Wednesday 28 May 2014

"Composers, Performers and their Audiences" - an account

Over the 2013-14 season Britten Sinfonia has been collaborating with the Guildhall School of Music & Drama and the Research Centre for Musical Performance as Creative Practice on a research project entitled "Composers, Performers and their Audiences" as part of the Guildhall's Understanding Audiences programme. The main project research aimed to investigate how audience members experiences of new work is affected by their level of participation and also what kinds of exchange composers and audiences most value in relation to new work. In the following article student research participant, Jane Salmon gives an  account of the project and how it has influenced her:

In Mid October, 2013, I received an invitation to participate in an audience engagement project, ‘Composers, Performers and their Audiences’. While the opportunity for free tickets to see  Britten Sinfonia was inviting, what really enticed me was the opportunity to observe a professional ensemble in situations that would be new to me.  My participation has been highly influential on my own activities.

Thursday, 7th November 2013

This introduction to the project was fascinating; I met many interesting people from Guildhall, somewhere I always considered to be quite small, that I had not known before. The questions presented in the session led to some interesting ideas about the project ahead and set up the open and group-led dynamic that continued over the next few months.

Sunday, 24th November 2013 - Britten Sinfonia & Pekka Kuusisto concert

After a short meeting, the group joined the audience participants to observe the second half of Britten Sinfonia’s rehearsal for their evening concert. It was interesting to experience the atmosphere and work ethic, particularly in relation to their repertoire.

The post-rehearsal discussion, chaired by Barry Ife, involved the fascinating Judith Weir, Pekka Kuuisto, David Butcher and Caroline Dearnley. At this time, I had not really attended discussions like these but this really changed my concert experience. I entered the concert hall with an excitement that flowed from a greater understanding of the motivation of the people who had put the concert together, and from having discussed their approach to maximizing audience engagement.  Their collective honesty about the concert made such an impact.

The concert was a great success. Asking the audience to refrain from clapping between pieces was effective, and something I had never experienced.  The atmosphere created by the ensemble left me intrigued. The use of lighting and continuous change of ensemble size really suited both the programme and the venue.

The day closed with a questionnaire, which was interesting to fill out immediately after the concert.  There was a noticeably concentrated atmosphere in the room – everyone seemed very mesmerized by the whole day.

Friday, 14th February - Britten Sinfonia & Imogen Cooper concert

Unfortunately  I was unable to attend this event. Since the close of the research project I have received and listened through a recording of the post concert discussion.

Saturday, 1st March - Conference

Composers, performers and their audiences: exploring dialogue and interaction

This busy conference day was one of the most inspiring days of the project. Discussing findings from the research over the last few months was very interesting and noticeably important to address.  The decision to seat everyone on mixed tables was important to the effect of the day, the opportunity to meet such a variety of guests from the music industry was invaluable.  My group (Julia Ient (ACE), myself, Bill Lloyd (Aldeburgh music), John Sloboda, Marion Caldwell (GSMD postgrad performer) was well balanced and the resulting variety of opinions during the discussions were very interesting.

The afternoon’s presentations on related research initiatives tied in nicely with the findings and presented contrasting ideas of ‘the audience’.

Friday, 4th April , 11:00am - Research Close

Despite a small turn out, this session was very valuable to the project. The opportunity to feedback and discuss the project as a whole was very important for me as a participant and it was really interesting to be able to compare and discuss thoughts with another participant.

Further Influences

Being a part of this research project has influenced me greatly, and the variety of impacts this has sparked has proved quite hard to put to paper. Therefore, I would like to discuss two things: a chamber concert I organised in late March, and secondly, some future plans.

Chamber Performance – Saturday, 22nd March, 2014

As part of my course as a BMus 4 student, I have to put together an ‘Independent Performance Project’. Since my first thoughts of what I’d like to do for this, I always wanted to use my chamber ensemble, The Barbican Trombone Quartet. Scheduled for the evening of March 22nd, my planning for the event ran alongside this research project, and naturally this project was a huge influence on the planning and success of this concert.

While I am entirely dedicated to the trombone and think it is a beautiful (and admittedly an indulgent) instrument, I understand that it may not be the first thought that comes to mind when a chamber concert is mentioned. I believe that effective promotion, alongside reputation have a huge part to play in bringing in audience to events like this.  I used social media, a lot of honest emails and carefully thought out ticketing prices to invite in an audience – one that turned out a lot larger than expected.

The idea of being open and ‘revealing the mysterious’ is something that really interested me with Britten Sinfonia’s work.  I can really see the importance of doing this sometimes; we live in an almost ‘access all areas’ culture and I feel the excitement and honesty of doing something like opening up a rehearsal could be very effective. I also really like that Britten Sinfonia constantly adapts this ‘open’ idea whether it be through education work, schemes, pre and post concert discussions or similar ideas.  I also think the ensembles decision to keep other performances and rehearsals  ‘traditional’ is as important. With this in mind, I wanted to find a way to present my own performance and the music it included in an honest and open way; I chose to write a script.  It was important to make the evening relatable, as I was aware a lot of the audience had not previously experienced brass chamber music, let alone a trombone ensemble.  Due to the size of venue, and the provision of an induction loop, we needed to use a microphone to speak to the audience.  To make these ‘speech’ breaks worth the journey I decided to write a script that expanded on the programme notes, delivered by the quartet members in rotation, allowing them to show their personalities.  I was wary of this seeming unnatural, so we all had the opportunity to adapt the script so it read how each of us would naturally speak.

Programming for the evening was vital: not only did I have the task of filling a two-part concert with trombone music, but my key hope was to keep the audience engaged.  This was where the fantastic Pekka Kuusisto’s discussion and approach really came to mind. I wanted to create a programme that had a flow and understanding to it, with each piece having a true purpose for being programmed.  In addition, I wanted to include works that are less performed and include some of my own arrangements and editions.  To mention one, I edited a core piece of trombone quartet repertoire – Beethoven’s Drei Equale for special performance with organ.  In my printed edition I wrote a short note about my choices, which was read before the performance;

Now arguably one of the most important works in the history of the trombone, Ludwig van Beethoven’s Drei Equale seems to be written for the trombone true to its theological meaning – a symbol of divine presence, the voice of the angels and instrument of judgment. The origin of this composition was a commission for a piece for four trombones, specifically for performance in Linz Cathedral on All Soul’s Day, 1812.

Later, in 1827, when the fate of Beethoven's illness seemed inevitable, Ignaz von Seyfried requested that the words of the Psalm 'Miserere' were put to two of the Equale, perhaps with the idea that the 'Prince of Musicians' could be accompanied to his last resting place by his own sublime composition. Based on an authentic account of Beethoven’s funeral, this arrangement includes a translation of the organ part, which, along with the chorus parts, was written specifically for this occasion. While not performed at the funeral, the second Poco adagio equale has been kept in this arrangement, keeping the three original equales together.

Performing this allowed us to introduce the audience to a piece that is written for the trombone at its best while also using the organ – an unusual but successful combination.

The second half of the programme saw the ensemble joined by four more trombone players to perform contrasting pieces for trombone octet. This change in ensemble size introduced a welcome variety to the evening.  We started the second half with an arrangement of Gabrieli’s Sonata Pian’e Forte, which allowed us to use the space as if on antiphonal balconies.  This half also included the familiar ‘Largo’ from Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 and concluded with Gershwin’s Someone to Watch Over Me.

I believe my programme struck a good balance; I think for the ‘trombone ear’ it would have been pleasing and for the ‘new ear’ it was a good and varied introduction to the instrument, ensemble and its music. The challenge of introducing new arrangements and obscure pieces was met by balancing them with familiar and ‘friendly’ music.

Having participated in the research project as an audience member, I planned every aspect of the evening with the audience in mind. With more time to plan and if I was to do this project again, there are many more influences I have taken from the project that I would like to include; I hope to put on similar events in the future and explore the possibilities.

Future Plans

During the rehearsals for our concert in March, the trombone octet were coached briefly by Eric Crees. He was very complimentary of our playing and plans for the concert and after the rehearsal, he took myself and trombonist Audun Breen aside and suggested the idea of putting together a live performance of ‘The London Trombone Sound’ – a recording made in the 90s as part of Cala Record’s ‘The London Sound Series’ of which Eric did all the arrangements for - a fantastic inspiration. Planning and proposals for this performance have begun and I am hoping for it to be an opportunity to further explore my ideas presented in my ‘smaller scale’ performance and to continue to address ‘the brass ensemble’ audience.

Thanks to Guildhall, this research project and many other influences, I believe I have found an area of work in the music industry that truly captures me. The Sunday in November spent with Britten Sinfonia is a day that I still cannot forget, many of my interests seemed to click into place, and listening and being exposed to an ensemble that have such wonderful talent and ideas is just invaluable. In the four out of five parts of this project I was able to attend, I found myself unusually quiet. The overwhelming inspiration made it very difficult to instantly discuss the ideas that were going through my head. I found this a particular issue at the discussion points at the conference on March 1st. In an attempt to ‘sort’ the inspiration that poured from this project, I have half-filled a notebook, a resource I still revisit and add to frequently. With this as a starting point, I am eager to shape my own professional work, hopefully in the context of a business/company. With a four-page list of components I’d like to include, I am hoping to build something that revolves around all level of audiences and musicians. I’d like to find a way to utilize the vast amount of talent, particularly those starting out in their career; offering a platform for a variety of projects, concerts, collaborations all with audience in mind – hopefully inviting in some new audiences as well as developing the established. Another of my priorities in my work is with education, I believe working and engaging with young audiences is as important as anything else – this is our future audience and can be the most rewarding and responsive.

In the last few weeks, I have decided to pursue these ideas further and have invited a close friend and very talented sound engineer to act as a business partner. With his talents in mind, we have been discussing the possibility of attempting to establish our own online ‘label’ with the hope of providing an accessible source to listen to and learn about music as well as offering exposure to chamber ensembles etc. I have also begun to build contacts and pay particular interest to marketing/copyrighting/social media as I believe this could be an effective way to develop and even attract a new audience. These ideas are clearly still in the very early stages but it is something I really believe in and I hope I can find the advice and guidance we need when I return to my final year at Guildhall this September.


I hope my writing has highlighted how inspirational I have found this experience, it has been a pleasure to participate and I hope my responses will be effective in the overall research project.  While I am aware each person will take, and be inspired by, different things from such a wide project, I believe it deserves a prominent place in anyone’s time at Guildhall and hope to see this wonderful work continue further into the life of Guildhall. Many thanks to all those who helped make such a successful project.

Jane Salmon,
BMus Trombone, GSMD

Friday 23 May 2014

Ensemble coaching at Impington Village College

Martyn Grisdale, Music Teacher at Impington Village College, approached Britten Sinfonia’s Creative Learning  team to discuss support and development for the school orchestra from Britten Sinfonia's professional musicians. His aim was to continue the positive development of the group and to improve the orchestras overall ability in time for the 75th Anniversary of the founding of the school, in September 2014.

The group of students, all instrumentalists in the school orchestra, all took part in a Creative Learning at Lunch workshop and a week later attended an At Lunch concert performed by Britten Sinfonia at West Road Concert Hall.

In addition, students took part in two days of workshops focusing on ensemble skills. In line with Britten Sinfonia’s ethos as a chamber orchestra the aim was to encourage each of the young musicians to take musical responsibility for their performance and to raise the collective aspirations and expectations of the orchestra.

At the end of the project, Impington Village College gave a successful performance at West Road Concert Hall at the end of Live Music Week with the Cambridgeshire Music Education Hub. They also made it through to the final of regional festival of the Music for Youth competition in Bedford.

The workshops were led by practitioner Laetitia Stott and Britten Sinfonia Musicians: Joy Farrall, Sarah O’Flynn, Nicola Goldscheider, Caroline Dearnley and Joy Hawley.

Martyn Grisdale (Music Teacher, Impington Village College) reports;
"The Impington Village College Orchestra was established in September. It has grown in size and popularity since then and now boasts over 30 players, including a 16-piece string section. The Orchestra is truly inclusive with students of all abilities and ages ranging from years 7 – 13.

During last term, the Orchestra worked intensely with members of Britten Sinfonia who led sectional and full orchestra rehearsals, master-classes and workshops to further improve the standard of the group. The Orchestra developed individual and sectional playing, rehearsing and performing without a conductor, how to phrase melodic lines and rehearsal etiquette. This first-rate coaching and mentoring proved invaluable and after successfully performing at the regional festival of the Music for Youth competition in Bedford, the IVC Orchestra was one of only five school orchestras from over 40 regional festivals to be invited to perform at the Music for Youth’s national festival in Birmingham in July.

The Orchestra continues to use the techniques suggested and introduced by Britten Sinfonia’s musicians and continues to develop as an ensemble as a result of this. They are currently rehearsing hard and look forward to representing the college at a national level."

Places for Creative Learning at Lunch 5 workshops and tickets are now available to secondary schools – for more information please contact Mateja Kaluza, Creative Learning Assistant at

For more information on Britten Sinfonia's Creative learning work click here

Thursday 22 May 2014

An English Pastoral Tradition

Ahead of our Fields of Sorrow and Albion Fields performances, which explore English composers response to landscape and national identity, Britten Sinfonia Chief Executive David Butcher discusses the emergence of an English pastoral tradition;

Throughout much of the 19th century there was no imperative for English composers to champion national identity through music, beyond the celebratory anthems to highlight Queen Victoria’s reign.  But towards the end of the century, with military rivalry from Germany and industrial competition from the USA, composers began to search for new ways of expressing an overtly English identity.  The golden age of Elizabeth and of England’s rural past became an inspiration to composers and artists more generally, and one that had been forgotten in the headlong pursuit of progress which had driven the industrial revolution.

Composers such as Vaughan Williams and Holst and later figures such as Tippett and Britten all had deep affinities with the English landscape. Once a pastoral idiom had been established, it was not long before composers began to see beyond the visual and develop the landscapes of the mind such as with Vaughan William’s Flos Campi and Holst’s Egdon Heath.  Vaughan Williams observed his work has “nothing to do with buttercups and daisies” instead exploring a landscape of physical and spiritual longing, without regret or nostalgia. The warmth, however, of Flos Campi is poles apart from the cold and bleak emotional road that Holst’s mature works displayed, with the changing perspective of time and space as the journey unfolds, as demonstrated in the miniature Fields of Sorrow.

The influence of landscape as part of a wider tradition continues today not least in the music of Sir Harrison Birtwistle. As the critic and writer Andrew Clements wrote recently, “Birtwistle is as profoundly English a composer as Vaughan Williams: it’s just that his vision is not one of green meditative pastoral, but something bloodied and cruel, rooted in pagan Albion.” For Birtwistle, the interaction of the landscape and time has been a compositional preoccupation.  His ideas have been much influenced by the artist Paul Klee’s technique of building imaginary landscapes allowing for a rich blend of rigour and fantasy.  Birtwistle described his Melencholia 1, his lament for clarinet and strings, as his Tallis Fantasia and The Fields of Sorrow illustrates, as does the wider gamut of his musical and dramatic works, a continuation of a pastoral tradition that has its roots in the rediscovery of landscape as a creative force by English composers more than 80 years earlier.

David Butcher
Chief Executive

Britten Sinfonia performs Fields of Sorrow featuring music by Vaughan Williams, Holst and Birtwistle on Friday 24 May at West Road Concert Hall and Friday 30 may at London's Milton Court - more info.

Britten Sinfonia performs Albion Fields featuring music by Vaughan Williams, Britten, Holst and Elgar on Saturday 25 May at Saffron Walden's Saffron Hall - more info.

Thursday 15 May 2014

Our Nonesuch Selection

This weekend Britten Sinfonia performs as part of the Barbican’s celebrations of 50 years of Nonesuch Records.  Founded as a budget classical label in 1964 in New York, Nonesuch went on to transform not only the classical landscape, but also jazz, world music, folk and rock. Having taken a look at Nonesuch’s extensive discography we realised that lots of us in the Britten Sinfonia office had Nonesuch albums without even knowing it. Here’s some of our favourites;

Lisa, Marketing Assistant
Inside Llewyn Davis, written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, has to be one of my favourite films this year, mostly due to this soundtrack, which combines original collaborations with traditional folk songs. Performed by Oscar Isaac in the lead role as Llewyn Davies, and with performances from Carey Mulligan, Stark Sands and surprisingly Justin Timberlake, this record works in its own right as a collection of folk songs taken from the 1960s folk revival in New York City.

I am also particularly mesmerised every time I hear the music of guitarist Ali Farka Touré and kora player, Toumani Diabaté. The album, Ali and Toumani is a wonderful collaborative effort between two African musicians whose respective string melodies collide and interweave, shimmering and glowing.

Natalie, Creative Learning Director
My choice is Bjork’s Biophilia. It’s full of incredible textures and colours – both sublime and brutal. Featuring her brilliantly versatile voice there is an awesome mixture of acoustic instruments and digital sounds. Ambitious and epic, as you would expect from Bjork..!

Will, Development Director
I’ve got Amadou & Miriam Dimanche a Bamako. (Had no idea it was Nonesuch!) It’s a brilliant record, and one that never fails to lift the spirits. It’s unlike anything else I have in my collection, and you can really hear the infectious enthusiasm of the players. That enthusiasm and upbeat outlook was highlighted when I heard Amadou & Miriam at the Cambridge Folk Festival in 2013.

Amongst the other Nonesuch gems, I heard a track from Natalie Merchant’s new album the other day. What a brilliant voice. Can’t wait to hear more.

Claire, Marketing Director

I was incredibly lucky to see the London premiere of Three Tales by Steve Reich and Beryl Korot at the Barbican Theatre years ago and when I realised that there was a DVD/CD package available of it rushed out to buy it. Three Tales is a three-part digital documentary video opera (!) about technological breakthroughs in the 20th century (the Hindenburg explosion, the atomic experiments on Bikini atoll, and the cloning of Dolly the sheep). In my mind the work is unique and extraordinary. You can listen to the soundtrack separately but to appreciate this staggering work of art the full multimedia experience is required – I don’t often find the time to do this but on the occasions I have sat down and watched (even just one of the Tales) it has been haunting and powerful.

My other choice is Metheny/Mehldau a collaboration between guitarist Pat Metheny and pianist Brad Mehldau. It’s a chill-out album for me – perfect for unwinding with a glass of wine after a long day– full of beautiful moments and impeccable playing.

Elizabeth, Development Assistant
My top choice is Nickel Creek – A Dotted Line. After being on hiatus since 2007 (but by no means missing from my iPod playlists) fans such as myself were pleased to see this album appear in April. It’s difficult to choose just one of Nickel Creek’s albums as a talking point (not in the least because they all tend to be shuffled on my iPod) but this latest, fresh and more grown-up collection of their typical bluegrass sounds and beautiful harmonies, with the added maturity and experience gained from band members ‘going solo’ for the past seven years, makes A Dotted Line a new favourite.

It is difficult too, to separate Nickel Creek (Chris Thile, Sara Watkins and Sean Watkins) from its amazing mandolin player, Chris Thile, who has many a solo album including his latest project Bach: Sonata No. 1 in G Minor / Partita No. 1 in B Minor [LP], released last year – which you really must listen to because you have to hear it to believe it (and the album cover is rather nice!). And I had the pleasure of hearing him play at LSO St Lukes before Christmas, firmly placing him on my must-see-live-again list, not only for his musicianship but his generally fantastic personality, humour and stage presence; who’d have thought one guy on a mandolin could captivate an audience so... he has even written a song about playing songs on a mandolin! And you can’t talk about Chris Thile without mentioning Punch Brothers, particularly Antifogmatic (2010) and their latest Ahoy! (2012).

So, Nickel Creek, Punch Brothers, Chris Thile and Sara Watkins are all firm favourites of mine, and I don’ think you can be a fan of one, and not another. Start with Nickel Creek, and then let yourself wander through the wonderful musical world of contemporary bluegrass, and lots of incredible mandolin playing.

Find out more about the Barbican's celebrations "Exploratons: The Sound of Nonesuch Records" here. Full details of Britten Sinfonia's concert featuring music by Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Timo Andres and Brad Mehldau click here