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 Adรจs 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.)

Wednesday 3 September 2014

Tour of India - Part Four

In the final installment of our Tour of India blog orchestra manager Annabel describes a special project in Bangalore and the last couple of days in this amazing country;

Writing this back in England with planning in full swing for the first few concerts in our new season, our trip to India already feels like a long time ago.  The last few days of the tour certainly flew by – following our performance in Hyderabad we travelled to Bangalore.  A day of travel and no performance meant that everyone was more refreshed for our final day which was somewhat hectic and, for me, the highlight of the trip.

A couple of days before we flew out to India, we were contacted by the fantastic musical outreach initiative Songbound, who aim to bring music to some of India’s poorest and most marginalised children. They were wondering if, schedule permitting, any of our musicians might consider visiting an Orphanage they work with in Bangalore.  After hearing a little more about the charity and their work we were keen to attend, and I’m incredibly pleased that we managed to fit in a visit.

Arriving at the Samarthanam Centre, which is run by a trust who provide a home and education for underprivileged, visually-impaired and disabled children, we were greeted by a crowd of enthusiastic children, whose smiles were both infectious and humbling. Many of the children have been working with one of Songbound’s choir leaders, who visits them weekly to teach songs from both Indian and Western traditions.  We started by hearing a couple of the songs they had learnt, before introducing them to the different instruments within the group and the sounds that can be made. After playing a few short pieces in different instrumental combinations, we taught them a new song complete with actions and Britten-Sinfonia accompaniment- we hope that it might get added to their choir’s repertoire! 

Our time at the orphanage was all too short, but was thoroughly enjoyed by both children and musician’s alike – it was wonderful to see the happiness that music can bring, irrespective of situation. Please do read about the work that Songbound do, and support them if you can. Visit

Another taxi-ride of dodging cattle, goats and motorbikes later and we were back at the hotel, and straight into the soundcheck for the evening’s show. The performance itself was fabulous (in a rare programme containing no stage moves, I had the opportunity to sit in and had been waiting until the last performance to do so) and everyone was rather sad to say Goodbye to our colleagues Anubrata, Khan Saheb and his sons at the end of the evening.  Nevertheless, we returned to England with a host of fond memories, and a desire to, one day, return.

Orchestra Manager