about it; it’s part of the creative process. What works best for me is to just accept it and take a break.

How do you feel about new music and what we’re trying to do with Musically Gifted?
In these times of arts cuts it is very important that projects such as Musically Gifted exist to make alternative financing of new music commissions possible. Musically Gifted is a wonderful initiative I can only applaud. New music that’s being written today must be performed today, for it has something to communicate to the audience of today.

What would you like to be recognised for?
Frankly, I don’t care. I just write the music I want to write and as long as there are listeners out there who think my music is worthwhile, I am happy.

What advice would you give to other composers?
I don’t think I’m in the position to advise other composers, but if I had to advise younger, aspiring composers, I’d say: Be open to the whole gamut of styles, genres and sources that the current musical culture has to offer. Embrace everything, question everything and write only what you want to write, even if you think you shouldn’t write it.

What’s your musical guilty pleasure?
I’ve got plenty: the lush film scores of John Williams and Morricone, Strauss waltzes, Bacharach songs, new agey ambient music, at times I can even enjoy a bit of Einaudi.

If you turned your iPod on now, what would be playing?
That could be anything from Renaissance vocal music to the new Aphex Twin album.
Favourite five tracks of all time?
That’s difficult to say because I have so many favourites, plus, they change all the time. So let me just give you my favourite composers. As of now, they are (in no particular order): Bach, Mahler, Mozart, Sibelius, Stravinsky.

The last concert you saw?
A concert with orchestral works by Dutch composers, including a piece by me, about a month ago.

If you hadn’t been a musician, what might have happened?
Either I would have become a researcher in cognitive psychology (in fact, I studied psychology at university, as well as music composition), or I would have ended up a tramp.

Which musical instrument do you wish you could play, and why?
The violin. Because of the enormous emotional range it is capable of expressing.

Is there anything else you want to share with the world?
No, enough said, just listen to my music!

Joey's new work will be premiered in March 2014 as part of our At Lunch 4 programme, which also features works by Lou Harrison and Shostakovich.

You can find out more about Joey's music by listening to some tracks on his website.

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Meet Clare Finnimore - viola

Clare Finnimore studied at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama where she co-founded the prize-winning Guildhall String Ensemble. Her musical career has included multifarious appearances as a soloist in a variety of festivals, venues and continents. She has been Principal Viola of Britten Sinfonia for the past 12 years, plays regularly with her chamber group, Britten Oboe Quartet, and can be heard on many a cinema soundtrack including Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, the latest James Bond film, Skyfall, and The Hobbit. She has also performed live with such artists as Kylie Minogue, Sting, Bjork and Florence and the Machine.

In this blog post Clare discusses various highlights of her musical career so far (as well as the odd embarrassing moment), her favourite pastimes and super-power of choice.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?
When you play music you love with people you love playing with it's always a high!

When are you happiest?

What is your greatest fear?
A world controlled by multi- nationals and the diminishing of the dawn chorus.

What is your earliest musical memory?
Trad Jazz at home and my parents jiving...The Beatles: Rubber Soul....Dukas: The Sorcerer's Apprentice....Holst: The Planets.

Which living person do you most admire, and why?
Camilla Batmanghelidjh- her big heart, determination and tireless work for vulnerable children...and of course her style!

What was your most embarrassing moment?
Asking a very famous singer/songwriter: 'Is this your son?' His reply: 'No, she's my wife.'

What is your most treasured possession?
A goodbye letter from my sister Jan.

What would your super power be?
I would like to be multi-lingual.

If you were an animal what would you be?
A cat in a loving home- what a life of luxury they have! But I would NOT kill birds.

What is your most unappealing habit?
At home, being unnecessarily fussy about recycling. But if everyone did it......

What is your favourite book?
Middlemarch, Pride and Prejudice, Lost London 1870-1945.

What is your guiltiest pleasure?
Freshly baked almond croissants.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
My husband, 2 sons and 2 nephews and my best female friends.

If you could go back in time, where would you go?
To the 60's - I would inject all the giant Elm trees so that they would still be here now.

How do you relax away from the concert platform?
Wine, tapas and friends.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Stepping up as soloist at a few hours notice for a live broadcast.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
To make every day the best you can.

In a nutshell, what is your philosophy?
I saw this recently on a park bench: "Love, be loved and never stop learning."

John Woolrich's piece for viola and orchestra, Ulysses Awakes, was written for Clare, and she will be performing this work with the orchestra on 20 & 21 November in London and Cambridge as part of the musical celebrations of Woolrich's 60th birthday this year. 

She will also be performing as part of our At Lunch 3 concert in February 2015, which will feature a new composition by Ben Comeau and string chamber pieces by Vaughan Williams and Beethoven.

Tuesday 14 October 2014

What's in a Miniature?

Francisco Coll
On Sunday 2 November Britten Sinfonia premiere a new work by young Spanish composer, Francisco Coll. Entitled Four Minatures, the piece will be conducted by Thomas Adès and performed at Saffron Hall, Saffron Walden. Francisco Coll studied at the Valencia and Madrid Conservatoires before moving to London as a private pupil of Thomas Adès (his only pupil to date), and a student at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. In this blog post we find out a little more about the piece he has written, which has been co-commissioned by Britten Sinfonia and Saffron Hall. Musicologist Ramón Sánchez Ochoa reveals all;

In painting, the miniature is a delicate thing; small and more often than not serving as a book illustration. The Four Miniatures of Francisco Coll, pieces of two to three minutes duration each, both are and are not ‘miniatures’ in a conventional sense. Slight dimensions – yes - and displaying a painstakingly thorough construction, but not illustrating anything per se; not directed towards an outside reality but rather sufficient within their own sonic effervescence. These are paradoxical ‘miniatures’, then, which simultaneously focus and enlarge, dilate and condense, the popular elements that inspire them. In his engagement with the vernacular, Coll does not follow the watchword of earlier Spanish composers such as Pedrell: he is not searching for the quintessence, the subtle perfume, of popular song. Rather, it is the obvious, the ‘obvious’ tradition which he takes and transmutes - sifting it through his unique and unusual aesthetic sensibility.

The first miniature opens with wild, frenzied chords whilst the frenetic movements of fandango evoke the distant echoes of heels and palms. Coll’s is a black and white Andalucismo, without picturesque flowery patios, close to a sound hallucination. While the violin clutches at a few ethereal pizzicati, the melodic line undoes itself through an elusive hocketting, a flickering between the eerie and the dreamlike, which ends in utter silence, met with knowing (and characteristically Hispanic) winks.

In the second miniature’s slow introduction, double and triple-stops stretch the violin’s torn voice which seems to both state and retract, reaffirm and refuse. After the rhythmic dissonances their tortured tango rhythm arises - not a tango de salón but an X-ray (the magnetised resonance) of an expressionist tango with all its coarse rhythms and cadences. After the storm comes the calm: following its initial arpeggios of the third miniature a lament for the violin arises before being gradually torn apart by glissandi. Of all the four pieces this is the one steeped most deeply in flamenco, with its augmented-second leaps which positively smack of the Andalusian cadence. Like a fine spring rain, the melodic line is diluted between the figurative and abstract (if these words have any meaning at all in music): it is a subtle pointillism between the known and the unknown, between what is said and what is guessed.

A frantic wind crosses the work’s final pages: brief repeated cells, like movie frames stuck in a deranged projector, move from near-inaudible pianissimos to the most extreme fortissimo, contrary and unrequited impulses that arise from the negation of their selves. Bar by bar, an imperfect circle surrounds, envelops and intoxicates us, carrying us with it. The Four Miniatures run like lightning. After the final notes we are left perplexed and fascinated by the distance between lyricism and harshness, between the fog and the foreground, poised on that thin, flinty edge that separates the serious from the comic.

Ramón Sánchez Ochoa

The concert takes place on Sunday 2 November at Saffron Hall, Saffron Walden and alongside the premiere of Coll's new work the programme features Thomas Adès' own violin concerto, Concentric Paths and his Piano Quintet alongside Stravinsky's Suite for Small Orchestra and Sibelius' Six Humoresques. Click here for more info and to book tickets.

Friday 10 October 2014

There’s something about print

For the past few months, one of my projects as part of the fundraising team has been working on developing new print for our annual giving programme. I’ve researched other giving print, collated ideas, helped decide on our message, developed the copy, worked with a new designer, our printers and the marketing team to create something that hopefully stands out and will encourage more people to give to Britten Sinfonia.

I know what some of you might be thinking: ‘in a world of digital marketing and social media campaigns, what’s the point in print? We’ve all seen the hugely successful selfie campaign and ice bucket challenge…’ But even though digital campaigns are important drivers of both marketing and fundraising we don’t want our print to get left behind because it’s important, too. You’re right that much of the information we print is available in some form online, but if you’re anything like me however much you might walk around with an iPhone glued to your hand there’s still nothing better than sitting down (or snuggling into bed in your pyjamas) with a magazine or a good book; turning the pages, feeling the weight of it (or lack of, depending on whether you’re reading Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries or Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea) enjoying the experience of holding an actual book with a lovely cover and beautifully printed pages... And, let’s face it, we get much more excited to receive post through the letter box than an email in our overflowing inboxes.

We decided to update the annual giving print for a number of reasons. The text was out of date (highlighting Britten Sinfonia’s 20th birthday while we’re now approaching our 25th) the cover image was dark and dated, and since it was produced over two years ago it feels like every orchestra has chosen to entice potential donors to ‘play your part’, and Britten Sinfonia is no ordinary orchestra. It was time for a change and for something a bit different.
Our previous annual giving print

After a lot of research and thought we came up with a few things that we wanted to achieve: something different, bold and eye-catching yet simple, concise and tidy. With our ideas settled we left the final design in capable hands and continued to work on our overall message and how we were going to communicate it.

Although our previous ‘play your part’ stance was, and still is, relevant, we think there’s much more to your ownership of the orchestra than that. There’s more to being a supporter of Britten Sinfonia than sending a cheque or setting up a direct debit and playing a part in financing our concerts. Everyone who is a regular concert-attender and even those who only come along occasionally should feel that the orchestra they have invested even a little bit of their time and/ or money in is truly theirs for the taking.

Instead of highlighting funding cuts and the need for more gifts from individuals, we have chosen to emphasise the positives: in spite of everything, Britten Sinfonia is growing and achieving more than ever before and it’s thanks to our current partners, donors and everyone who has ever purchased a single ticket. All of you have contributed to our successes and so each concert and project belongs to you. And giving, whether it’s your time in a concert hall or your hard-earned cash, is all about you and your relationship to us. You’re not just playing your part; we’re here because of you, so Britten Sinfonia is your orchestra.

Our exciting shiny new annual giving print

Nothing beats a good book, and (at least at Britten Sinfonia) it’s always exciting to receive a pallet-load of new print. I think everyone in the office could do without the smell of ink that lingers for weeks, but it’s great to write letters, stuff envelopes and post out our latest leaflet or brochure to our donors and audiences, because there’s definitely something about print.

Development Assistant

Wednesday 8 October 2014

Tom Coult on composition

Composer Tom Coult is writing a new work for Britten Sinfonia, which will be premiered in March 2015 in London followed by performances in Norwich and Saffron Walden. Tom is on the rosta of composers individuals can support through the Musically Gifted campaign. In this blog Tom answers questions about himself and his music;

How would you summarise yourself in one sentence?
‘Tom writes music, lives in London, and is amazed at the difficulty of this opening question.’

What’s your earliest musical memory?
Being played Jimi Hendrix in the car by my dad.

What do you like most about composing?
The occasional bursts of feverish excitement and productivity. And hearing my music performed well, although by then all the ‘composing’ is hopefully done…

What inspires you?
At the moment I can’t stop gazing at Oliver Byrne’s 1847 edition of Euclid’s Elements – it’s a beautiful publication using beautiful coloured, proto-Mondrian diagrams instead of words. There’s something in the boldness, geometry and simplicity of the illustrations that I wish I could imitate in music.

When was the last time you experienced writers’ block, and how did you move on from it?
I experience writer’s block every day – still haven’t found a satisfactory remedy…

How do you feel about new music and what we’re trying to do with Musically Gifted?
A commitment to performing and commissioning music by living composers is one of the marks of an intelligent and relevant ensemble (Britten Sinfonia certainly comes under both of those categories). It’s also essential that composers’ considerable work be valued and remunerated. Any scheme that raises money for new work to be written (and repeated) is well worthwhile, and this type of funding hopefully creates an extra level of engagement with the piece for those that are able to contribute.

What would you like to be recognised for?
Excellent sideburns.

What advice would you give to other composers?
Try to compose every day, listen to several orders of magnitude more music than you write, and get some good pencils.

What’s your musical guilty pleasure?

Sentimental spoken-word verses in songs – cf. Porter Wagoner’s Green Green Grass of Home, Elvis Presley’s Are You Lonesome Tonight?, and the granddaddy of them all, the Everley Brothers’ Ebony Eyes.

If you turned your iPod on now, what would be playing?

The Everley Brothers’ Ebony Eyes.

Favourite five tracks of all time?
Interpreting ‘tracks’ extremely liberally; Bach’s Brandenburgs no.s 1, 2, 5, 6 and the Everley Brothers’ Ebony Eyes.

The last concert you saw?
Rachel Podger directing the English Concert at Wigmore Hall – doing Vivaldi 391 with its scordatura violin… mind-bendingly good piece.

If you hadn’t been a musician, what might have happened?

I’d be making and repairing clocks.

Which musical instrument do you wish you could play, and why?

The tenor viol – viols are far more beautiful instruments than anything in the modern symphony orchestra.

Is there anything else you want to share with the world?

Hear Tom Coult's new work on Friday 20 March 2015 at London's Milton Court and then on Saturday 22 March 2015 at Norwich Theatre Royal and Sunday 23 March 2015 at Saffron Walden's Saffron Hall. Click here for full information on the concerts and to book tickets.

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Well isn't that Pinteresting....?

Being part of an orchestra's marketing team isn't always just about promoting concerts, keeping up to date with the latest marketing techniques, or sourcing biographies for performers... it's also quite often about cake.

At Britten Sinfonia we enjoy celebrating our staff member's birthdays with cake, and as our office team has grown to a mighty 14 members that means we get to sit down for a slice of cake more frequently than ever before! Not only do we all enjoy eating cake but quite a few of us are keen bakers. So what better way to launch our brand new Pinterest profile than with a board dedicated to just that: Office Cake. 

I was so inspired by the Blackberry and Lemon Cupcake recipe on our Office Cake board that I had a go myself! Sadly these were so tasty that none of them made it into the office...

Whilst being relatively new to Pinterest, I have found that this social media platform is an excellent way to collate all sorts of information, and has been relatively underused for sharing details about upcoming concert programmes and giving our audiences a better insight into the life of the orchestra off the concert platform. 

My favourite board is our Guest Collaborators 2014-15 board, where you can see at a glance all the fantastic artists who we will be working with over the coming season. It's a testament to the quality of the orchestra that these names include such a range of inspiring musicians (I was going to highlight a selection of the best here, but they are all so brilliant I would have ended up listing all of them!).

Music isn't just about what you hear however, and the visual element of a concert performance can be very important. It can also be fascinating, as our Onstage Fashion board demonstrates. It is sometimes easy to forget just how extravagant some concert dresses can be so we thought we would start collecting some of our favourites for all the fashionistas out there. 

One of our pins from the Onstage Fashion board - a quite extreme costume for a rather unique performance back in 2011.
To end with perhaps a more relevant note, our interest in Pinterest came about in the search for somewhere we could create a 'virtual birthday card' of sorts for composer John Woolrich, whose 60th birthday we are celebrating in concert this November. Why not have a look on our board John Woolrich at 60 where we will be adding messages from some of the musicians involved in these concerts, memories from working with John, and details for the two performances. You can even pin your own link!

We hope you enjoy seeing a slightly different side of Britten Sinfonia and keeping up to date through our boards, and remember you don't need to sign up yourself to have a browse through our profile...

See more at

Marketing Assistant

Friday 19 September 2014

Tavener's Kaleidoscopes - memories of the premiere

Britten Sinfonia Chief Executive describes the premiere and rehearsals of John Tavener's Kaleidoscopes back in 2006 which we once again perform in the coming weeks;

Over its relatively short history, Britten Sinfonia was fortunate to maintain a warm and productive partnership with John Tavener, one of this country’s most original and celebrated composers who so sadly died late last year.  Alongside performing his last major concert work, Flood of Beauty, at the Barbican on Sunday 28 September we were hugely honoured to take part in his memorial service at Westminster Abbey in June which was such an evocative and uplifting occasion.  These two events remind me that it was back in in 1994 - only the orchestra’s second year - that we first worked with John Tavener.   We premiered his large orchestral work Let’s Begin Again in Norwich Cathedral and from this point regularly commissioned and performed a good number of works over the years, including his oboe concerto Kaleidoscopes.  It’s one of my favourite pieces of John’s and written for our very own Nicholas Daniel, who is the inspiration and (literal) centre of the piece.  The premiere was back in 2007, and I recall the rehearsal well for a number of reasons: sitting next to John following the score with his publisher and close friend Gill Graham; hearing  the music for the first time (so obviously a special piece) with the opening transparent harmonies of the four quartets, so beautifully calibrated with the oboe rising to ever higher registers… and also being plunged into darkness towards the end of the piece, with Gill and I pooling our respective Nokias to shed light on the score, much to the amusement of the composer.

Kaleidoscopes is a piece which makes effective use of staging and movement to enhance the music, with the oboist circling around the four quartets placed like attendant planets at the far edges of the stage.  We’ve tried to continue these antiphonal, spatial and chamber music themes throughout the rest of the programme: The Mozart quartet, also a nod to Tavener’s musical inspiration; the thrilling Adams Shaker Loops in its original sextet form, but perhaps most notably in Kurtag’s two miniatures,  which has the musicians placed around the hall and the audience at the centre.  Many thanks to Georgy Kurtag and Thomas Adès who have allowed us to perform Tom’s arrangement tonight, originally written for a one-off private performance in Dartington, and is heard tonight for the first time in public.  

David Butcher
Chief Executive, Britten Sinfonia

Kaleidoscopes will be performed in London's Milton Court on Monday 29th September, Cambridge's West Road Concert Hall on Friday 3 October and Norwich's Theatre Royal on Sunday 5 October. Click here for full details.

Tuesday 9 September 2014

In the words of John Tavener...

John Tavener has been renowned for his spiritual outlook and beliefs, which held great influence over his musical compositions. With a roster of around 300 works to his name (most of which are included in the graphic above), deep-held spirituality and religious devotion are clearly-manifest themes that recur in virtually all of Tavener’s output. In the months following his death press articles celebrating and remembering this great British composer abounded and his impact upon our musical history remains considerable.

Britten Sinfonia is delighted to be part of the Barbican’s Celebrating John Tavener series this autumn where we will be performing two concerts, the first will be the premiere of Tavener’s last completed orchestral work Flood of Beauty (taking place on Sunday 28 September 2014), followed by a performance of Kaleidoscopes with soloist Nicholas Daniel (Monday 29 September – Sunday 5 October 2014, London, Cambridge and Norwich). The latter performance is a particularly special one for us as Tavener’s oboe concerto Kaleidoscopes was originally written for Britten Sinfonia and Nicholas Daniel back in 2006 and it will be an opportunity for us to remember our personal connection with this great composer. For more information about these concerts please visit our website.

We hope that our performances will express our tribute to this great composer so rather than say any more here is Tavener in his own words with a selection of our favourite quotes...

On Beethoven

“I discovered the late quartets of Beethoven. I never liked them much before, they seemed forced. But now I could see how they arose out of the transcendence of such huge personal suffering. They’re such wonderful pieces, somehow beyond any style. They could have been written at any time.” 
(Telegraph interview 2013)

On Stockhausen

"Stockhausen was a searcher after truth, too. I know there are inane things in his music, but in his later works he was really on to something.” 
(Telegraph Interview 2013)

On Stravinsky

"Canticum Sacrum is wonderfully archaic [...] What Stravinsky does is extraordinary. It takes you on a journey from Gregorian chant right through to the modernism of Webern – and all in 17 minutes." 
(The Guardian 2013)

On popular music artists

"I had whatsername? ... Bjork. Bjork round to dinner the other night," he said, "and I want to write something for her. I don't see why not. She's far more intelligent than most classical singers." 
(The Guardian 1999)

"I don't hate pop music," he says. "I liked the Beatles, but then I knew them." John Lennon was his favourite. 
(The Guardian 1999)

On Schoenberg

"I was recently moved to tears by the beautiful pain of Schoenberg's Second String Quartet. And I think suffering has got something to do with that. Suffering is a kind of ecstasy, in a way. Having pain all the time makes me terribly, terribly grateful for every moment I've got." 
(The Guardian 2013)
On Mozart

"I have always regarded Mozart as the most sacred and also the most inexplicable of all composers. Sacred, because more than any other composer that I know, he celebrates the act of Being; inexplicable, because the music contains a rapturous beauty and a childlike wonder that can only be compared to Hindu and Persian miniatures, or Coptic ikons." 
(Composer's programme notes: Kaleidoscopes)

On Handel

"Little Reliquary for G. F. H. is a humble tribute to Handel based on a misremembered quote from Solomon and scored for oboe, strings and countertenor. Solomon has always been my favourite work by Handel, and the aria, which I have albeit slightly misremembered, stems from my early years when I played it repeatedly on a 78 recording of Beecham’s orchestration of the music." 
(Composer's programme notes: Little Reliquary for G. F. H.)