Thursday 17 December 2015

OPUS2016 shortlisted composer - Andrew Baldwin

(c) John Dutch
Full Name: Andrew Baldwin
Age: 29

Where are you from? Where do you live now? Do you think this is relevant to understanding your music?
I was born and educated in Dunedin, New Zealand, and have been living in London for the most part of four years (having studied here for two years). Whether or not where I’m from has a bearing on my music – I’m not sure! Possibly. I have certainly in some recent works been using cultural references to home but it varies from piece to piece.

How will you approach writing your OPUS2016 composition for Britten Sinfonia?

My aim for OPUS2016 is to make the most of the opportunity to work with professional musicians and revisit what I have learnt about instrumental techniques in the past, and I am excited to be given the opportunity to write for piano trio as I had planned in the future to write one!

The initial approach to my piece will include a lot of planning as I would quite like it to be a substantial work and know in which direction the piece is heading. Certainly this is important when for the January workshop we present the beginnings of the work as this will help in knowing the trajectory in which it is likely to take when I finish developing the work in the future.

Who have you worked with previously? What ensembles/orchestras/organisations?

I have had pieces workshopped and recorded by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, as well as performances by the Auckland Philharmonia and Southern Sinfonia. During my studies at the Royal College of Music I composed music for a new collaborative project with English National Ballet. Recently I was commissioned by the London Mozart Players and the Choir of Portsmouth Grammar School and the resulting work was performed at a concert commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the Gallipoli landings. I write for choirs regularly also and this has been a big focus over the last few years, though I am now looking more towards a balance of choral and instrumental/orchestral.

When did you first start to write music?

My first compositions came about through piano lessons at age 10. My piano teacher suggested I write a short piano piece for a local composition competition and the resulting piece was awarded a prize. I was so delighted that I started writing for fun and it very rapidly became a huge passion of mine. I would come home after school and spend hours working on new pieces, often until the wee small hours – and being very tired for school the next day!

Describe your growth as a composer to this point. What were the pivotal points?

I started seriously focusing on composition at secondary school mentored by my Head of Music, an amazing teacher who had been at the school for thirty years and was a towering figure within the music scene in my city. He encouraged me to listen, helped me with techniques and put me off to a good start. The next major step was beginning my undergraduate degree at the New Zealand School of Music as it was my first formal training in composition. I loved all the classes that went with it as it was my first introduction to harmony, counterpoint, and orchestration.

My compositional style has taken a while to focus, and though it is still not entirely focused yet I have much to thank my teachers at the RCM for – it was during my Masters years (2011-13) that things began to slot into place for me as a composer. Looking at that time and remembering what I learnt there retrospectively has really helped me to move forward as a composer.

How do you start a new work/ what is your composing method?

When I began composing I almost entirely composed on the computer. This is because I was bought Sibelius for my birthday when I started school and it seemed so natural to use it. As my ideas became more complex and I started to plan and structure my compositions more, I found the need to adapt this method to include a mix of different methods. Currently, I do a lot of planning and writing on manuscript paper and much less on computer than I used to as I find it gives me more freedom. 

The last concert you saw?

The last performance I saw (that counts, doesn’t it?!) was the production of Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos at the Royal Opera House. I thought it was one of the best things I’ve seen at the ROH and I think it’s a very clever opera, particularly the first act which is a whirlwind of music and ideas.

What’s your musical guilty pleasure?

In typical composer fashion I like really geeky things like harmony and counterpoint exercises. A recent project which was a lot of fun was transcribing a mid 20th century choral work of which the score was lost. I was armed with the original LP recording and the first page of the choral score, and writing out the whole work. It has made me realise I’m a bit strange as this undertaking sounds like most musicians’ worst nightmares but to me was a great and enjoyable challenge!

How do you feel about the opportunities that are available to composers?

I have been very fortunate to do my undergraduate degree in New Zealand where there are endless opportunities for workshops and recording sessions – it is wonderful as it allows young composers to really make a head start and build up a portfolio of music which they can then use to apply for courses, commissions and funding. I do not have as much experience of composer opportunities in the UK but what I do understand is that there are some fantastic schemes here for composers but with so many applying it makes the chances of being successful rather slim – hence I am delighted that I was chosen along with my fellow composer colleagues!

What would be your advice to other young composers today?

Write without restriction, listen to feedback but don’t let what you do be ruled by it.

What does the future hold for you? What are your next steps going to be as a composer?

I would like to do some further study and base myself in Europe for a while. Eventually I see myself working as a composer in New Zealand but before I do that I would like to spend a good amount of time soaking up the vast opportunities in this part of the world.

You can join Andrew and the other OPUS2016 shortlisted composers on 22 & 23 January 2016 for two days of workshops at the Barbican in London, with discussions and performances of the pieces these composers have been working on. Find out more and how to reserve your place here.

Monday 14 December 2015

OPUS2016 shortlisted composer - James Hoyle

(c) John Hoyle

Full Name: James Albany Hoyle
Age: 22

Where are you from? Where do you live now? Do you think this is relevant to understanding your music?

I’m originally from Leicestershire, but for the past few years have lived in London. I go to a lot of new music concerts in London but equally I always make a conscious effort to listen outside of what is immediately popular here and now. I’m sure my surroundings do play a role in my music but it’s one aspect of many.

How will you approach writing your OPUS2016 composition for Britten Sinfonia?

I’ve started by composing a number of fragments of material which each treat the ensemble in a slightly unusual way. Later I’ll assemble these together like a jigsaw puzzle to make the piece.

Who have you worked with previously? What ensembles/orchestras/organisations?

I’ve been lucky to work with some great new music ensembles recently, including EXAUDI and the Plus-Minus Ensemble.

What’s your earliest musical memory?

When I was a small child my mother tried to teach me to play the recorder. I didn’t get it and gave up.

When did you first start to write music?

I started taking an interest in music when I was 11 and started learning the violin. At this point I began writing music almost instantly.

Describe your growth as a composer to this point. What were the pivotal points?

I started composition lessons age 14 at the Royal Academy of Music, Junior Department. I had actually auditioned as a violinist but taken some compositions along to the audition. Apparently my violin playing wasn’t quite up to scratch so I was offered to study as a composer instead - prior to this point I had no idea that composition was a discipline one could study formally. Since then I have been in permanent full-time education, studying with many different teachers at a number of institutions: the Purcell School of Music, King’s College London, and presently the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

How do you start a new work/what is your composing method?

I usually compose with pencil and paper, with a piano nearby. Notes are not always the first thing to appear however, I often start by writing words, or drawing pictures or diagrams.

What living person do you most admire, and why?

I don’t think I’d single out any particular person, but all the people I admire most simply follow their own convictions, albeit never blindly.

The last concert you saw?

Georg Friedrich Haas’ new opera, ‘Morgen und Abend’.

What’s your musical guilty pleasure?

Puccini operas. 

How do you feel about the opportunities that are available to composers?

There are many wonderful opportunities available for composers embarking on a professional career. When I was growing up in Leicestershire, however, opportunities were few and far between. I think schools and regional arts organisations could do far more to encourage creative work of all kinds as an integral part of education.

What would be your advice to other young composers today?

Keep your ears open: listen to a lot of music (not just contemporary music but all types of music), and go to as many concerts featuring new music as possible.

What does the future hold for you? What are your next steps going to be as a composer?

I’m hoping to do a PhD at some point, and at present I am setting up a new contemporary music ensemble. In the meantime, I’ll continue to write lots of music!

You can join James and the other OPUS2016 shortlisted composers on 22 & 23 January 2016 for two days of workshops at the Barbican in London, with discussions and performances of the pieces these composers have been working on. Find out more and how to reserve your place here.

Thursday 10 December 2015

OPUS2016 shortlisted composer - Gonçalo Gato

Full Name: Gonçalo Alves Gato Lopes (artistic name: Gonçalo Gato)
Age: 36

Where are you from? Where do you live now? Do you think this is relevant to understanding your music?

I’m from Lisbon, Portugal, but I currently live in London. Moving to London had a great impact on my personal and artistic life, which is in some way codified by my music. So, although I can’t quite define how it affected the compositions, I’m sure the influences are there. London has allowed me to benefit from a great variety of events related to the arts in general. Particularly important was the attendance of concerts by great orchestras such as the LSO, the BBC Symphony or the LPO.

How will you approach writing your OPUS2016 composition for Britten Sinfonia?

First of all I’d like to say that it is a great honour to be able to work with Britten Sinfonia. I will approach the writing with both audacity and a sense of discovery. Although I’ve relied on very intense planning in the past — whereby I would pre-define the materials, lengths, formal sections, etc., that would feature in a given piece — now it seems to make more sense to actually go through a discovery phase: I assume I do not really know everything about how the piece will end up before I begin writing it. This way I can take care of the actual building process, assessing at every moment the materials and compositional steps and avoiding the effect of what one could call artificial initial assumptions. Of course there is always some degree of planning and strategy devising, but all is rendered flexible after I begin composing. Philosophically, it is a matter of allowing the process of knowing to take place: although one has to rely on previous experience and acquired technique, a space should be left for new things to happen so that one can become aware of their impact, study and integrate them.

Who have you worked with previously? What ensembles/orchestras/organisations?

As a composer I’ve worked with many different groups of instrumentalists. Particularly important was an ensemble (NOL) I founded back in Portugal when I was completing my composition honours degree. Knowing first hand how musicians and maestros work, what they need, and how to make concerts happen — from producing to stage preparation — had a huge impact. Working with professional groups — such as the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Chroma ensemble or the Ligeti quartet — on the other hand, had a different impact: it enabled me to take bolder steps but also to refine my writing. Working with experienced, gifted musicians, but who are also open to experimentation, is really something I look forward to in the future.

Describe your growth as a composer to this point. What were the pivotal points?

I guess the first pivotal point occurred when I started learning harmony and counterpoint with a composer called Eurico Carrapatoso, my first master. His classes were very enjoyable but also very, very clearly articulated. Every subject was presented as clearly as possible and as pedagogically as possible, always with a sense of intellectual honesty and elevation. At the time I was finishing my Chemistry degree, which I completed and which gave me a sense of rationality but also of how knowledge is always evolving through research. And if artistic knowledge is quite different from scientific knowledge, it also progresses through research.

The second pivotal point occurred when, after having pursued higher formal training, I saw my music being appreciated and valued as I got selected to some competitions, some of which I won. This made me realize that my life could be devoted to making music. So I kept going until I progressed to the third pivotal point: starting doctoral studies in London, a vibrant musical city. I was ready to take an important step towards refining my craft and I couldn’t ask for a better supervisor than Prof. Julian Anderson.

How do you start a new work/ what is your composing method? 

To start a new work I usually spend some time just thinking. I ask: what aspects of music are most fascinating for me at this time? I take text notes and let imagination come up with possibilities and strategies. At the same time, I usually listen to other composers’ works written for the same instrumentation. I have the conviction that music is always a bit about acknowledging other composers’ work and progress. This contextualizes things but also raises concerns that point me to creative research and originality. Therefore, I start experimenting with material I’m curious or passionate about, usually at the computer using compositional algorithms (mostly through OpenMusic software). They work as a kind of musical laboratory, exceeding by far the piano’s limited playback capabilities (quarter-tones or polyphony, for instance) and allow me to devise new sonorities and techniques. Nevertheless, sometimes I use the piano because it provides me with an organic, living sound and poses constraints that can render my music more simple and effective. I then progress to musical sketching, usually directly on notation software. I tend to save different initial ideas, along with various versions of work-in-progress scores. Then I develop the ones I like the most and start taking more and more definite decisions regarding form and consistency. So, form usually comes late in the process after I have the materials I want and have sketched some of their developments and transformations. So, as I said before, I try to avoid taking too many initial assumptions, which can later prove artificial. I try to let the materials develop and show me the way.

This is how I usually work nowadays, which does not mean I’ll keep this process in the future. There are various methods — some of them I’ve tried before — and all of them surely have advantages as well as disadvantages.

The last concert you saw?

Actually it was an opera: ‘Morgen und Abend’ by Georg Friedrich Haas at the Royal Opera House.

What’s your musical guilty pleasure?

Just recently I was having fun with friends asking this question, which I’ll try and take as lightly as possible. If there is guilt, it means I feel guilty because in someway I like it. In that sense, I’m afraid I have no musical guilty pleasure. On the other hand, there is music that is in some way pleasurable to listen to, even though I do not hold it in high regard. Mostly it boils down to pop music I heard on TV/radio during my childhood or adolescence — or to which I danced to in discos in happy moments — but that I do not consider artistically profound. It’s mostly entertaining. There are many examples, one of which is the song ‘Material Girl’ by Madonna (I hope I’m not being unfair). I still find this song quite fun… in a funny way! And it brings to mind the format of the so-called ‘pop hit’, together with its social impact. Furthermore, it can be considered an icon of mass-consumption culture of the 80s in the form of easy‑listening music, which raises other questions…

What instrument do you play?

Guitar. I can play both classical and electric guitar. Right now I’m playing more the electric as I love jazz improvisation: both challenging and very rewarding. And I love to improvise with other musicians. I have an ongoing obsession with electric guitars, their timbre and playability.

How do you feel about the opportunities that are available to composers?

The ‘contemporary classical’ music world is very peculiar and demanding. Although, no doubt, it is the area I naturally gravitate to and aesthetically feel most comfortable in, its not without its challenges and problems. Composers still face several difficulties in trying to get their works performed and trying to build a career. There is so much one has to prove and so many connections one has to make… Everything that can be made to provide composers with more opportunities is welcome, of course, although the situation now is better compared to decades ago. Some teachers I had told me that one could easily go through a whole 3-year degree without a single performance opportunity!

In terms of professional performances, there is the issue of aesthetics, which still means that some currents/tendencies are favoured in some locations and by some commissioning institutions/individuals. This does not always correspond to artistic quality, I’m afraid. Add to this the very nature of being an ‘emerging’ composer (if you’re lucky to be considered as such), not fully knowing how the medium works (agents, publishers, venues, etc), and things can get really complicated. But I think even some renowned composers have a hard time making a living out of just composition. The situation is strikingly different for a number of other professions, as we know. And composition is usually as hard a task as, say, computer engineering. I wish this situation could be changed and that composers would be called more often to contribute to cultural supply — whether through pure music or through combinations such as opera, dance, musical theatre, installation, etc. — and that the arts would gain prominence in a society that is too much centred on just getting work and getting paid. I firmly believe that one of the promising areas of economy in the future lies in the cultural sector. Culture too can generate profit, and together with education is indispensable to create developed and balanced societies based on tolerance, interchange, reflection and creativity.

What does the future hold for you? What are your next steps going to be as a composer?

Well, I have to say that the future holds a continued development of my compositional technique in general, and my orchestral writing skills in particular. I want to be able to take more and more challenging projects and hope to work with great musicians, ensembles, orchestras and maestros. Right now I’m trying to find an opportunity to get an orchestral piece premiered and will soon start to collaborate with Ensemble Recherche (Germany) towards developing a piece for flute. I have some other parallel projects, which, unfortunately, I can’t yet disclose.

You can join Gonçalo and the other OPUS2016 shortlisted composers on 22 & 23 January 2016 for two days of workshops at the Barbican in London, with discussions and performances of the pieces these composers have been working on. Find out more and how to reserve your place here.

Tuesday 8 December 2015

OPUS2016 Instrument Focus Session

On Friday 4 December, OPUS2016 shortlisted composers met with musicians from Britten Sinfonia and composer Julian Phillips to discuss their first drafts and sketches and to explore the idiomatic techniques of each instrument in the piano trio they have been writing for. James Hoyle and Emma Wilde share their experience…

Last Friday was the first workshop for Britten Sinfonia’s OPUS2016 scheme, and was the first opportunity to meet Britten Sinfonia musicians, mentors, and of course my fellow composers. Although each composer approached the workshop in their own way, my own plan was to compose a number of short fragments of contrasting materials from which the final piece will be assembled. It was an extremely useful (if luxurious!) experience to be able to hear my materials in the flesh so early on in the composition process, as it not only allows me to fix problems and elaborate on successes, but being confronted with sound allows me to step away from the notes on the page, and to treat the materials with greater freedom.

I was fortunate to work with three musicians (Marcus Barcham-Stevens, violin; Ben Chappell, cello; Huw Watkins, piano) who approached everyone’s work with considerable understanding and virtuosity, and they were readily able to offer useful suggestions as to how I might be able to better realise my ideas on their respective instruments. As a composer it was such a pleasure to work with musicians who are so able and supportive, and I feel this has given me greater confidence to take risks with my materials, whilst also writing idiomatically for the instruments. When writing with specific players in mind, I often find that the unique playing styles of those musicians deeply informs the music I compose, even acting as a form of muse. For me, among the most important aspects of the day was being able to familiarise myself with them, and being able to do so with my own music was particularly informative.

James Hoyle, OPUS2016 shortlisted composer
I really enjoyed the initial workshop day with Britten Sinfonia musicians and Julian Philips. Often as composers we don't get the opportunity to test out ideas with musicians at the start of the composition process and now I have heard how my initial ideas sound I have a better understanding of how I can develop these ideas into a full 5 minute piece for the January workshop. The musicians were very helpful and were willing to respond to any questions we had. I realised that some ideas were working really well, for example using the piano's resonance to complement the sustained sound of the strings and this is something I can now take advantage of and develop further. On the other hand, I realised that sometimes I had misjudged the use of the piano's pedal and can now change this for the final draft.

Another aspect of the day that was particularly interesting was getting the chance to hear the other shortlisted composers' music and have a group discussion session with Julian Philips where we presented our ideas and offered each other thoughts and advice. It was interesting to see that we had all had issues concerning how to approach composing for piano trio due to the 'historical baggage' associated with this ensemble (due to the amount of great works written for this combination) and the problematic issues of composing for piano. However, I think that after this session we all went away with more ideas for how to compose effectively for this ensemble and for how to turn our initial fragments into full pieces.

Emma Wilde, OPUS2016 shortlisted composer

OPUS2016 shortlisted composers will be presenting their works in January 2016 for two days of workshops at the Barbican in London, with discussions and performances of the pieces these composers have been working on. Find out more and how to reserve your place here.

Friday 4 December 2015

Getting a handle on Handel...

On Sunday 6 December at 3pm, the young musicians of Britten Sinfonia Academy will be sharing the culmination of recent weekends' exploration of the music of Handel in collaboration with the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. Through this course, Academy members have been joined by Handel and Early Music specialist Dr Christopher Suckling to explore the museum's unique collection of autographed scores by Handel. With a focus on composition and the realisation of a composer's wishes in performance, they have also been working with composer Kenneth Hesketh to develop their own miniatures from a series of unpublished fragments in the collection. Britten Sinfonia Academy clarinetist, Morgan Overton, shares his experience of their recent work...

On Sunday 29th November - amid hectic rehearsals and not-so-hectic sandwiches - we members of Britten Sinfonia Academy went for a little look inside the Fitzwilliam Museum's Founders' Library. This intriguing library, hidden behind high wooden double doors, is home to well over 10,000 volumes reflecting the varied interests of the Viscount FitzWilliam (whose will allowed the formation of the museum in the first place). Items of note include the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book (a compilation of Elizabethan and Jacobean keyboard music rare in scope and comprehensiveness but greatly important in the history of chamber music), as well as medieval and Renaissance illuminated manuscripts and tomes on history, natural sciences, philosophy and religion, travel and (naturally) music. However, what we were here to see was some Handel.
Morgan exploring the manuscripts at the Fitzwilliam Museum

Being our principal focus as an orchestra over these weeks, it was natural to want to see the Fitzwilliam's Handel selection. What we were not prepared for was how widely varied it all was. FitzWilliam was a close associate of Handel, and partook in many performances of his work, whether he was an instrumentalist or an organiser. Therefore, he managed to collect throughout his life several Handelian manuscripts, many of which are unique. These include entire collections of 'scrap paper' where Handel collected notes and melodic ideas, as well as 'words-only' manuscripts waiting for the music to be set to the words, as well as more conventional scores and reductions.
(c) Fitzwilliam Museum

However, what was remarkable to see, even on the performance parts, was how there was no extra marking, except those Handel or his copyists had put on the page that were originally on the score. In other words, the musicians performing knew every piece of articulation, every phrase length and every bit of dynamic shaping without any marking it on the scores. However, beside the more musicological aspect of viewing the manuscripts, it was just extraordinary to be so close to such rare old documents - it was overwhelming, and the excitement doubled when we also were able to view handwritten manuscripts of Bach. It was truly an extraordinary experience, and one none of us in the orchestra will forget for a very long time.

Morgan Overton (Clarinet, Britten Sinfonia Academy 2015-16)

You can join Britten Sinfonia Academy for their performance on Sunday 6 December 2015 at 3pm in Gallery Three of the Fitzwilliam Museum. The Academy members will perform extracts from Handel's Messiah and Acis and Galatea with introductions from Dr Suckling and Kenneth Hesketh. Manuscripts from the collection will also be on display for members of the audience to view.

Thursday 3 December 2015

OPUS2016 shortlisted composer - Emma Wilde

Full Name: Emma Wilde
(c) Mario Duarte
Age: 24

Where are you from? Where do you live now? Do you think this is relevant to understanding your music?

I’m from Manchester and I still live there now. I suppose this is relevant to my music as growing up in Manchester, a city which has such a rich legacy of both classical and popular music, has led to me experiencing many different musical events which have no doubt influenced my music somewhat.

How will you approach writing your OPUS2016 composition for Britten Sinfonia?

As I would approach any other musical composition. At the moment I am particularly interested in creating musical structures that are inspired by Greek Tragedy. The concepts of drama and characterisation are particularly important to me. Sometimes I like to think of the individual instruments as though they are musical ‘characters’ and think about how these characters would interact together.

Who have you worked with previously? What ensembles/orchestras/organisations?

I have worked with professional ensembles such as Psappha, the Hebrides Ensemble and Quotour Danel. One of my most interesting experiences was working with the accordionist Maciej Frackiewicz in Poland as it was an instrument I had not thought to work with before. I also have worked with an excellent organisation in Manchester called Classical Evolution whose aim is to take chamber music into more unusual venues, they have played my pieces in bars and even in forests!

When did you first start to write music?

I think I have always made up tunes in my head from a young age but I started to properly notate music when I was studying GCSE music.

Describe your growth as a composer to this point. What were the pivotal points?

When I first started a music degree composition wasn’t my main focus but at the end of the final year I wrote a song cycle which I really enjoyed and felt I found my own compositional voice, that encouraged me to carry on and I applied to do a masters in composition very last minute. Also I have found the composition courses I have been on in the last couple of years (St Manus Composers’ Course in Orkney and Synthetis in Poland), have helped with my growth as a composer a lot as working and meeting with a variety of different composers gives me a lot of new ideas, inspiration and encouragement to keep following in this path.

How do you start a new work/what is your composing method?

Mostly I do start working at the piano with a manuscript and pencil. Other times I will get fully formed musical materials in my head, I often sing them aloud to myself until I get chance to write them down. Sometimes I get ideas whilst listening to other music, I got the idea for my latest piece whilst sitting in a concert of electroacoustic music, there was a piece that had a particularly interesting structure and texture and I started thinking about how I could do the same kind of thing with an instrumental ensemble.

The last concert you saw?

I went to see the British band Editors at Manchester Academy, I like this band because they are always trying new things and aren’t afraid to get out of their comfort zone, which is an important thing for any composer to do to make sure they evolve and write interesting music.

How do you feel about the opportunities that are available to composers?

I feel that although there are some opportunities available to composers it is very hard to get out there and get your music played. Particularly in the current economic and political climate where music and the arts are seen as a commodity.

What would be your advice to other young composers today?

To not worry about what anyone else thinks about your music and don’t worry about the need to follow any stylistic trends. If you write the music that you truly want to hear it will have more power and conviction

What does the future hold for you? What are your next steps going to be as a composer?

I would like to try writing music with electronics. I would also like to do collaborative work with choreographers, theatre directors etc, I am really interested with the connection between music and other art forms and would like opportunities to explore this further.

You can join Emma and the other OPUS2016 shortlisted composers on 22 & 23 January 2016 for two days of workshops at the Barbican in London, with discussions and performances of the pieces these composers have been working on. Find out more and how to reserve your place here.

Monday 30 November 2015

OPUS2016 shortlisted composer - Neil Smith

Full Name: Neil Tòmas Smith
(c) Stefan Beyer
Age: 27

Where are you from? Where do you live now? Do you think this is relevant to understanding your music?

I am from Scotland originally but for the last decade I have lived in England and, from 2010-2013 in Stuttgart, Germany. For the last year and a half I have lived in Birmingham, which I think is a wonderful city for the arts. No one place has had a huge influence on my music but I’ve enjoyed moving around and living in different cities and countries as you get to meet different composers and receive various influences.

How will you approach writing your OPUS2016 composition for Britten Sinfonia?

The piano trio is a really established genre with so many great pieces written for the line up. Therefore I’ll start by revisiting some of those great pieces from the past. So much of chamber music is defined by the relationship between instruments of the ensemble – whether the piano is dominant or provides the accompaniment; whether the instruments work together or independently. I will consider this first of all to try and begin to forge my individual response.

Who have you worked with previously? What ensembles / orchestras / organisations?

I have had the pleasure of working with a number of great ensembles and performers on my music: these include the Hebrides Ensemble. Red Note Ensemble, Ensemble 10/10, L’Orchestre de Philharmonique de Radio France, clarinettist Jonathan Sage, the WDR Symphony Orchestra, pianist Joseph Houston, cellist Jennifer Langridge, Ensemble Dark Inventions and percussion quartet Schalgquartett Köln. I am currently working on the Sound and Music and Making Music-supported Adopt a Composer scheme with the Thame Chamber Choir, which will result in a new work next year.

When did you first start to write music?

It was only when I began composing that I realised that music would become my keenest interest. This was at secondary school and down to encouragement from music teachers at the comprehensive I attended in Edinburgh. I will always be grateful for their enthusiasm and support during that vital time.

Describe your growth as a composer to this point. What were the pivotal points?

Probably the most important period for me was after first realising I was interested in composition. I studied at the RSAMD junior academy – taking the train through to Glasgow on a Saturday – and then went to St Mary’s Music School. In both institutions I was taught by Tom David Wilson, who gave me a fantastic start to my composition, and indeed more general, education.

There are perhaps two further key periods that defined my development – the first at the University of York during my undergraduate degree and the second in Germany. York really gives students a lot of freedom to explore and I was involved in so many different musical activities, including analysis, performance (contemporary and Baroque) and of course, composition. This was a fantastic all-round education.

In Germany I was able to attend many of the world’s largest new music festivals and heard a great deal of music of which I would have otherwise been unaware. I was also able to meet and hear some of the leading composers in central Europe – it was a very inspiring time.

How do you start a new work/ what is your composing method? 

For me, my pieces need to have a central theme – whether musical or extra-musical – and some method of exploring it. This can then be the central pillar which will support the rest of the piece. Sometimes I draw a lot of rough diagrams, lines and shapes to try and work out what this central pillar might be; other times I write a lot of words to try and pin down what will make this particular piece unique.

How do you feel about the opportunities that are available to composers?

There a lot of people who want to be composers and opportunities are very competitive. There will only be a chosen few who can make it their full time profession. I am engaged in creating a portfolio career which includes and supports my compositional activity.

What would be your advice to other young composers today?

Study abroad, at least for a time. It can give you a whole new perspective on your practice, and is, in most European countries at least, far cheaper than the UK!

What does the future hold for you? What are your next steps going to be as a composer?

I have a number of premieres lined up for next year, including a choir work for the Thame Chamber Choir and a new piece for cello, horn and clarinet. These will help me expand my practice – writing for (very good) amateurs for example and for new performance contexts.

Other than that the future is uncertain: I finish my PhD next year and must consider my next move while other factors mean I don’t know where I’ll be living in 6 months’ time!

Perhaps most excitingly, my first piece on disc will appear in 2016, in a new solo CD by clarinettist Jonathan Sage. It’s been a joy working with him on it and I think the final product will be fantastic.

You can join Neil and the other OPUS2016 shortlisted composers on 22 & 23 January 2016 for two days of workshops at the Barbican in London, with discussions and performances of the pieces these composers have been working on. Find out more and how to reserve your place here.

Thursday 26 November 2015

OPUS2016 shortlisted composer - Margaret Haley

(c) Kenny Smith
Full Name: Margaret Anne Haley
Age: 61

Where are you from? Where do you live now? Do you think this is relevant to understanding your music?

I was born in Coventry. Yet have lived in West Yorkshire since infancy where there is somewhat a tradition of choral music alongside brass band music. But then the rise of contemporary music in association with the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (HCMF) seemed like a breath of fresh air to me.

How will you approach writing your OPUS2016 composition for Britten Sinfonia?

Using the given instrumentation I am already thinking about the sound-world I want to write. Whilst I consider, in no particular order: texture, rhythm, pitch-class, note gesture, and extended performance techniques, my starting point is a structural plan.

Who have you worked with previously? What ensembles / orchestras / organisations? 

Sounds Positive, Goldberg Ensemble, Firebird Ensemble, Huddersfield University New Music Ensemble / Richard Craig (flautist), Mieko Kanno (violinist), Philip Thomas (pianist) / Sound and Music, SPNM, Adopt-a-composer scheme (Aire Valley Singers), residency in association with Making Music.

What’s your earliest musical memory?

I must have been under the age of 5 and in church with my parents. Hearing rumbling noises
emanating from the bowels of the church organ filled my ears with a sense of wonder.

When did you first start to write music?

I think I started to write music as a young girl, in my head at least. I had piano lessons and could read/write music from the age of 7 or thereabouts. My teacher encouraged a more formal approach to music making, as did my mother. Yet I would secretly draw what I thought was music.

Describe your growth as a composer to this point. What were the pivotal points? 

Studying composition at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels has positively contributed to my development. Through researching the work of contemporary composers, there has been a gradual move away from formal structures to a more abstract style of writing in my music. For example the music of James Dillon prompted a significant change to my way of thinking about the use of traditional instrumentation. I first heard Dillon’s Windows and Canopies (1985), before closely studying not only the global form but also the immense detail in his handwritten score.

Rebecca Saunders is another composer whose music ascribed for traditional instrumentation holds my attention. Saunders’ ethos of working with sound itself is more and more relevant to my thinking today.

Denis Smalley’s paper: ‘Spectromorphology: explain sound-shapes’1, more associated with electroacoustic music, enhanced not only thoughts about shaping sound in my music, but also influenced compositional methodology. I am more and more interested in drawing sound in time, prior to staff notation.

How do you start a new work/what is your composing method?

Always pencil. It really depends on what instrumental forces I am working with. More often than not my starting point is the creation of skeletal framework.

How do you feel about the opportunities that are available to composers?

Whilst there are a growing number of opportunities for composers, geographical location can be an obstacle. If, however, a particular opportunity is right for you it is always worth applying. Some opportunities, i.e. competitions carry age limits. Age is but a number. What is really important is putting your music out there.

What would be your advice to young composers today?

Be willing to learn. Be true to yourself. Write. Find your voice. Enter competitions, but be selective. Even if you are unsuccessful, see the experience from a positive perspective, i.e., the discipline of working to a brief, meeting a deadline, more importantly completing a piece of music.

What does the future hold for you? What are your next steps going to be as a composer? 

Keep on writing. Hone my skills. I would hope to work more and more with performers. I would like to bring my music to a much wider audience.

1Organised Sound 2 (2) (Cambridge University Press, 1997), 107-126.

You can join Margaret and the other OPUS2016 shortlisted composers on 22 & 23 January 2016 for two days of workshops at the Barbican in London, with discussions and performances of the pieces these composers have been working on. Find out more and how to reserve your place here.

Wednesday 25 November 2015

OPUS2016 shortlisted composer - Robert Peate

Full Name: Robert James Peate
Age: 28

Where are you from? Where do you live now? Do you think this is relevant to understanding your music?

I am originally from Dymock in Gloucestershire, and currently live on the Llanover Estate in Monmouthshire. Nature and the countryside has always played an important role in my life and so also in my work, and like with anything knowing more about the music’s inspiration etc can deepen a listeners understanding or appreciation of it. However, I always try to create a sense of abstract unity or identity in a piece, and hope that it stands up on its own without much extra-musical context.

How will you approach writing your OPUS2016 composition for Britten Sinfonia?

Not 100% sure yet.. I have a few ideas but I’ve only just found out that I’ve been shortlisted - I’ll have to think quickly though as sketches are due soon!

Who have you worked with previously? What ensembles/orchestras/organisations?

Various professional student and amateur ensembles including BCMG, The Academy Manson Ensemble, Chroma, Fretwork, Orchestra of the Swan, The Britten-Pears Composers Ensemble, The Solaris and Castalian String Quartets, The Band of the Household Cavalry, The London Bach Society and currently the LPO. Plus soloists including Christopher Redgate, Huw Watkins, Rolf Hind, Elgar Howarth, Clare Hammond, Frank Ollu.

When did you first start to write music?

I started writing little songs on the guitar/piano when I was about 9 or 10, then started trying to write little piano pieces down when I was probably about 11 or 12.

Describe your growth as a composer to this point. What were the pivotal points?

I’ve had a slightly bizarre development as a composer in some ways I suppose – when I started really trying to get to grips with composition around age 14-15 I was obsessed with Bach, counterpoint and the harpsichord on the one hand; writing lots of contrapuntal fragments and harpsichord minuets, and on the other hand I was playing drums in a series of grunge bands. I soon went on to more expressive or romantic character pieces and tried my hand at orchestral writing quite a lot, studying scores and writing ambitious scale tone-poem type pieces (none of which I’ve ever heard – but I managed to gain some technique through writing them), at this time I went on to playing organ, guitar and singing in various folk, jazz and rock bands, and also picked up the cello and double bass in school/college orchestras.

When I went to study composition for the first time at Birmingham Conservatoire I soon realised how little I knew of contemporary music and it took me at least the next 4 years to soak up and somewhat internalise what was at first a shock to the system artistically. I suppose in general I’ve tried my hand at most things except graphic scores and overly conceptual music (I’ve always been a bit of a nuts and bolts composer!), and over the last couple of years have finally started to get the feeling that I’m connecting many of the often contrasting threads that have gone through my musical tastes, and am developing a more personal language. As for pivotal points I can’t remember exactly what made me want to concentrate on composition, though it was probably listening to Bach, but starting at Birmingham, and then at the Royal Academy in London where the standard of playing was so high, were probably pretty pivotal.

How do you start a new work/what is your composing method?

Every time I start a new piece I have the feeling that I haven’t got a clue what I’m doing, and can’t believe I’ve ever managed to write anything before.

I usually start with something small that I’m confident in, and will generally have a detailed and confident idea of this. Then it’s all about working hard and living with the material in order to find context, more and more I realise that context is everything and it is always a challenge to find this in the beginning stages of a work, but once things start to click it’s a great feeling. Each piece has it’s own identity and getting a sense of that always takes a little time (though occasionally things pop out more or less fully formed..). I never use a computer except for copying up at the end, but whether at the piano, the desk, on a walk, a bike ride, cooking dinner, watching tv or lying in bed I am working in one way or another – living with your ideas is important I think.

What living person do you most admire, and why?

Pretty much all the people I admire the most are dead – it’s usually the case with composers!

How do you feel about the opportunities that are available to composers?

They are few and far between.

What would be your advice to other young composers today?

Keep working.

What does the future hold for you? What are your next steps going to be as a composer?

I don’t know, it’s difficult to live more than a few months ahead of myself. I’m into a PhD at the Royal Academy of Music so I hope to continue with that and look for a decent job at the end of it, but all I’m aiming for ultimately are chances to write and develop my work with ensembles and instrumentalists.

You can join Robert and the other OPUS2016 shortlisted composers on 22 & 23 January 2016 for two days of workshops at the Barbican in London, with discussions and performances of the pieces these composers have been working on. Find out more and how to reserve your place here.

Friday 20 November 2015

Making the Link

Back in May we introduced Link Ensemble: a new creative group, led by Duncan Chapman, integrating students with special education needs at Comberton Village College with their GCSE peers through workshops with Britten Sinfonia musicians. As this project draws to a close, with the final performance taking place on Saturday 21 November in a pre-concert event at Saffron Hall, Jen House (Creative Learning Director) and Duncan Chapman (workshop leader) look back on this unique initiative...

Alexia is blind. She makes her slow, careful way to the centre of a haphazard circle of ambient sound; to her left the spidery jangle of an acoustic guitar, a D7 chord with an unexpected jangling G at the piano behind her and a sudden croak of feedback from an electric bass on her right. Taking a deep breath, she brings the microphone close until she feels it’s cool brush on her chin and speaks quietly into the noisy void.

“Can we start with Jack, please? A low E on the bass clarinet.” She hesitates for a moment, “Is that the lowest note you can play?”

The note, rich and deep curls its way through the room and like a heavy fog, obscures the other sounds as the tinkering dies away.

“Sarah” her voice is clearer, more confident as the sound palate clears and like a painter in sound, she pauses, aural brush poised.

“Sarah, a low seventh above … a little less … and articulate in a slow pulse.”

There is an expectant hush, the room is not still, there is a restless energy but wherever the eyes may look or whatever the hands may fidget with, the ears are focused on the unfurling beauty as Alexia, slowly and ever so precisely, reveals her composition.

The name ‘Link Ensemble’ was given to Britten Sinfonia’s integrated music-making initiative in the very early stages of its conception and long before my arrival in Britten Sinfonia’s Creative Learning office. The name may well, in fact, have been the very twinkle in the proverbial eye which, (a very protracted gestation period of three years later) eventually brought this unexpected, unconventional, unapologetic ensemble into being. As the name so aptly suggests, Link Ensemble is about bringing people and creative impulses together; partnership between a visionary school and a ground-breaking orchestra; connections between young people with special educational needs and disabilities and their non-disabled GCSE Music contemporaries and collaboration between professionals and amateurs linked by a common creativity.

With twenty five members including SEND students from Comberton Village College (CVC) Cabin, GCSE Music students from CVC and professional musicians from Britten Sinfonia, Link Ensemble has met for a series of three, intensive, two-day workshop and rehearsal sessions led by composer and sound artist Duncan Chapman. At each stage, the ensemble has explored and created new music to record and perform.

“So, what’s it going to be?” I asked my predecessor in a hand-over session just months before the first phase. “I’ve no idea!” She shrugged, “How can we describe something which hasn’t been done yet?”  

And that, in a nutshell, is it. Forget everything you think you know about music, musical ability, disability. Leave them at the door when you arrive at Saffron Hall tomorrow and prepare yourself for something you didn’t know music could be….

Jen House (Creative Learning Director)

Integration is about leveling the playing field and one way of doing this is to focus not on what we think music is but on what music could be. We explore outside the frame of genre, working with what’s right there in front of us in the moment; using what we hear as a guide rather than an idea of music that is in our heads. What gives Britten Sinfonia it's unique sound is the relationships between the particular musicians, their own particular sounds and the way in which these are nurtured over many hours of playing music together. So what is significant isn't that a piece might have four violins, oboe, horn and double bass but it's the specific violins, oboe, horn and bass with the particular players. In Link Ensemble this focus on the particular characters of the group is where we start from rather than a 'pick and mix' approach to style or genre.

Making music from 'what's in front of us' could be a recipe for chaos and clutter, but with careful thought about how we construct the music we are able to create space for everyone to have a contribution. Starting from the position of treating music-making as a social sonic activity means that the music we make has to belong to us and not be a pastiche of something that other musicians would do better.

Within a conventional musical framework the difference between Adam - GCSE music student, jazz keys player and composer - and Matthew - who has never played an instrument, is registered blind and has difficulties with fine and gross motor skills - is pronounced. Beyond this frame, in the environment of what music could be they are equal, and equally inspired by and inspiring to, each other.

In practical terms, we are separating music-making from technique. Most of us are used to associating skill in music with the ability to rattle off Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto or play complex chord changes. Once you move away from this preoccupation with playing 'difficult' music and focus on understanding something of the context of the music 'in the room', the field is leveled and we are all starting from a point of making something as a social collective and not as a vehicle for individual display. Technique is important - it's important for us to develop skills on our instruments to enable us to play with fluency and conviction - but more important in an ensemble context are the listening and imagination techniques that are often overlooked in a headlong dash for demonstrable and flashy skills. 

My job as a workshop leader is to co-ordinate and guide the creation. Sometimes this is about setting frameworks that are by their nature inclusive and recognise moments of unexpected beauty (“Beauty is underfoot wherever we take the trouble to look” said John Cage). Jak, one of our Link Ensemble players once asked if “cheese can be an instrument?” My challenge is to take this concept and work with it!

The role of the professional musicians from Britten Sinfonia has many facets but whether they are the glue holding a compositional structure together, or providing a spotlight on a particular sound, idea or technique, they are there to ensure that no idea a young musician has ever fails – they make every idea, even musical cheese, fly! We are lucky to have these players who are not only capable of tremendous instrumental skill but able to instantly match this with the needs of the music and the group.

There is a reason we talk about “playing” music as opposed to “working” it. In Link Ensemble we all dare to play: to play with what music is and what music could be.

Duncan Chapman (Leader) 

Come and experience Link Ensemble for yourself, as they perform in the pre-concert event on Saturday 21 November, 6.15pm at Saffron Hall, ahead of the evening concert featuring Britten Sinfonia and Eddie Gomez. Find out more.

Thursday 5 November 2015

A look back on At Lunch - James Calver

James Calver, Concerts Director, shares a fond memory from our April 2011 At Lunch concert...

Marcelo Nisinman (c) Karin van der Meul
One of my fondest Britten Sinfonia At Lunch memories was back in 2011 (in my previous role as Concerts Assistant), when Thomas Gould (violin), Huw Watkins (piano), Caroline Dearnley (cello) and Stephen Williams (double bass) performed a Piazolla-inspired programme with guest artist Marcelo Nisinman (bandoneon).  Marcelo Nisinman is internationally renowned in his field, and much in demand as a soloist playing with orchestras and at festivals around the world. He has performed with, Martha Argerich, Gidon Kremer, Gary Burton, Fernando Suarez Paz, Assad Brothers, and the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Charles Dutoit, and formed his own world-famous quartet ‘Tango Factory’ in 2009.

Moodily-lit, laced with thigh-slapping rhythms, percussive string techniques, and featuring a newly-written piece by Mexican composer Enrico Chapela, Nanobots, this At Lunch tour had an ‘end of term’ vibe, Britten Sinfonia doing what we do best: exploring music outside what one might normally expect to hear filling Wigmore Hall on a wet Wednesday lunchtime in April...

I turned pages for Huw, and found myself doing so with a certain uncontrollable Argentinian flare. It was that easy to become this immersed in the music and infected by the style and atmosphere, to the extent that I’ve never really felt so much a part of a performance than at this moment, particularly in the closing work of the concert: a dramatic performance of Piazolla’s Curato Estaciones Poteñas (The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires), in a version close to the original written and performed by the composer himself and his quintet. It brought the house down.

At Britten Sinfonia, we’ve often adapted and expanded At Lunch programmes into full-length evening performances, this being one of those occasions.  Marking the start of a new series entitled ‘Unbuttoned’ at the newly-built APEX concert hall in Bury St. Edmunds, we gave an intimate ‘in-the-round’ cabaret-style performance of the programme with a couple of additions.  Thom Gould instructed me to “show some chest hair” when I was about to turn for the final piece…the event was Unbuttoned in every sense of the word.  

James Calver, Concerts Director

Find out more about the last ten years of At Lunch on our website, and don't forget to take part in our competition to be in with a chance of winning two tickets to an At Lunch concert this season.

Wednesday 4 November 2015

Edward Nesbit - our OPUS2015 winner's story

I have had the pleasure of working with Britten Sinfonia for almost twelve months.  Back in December, the twelve composers who had been shortlisted for Britten Sinfonia’s OPUS2015 scheme enjoyed a workshop with the horn player Richard Watkins, where we discussed every aspect of the horn, from extended techniques to, if I remember correctly, the treatment of the horn in Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.  

Most of us were at that stage in the middle of composing extracts of music for horn trio, all of which were workshopped by Jackie Shave, Huw Watkins and Carys Evans in January this year.  Over the course of an intense weekend, we heard what everyone had produced – which amounted to the best part of an hour of music.  It was a very interesting – and very diverse – selection of pieces, and made for a lively and fascinating couple of days.

I was delighted to be chosen as the winner, and as a result have extended my original three-minute miniature into a full-length piece.  The resulting work, Lifesize Gods, was workshopped again more recently, and following that workshop I have given it a final few tweaks in advance of the premiere.  From here on in it will be the most exciting part of the process, and, for me at least, the easiest: I can now more or less simply sit and listen to the results.

One of the interesting challenges of writing a horn trio is the small number of previously written horn trios which have entered the repertoire.  While I have come across a number of very fine horn trios while writing my own, there are only two works which have firmly entered the repertoire: those by Brahms and Ligeti.  As a composer this situation brings both advantages and disadvantages.  There are fewer models to which I might turn for inspiration – but, on the other hand, there is not the weight of history that one has to deal with when writing, say, a string quartet.

It is interesting, then, that I will be sharing a programme with another new horn trio, by Huw Watkins.  I was, as it happens, at the premiere of Huw’s Horn Trio in 2009, and vividly remember the impression it made on me then; it will be a great pleasure to have the chance to hear it again live – three times, no less!  It really is a fantastic piece, and is an important addition to the repertoire which will doubtless continue to be performed for many years to come.   Huw and I are very different composers, however, which is probably no bad thing, given that we will be appearing in the same programme.  While Huw’s piece is lyrical, contrapuntal and full of contrast, my new work is, for the most part, transparent, almost obsessively single-minded, and extremely quick.

Britten Sinfonia have generously invited me to continue my involvement in the scheme, and next week I will be working with Julian Philips to choose the ten composers who will be shortlisted for OPUS2016.  This is something very new to me, but something that I am looking forward to immensely.  A total of 287 composers have submitted applications.  It’s a daunting number, but is testament to the fantastic nature of the opportunity that Britten Sinfonia are offering – and I’m sure it will be much harder to leave people out than to find people to shortlist.

Another aspect of my involvement with  Britten Sinfonia has been being a part of Musically GiftedMusically Gifted is a scheme which facilitates philanthropic donations to help fund commissions.  People can donate anything from £10 to £1,000, and all donors receive rewards, from thank you cards all the way up to invitations to rehearsals and social events with performers and composer.  The issue of how to fund contemporary music is a complex one, and many composers are unable to earn anything like a living from their composition work.  Musically Gifted is an imaginative and valuable contribution towards improving this difficult situation.

Lifesize Gods is being performed at Britten Sinfonia’s At Lunch Series in St. Andrew’s Hall, Norwich, on 27 November; West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge, on 1 December; and Wigmore Hall, London, on 2 December.  It promises to be a fantastic concert! 

Edward Nesbit - OPUS2015 winner

Click here for more details and booking for At Lunch One, which features Edward's new work, Lifesize Gods.

Thursday 15 October 2015

Meet Joy Farrall

Joy has been Britten Sinfonia's Principal Clarinet since the orchestra was founded. She is also a founding member of the Haffner Wind Ensemble, with whom she has broadcast and toured widely. As a recitalist and concerto soloist Joy has appeared in all the major London concert venues, playing with such orchestras as the Philharmonia, the English Chamber Orchestra, the Ulster Orchestra, the London Mozart Players, City of London Sinfonia and Britten Sinfonia.

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

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

Every concert really as I am delighted that Britten Sinfonia, which has become my musical home, has so many dates in the diary. I feel lucky to be employed to do what I do.

When are you happiest?
When I have time to reflect after a busy but exciting patch of work.
What is your greatest fear?


What is your earliest musical memory?
Listening to ice skating music whilst my parents practised their ice dance. Torville and Dean they were not, but the music was great.

Which living person do you most admire, and why?
Numerous colleagues who find time to give their all to their families and students despite the demands of a rigorous performing career.

What was your most embarrassing moment?

Going on stage in Spain to perform a concerto and tripping on the lovely (but totally impractical, and warned against) pair of new purple shoes bought especially for the occasion.

What is your most treasured possession?
I am not really a collector of things!

What would your superpower be?
To appear and reappear through a Harry Potter style port key so as to cut out travelling to and from concerts.

If you were an animal what would you be?
A dog for the deaf and blind. A worthy job to do but plenty of lolling around with guaranteed friendship, food and affection.

What is your most unappealing habit?
Behaving like the world is about to end if I haven't got a reed to play.

What is your favourite book?
Any historical novels.

What is your guiltiest pleasure?
Blue cheese and biscuits and a glass of champagne.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
A jolly good cook as I am hopeless at anything other than the basics.

If you could go back in time, where would you go?
Back to my college days with all the knowledge I have now.

How do you relax away from the concert platform?

Seeing family and friends, playing tennis and being outdoors walking or in the garden.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Getting this far!

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
Forgiveness... I can try to play better in the next concert.

In a nutshell, what is your philosophy?
Concentration and focus is the key to understanding.

Listen to Joy...

Live: Joy is appearing in Britten Sinfonia's TAKE TWO: Oliver Knussen in Focus One performance on Sunday 25 October at London's Milton Court Concert Hall. The programme is centred on the orchestra's wind players and features Berg's Chamber Concerto for piano and violin and Oliver Knussen's Requiem - Songs for Sue. Click here for more info.

On Spotify: Listen to Britten Sinfonia's 'Discover: Knussen wind players' Spotify playlist of recordings from the wind players performing in Britten Sinfonia's TAKE TWO: Oliver Knussen in Focus One programme (including Joy), and the works featured in this concert.

On the radio: Britten Sinfonia's At Lunch 1 concert from the 2014-15 season - featuring music for wind quintet - will be broadcast by BBC Radio 3 at 1pm on Friday 16 October. Tune in live or listen again online here.

Wednesday 14 October 2015

Introducing Sinfonia Students

What is a Sinfonia Student?

Sinfonia Students is our one-year voluntary scheme, offering students valuable experience in arts administration. The scheme is currently open to students in Cambridge and, for the first time in 2015-16, London. Initially built from the orchestra's partnership with the University of Cambridge (as its Orchestra-in-Residence), the scheme has grown over the past two years to now work with students from Anglia Ruskin University, Guildhall School of Music & Drama and the Royal College of Music.

Through this role, Sinfonia Students gain insight into the workings of a professional chamber orchestra as they work alongside the marketing team to promote concerts to the student community via print and digital media. They also receive great rewards and build a relationship with the orchestra with free concert tickets, a full week work experience in the offices, and the opportunity to write posts, such as reviews of concerts, which are published on our blog.

A manageable commitment 

The role of Sinfonia Student is different from a typical arts internship and allows students to work alongside the marketing team throughout an entire season, gaining insight into marketing strategies and techniques as they unfold. From personal experience, it is not always easy to commit to a full-time 3-6 month internship; they can be highly competitive, and costly in travel expenses if you do not already live in the city and the organisation is only able to reimburse a certain amount.

With the Sinfonia Students scheme, we wanted to create a manageable and flexible opportunity, that students could easily commit to while still balancing their studies and free time... 

"The role of Sinfonia Student really is one of flexibility and creativity. I was keen to apply, however I was aware that any commitments I made might be too much; on the contrary, I found that the experience was completely manageable, and yet that I could get as much back as I put in, which is so useful." 
(Carl, Sinfonia Student 2014-15)

A unique opportunity

During the year, Sinfonia Students implement and help to develop marketing strategies built for their university peers and have regular contact with Britten Sinfonia's marketing team. They also develop a relationship with the organisation as they spend a week in the office working with different departments, and have gone on to make professional contacts through events such as our Composers Workshop.

"When applying for the Sinfonia Student position, I had no idea how many new doors would open from this opportunity! Meeting some of the players and conductors has enabled me to make professional connections, and the whole experience has given me skills which I can take to other music administration jobs."  
(Simone, Sinfonia Student 2014-15)

Valuable experience for future jobs

In the competitive world of arts administration jobs, experience in the industry is becoming even more crucial when applying for a first job, and this type of valuable experience is something that being a Sinfonia Student can provide. Not just looking good on a CV, the role provides the opportunity to take on real responsibility and engage with developing marketing ideas that can make a first job application really stand out.

"Being a Sinfonia Student allowed me to acquire valuable work experience. I am now more confident that I can go into a working environment after graduating with the practical skills one may not acquire by solely completing their course of study."  
(Arseniy, Sinfonia Student 2014-15) 
"Being a Sinfonia Student has been particularly helpful: it provided me with experience in several areas relating to the fields in which I wish to work, something which employers value, without being stressful or unreasonably time consuming." 
(David, Sinfonia Student 2014-15)

Great fun

With free concert tickets, opportunities to attend rehearsals and the chance to make new friends, what's not to enjoy? Our Cambridge Sinfonia Students from the 2014-15 season enjoyed their experience so much they have volunteered to mentor the 2015-16 Sinfonia Students, providing additional support and advice as they begin the role.

Applications for Anglia Ruskin University and the University of Cambridge students are open until Friday 16 October. Click here for more information about the role and how to apply.

"If you're considering a career in arts admin or marketing, then this is definitely worthwhile!" 
(Emma, Sinfonia Student 2014-15) 

"This is a student experience with a professional orchestra not to be missed!" 
(Simone, Sinfonia Student 2014-15)

Read Carl's review of At Lunch 4 here.
Read Simone's experience of the 2015 Composers Workshop here.

Karys Orman
Marketing Coordinator