Thursday 30 April 2015

Peterborough Music Takeover day - O to make the most jubilant song!

On Saturday 18 April, Peterborough City Centre was alive with the sounds of the Music Takeover: all sorts of music… in all sorts of places…!  Recorders and ukuleles in the shopping centre, choral groups in the city square, pop bands on pop-up stages and solo artists and duos in cafes and restaurants. Everywhere you turned, up popped someone to serenade you while buying a coffee or nipping to the shops.

Britten Sinfonia’s Creative Learning department were delighted to be invited to take part in the event, and worked with local community groups to create and perform a brand new piece, ‘O to make the most jubilant song!’ which was premiered in Cathedral Square as part of the Music Takeover day.

We commissioned the wonderful young composer and music leader Omar Shahryar to work with four fabulous music groups. We hoped to challenge a diverse range of musicians from different ages, musical backgrounds and different community groups to come together to celebrate and champion their city.

Between January and March a Britten Sinfonia team visited each of four groups, Cantus Polonicum – the Polish Choir, City of Peterborough Symphony Orchestra (CPSO), Peterborough Choral Society and the Indian Dhol Ensemble a number of times, to get to know each other and to compose musical ideas. Omar then went away and compiled and modified these ideas, along with his own, and created the finished composition. We had two fabulous days, where all the musicians came together to workshop, rehearse and get to know each other before the big performance day.

On the concert day, (lucky for April) the sun came out, and the performers shined! The final piece was about 15 minutes long. It included complex instrumental sections for Britten Sinfonia and CPSO musicians, sections in English and Polish for the two choirs, and a massive party finish featuring the Dhol drummers and a catchy tune to get the audience singing along as well!

I think that all participants would say that the process was challenging! It was difficult to imagine what the final performance was going to be like, when workshopping and improvising on a cold January evening. but Omar took loads of inspiration and ideas from the participants and crafted them into a fabulous final piece. We were all singing and dancing at the end of the performance – and most importantly, all the musicians involved did themselves, and their city, proud. It was a wonderful performance to be a part of, and to see different communities and musical styles come together to celebrate!

Bravo to all who took part!

Special thank yous to:  Omar Shahryar – composer, Ellie Moran – mezzo soprano, Britten Sinfonia Musicians, funders Orchestras Live and Arts Council England and the event organisers Vivacity Peterborough.

Isobel Timms
Britten Sinfonia Academy Manager

Friday 24 April 2015

Meet Iain Farrington

Pianist, orgainst, composer and arranger, Iain Farrington regularly appears with Britten Sinfonia in all four of these guises. This May he performs in our Songs of Vienna programme with Barbara Hannigan, and later in the summer Britten Sinfonia Academy give the world premiere performances of his new work, YOYO. Despite having such a busy schedule Iain took some time out to tell us a bit about himself.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Having a career in music has been the greatest highlight of all. I’m incredibly fortunate to have my favourite hobby as a job.

When are you happiest?
Performing wonderful music with wonderful people.

What is your greatest fear?
Terrorism. The London bombings had a big effect on my family and we’ve lived with it ever since.

What is your earliest musical memory?
Playing the recorder at primary school. There were big multi-coloured musical notes on the board to follow.

Which living person do you most admire, and why?
Rather than admiring one individual, I most admire aid workers and volunteers working in dangerous situations to help innocent people. Their bravery is astonishing.

What was your most embarrassing moment?
During a concert on the organ, the blower slowly packed up and the instrument gradually ran out of puff. The pitch sank lower and lower until it wheezed its last breath. Thankfully everyone clapped at the end.

What is your most treasured possession?
My piano, a 1930’s Broadwood upright. It’s taken a lot of pounding over the years, and I’ve written all of my music with it.

What would your super power be?
To be able to single-handedly rid the world of all military weapons.

If you were an animal what would you be?

A bird, having total freedom of movement and a beautiful singing voice.

What is your most unappealing habit?
You’ll have to ask someone else that one!

What is your favourite book?
Shakespeare’s complete works, especially ‘The Tempest’.

What is your guiltiest pleasure?
Chocolate chip muffins.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

William Shakespeare. He’s the greatest enigma, and there are so many questions to ask him, the first being: “So how many of those plays did you write?”

If you could go back in time, where would you go?
The 20 years from 1893 to 1913. It’s probably the richest period in European musical history, and to hear those great premieres from late Brahms to early Stravinsky would be amazing. Then I would take a ship to New Orleans to catch the birth of jazz.

How do you relax away from the concert platform?
Playing football with my two young girls.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I’m proud of the wide variety and breadth of my work as a pianist, organist, conductor, composer and arranger. I’ve created and performed a large volume of music in a whole range of styles and genres, in an effort to make concerts that are engaging and even fun!

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?

It’s short and precious, so we should make it positive.

In a nutshell, what is your philosophy?

Do something good.

See Iain Farrington in concert during our performances of Songs of Vienna in Bradford on Avon on Fri1 May, Cambridge on Sat 2 May and London on Thu 7 May. More info
You can hear Britten Sinfonia Academy perform Iain's new work, YOYO on Tue 30 Jun in Cambridge and Fri 3 Jul in Norwich. More info

Tuesday 14 April 2015

Stravinsky vs. Mozart

Ahead of our programme entitled Stravinsky & Neo-Classicism featuring Barbara Hannigan this May, Britten Sinfonia programme note writer, Jo Kirkbride explores the classical line of descent from Mozart to Stravinsky;

If Mozart and Stravinsky were both alive today, it’s unlikely that they would be friends. Although both their music and their careers share many common themes, the two had strong – and opposing – opinions when it comes to the meaning of music.

For Stravinsky, music was not about expression:

(C) Boosey & Hawkes

Stravinsky: ‘I consider that music is, by its very nature, essentially powerless to express anything at all, whether a feeling, an attitude of mind, a psychological mood, a phenomenon of nature, etc... Expression has never been an inherent property of music. That is by no means the purpose of its existence.’

But Mozart could hardly disagree more:

Mozart: ‘Neither a lofty degree of intelligence nor imagination nor both together go to the making of genius. Love, love, love, that is the soul of genius.’

Despite their differences, Stravinsky learned a lot from his predecessor and many of his greatest works owe their inspiration to Mozart’s masterpieces. Stravinsky was also outspoken about his respect for Mozart’s genius:

Stravinsky: ‘I remember being handed a score composed by Mozart at the age of eleven. What could I say? I felt like de Kooning, who was asked to comment on a certain abstract painting, and answered in the negative. He was then told it was the work of a celebrated monkey. “That's different. For a monkey, it's terrific.”’

Both found fame with their large theatrical spectacles, and both were no stranger to controversy. When La clemenza di Tito was premiered in September 1791, the audience – who were more familiar with Mozart’s thrilling opera buffa – responded less than enthusiastically and the mood was best summed up by Empress Maria Louisa, who famously dismissed it as ‘German hogwash’. The audience were a lot less polite at the premiere of The Rite of Spring – its subject was considered so scandalous that it caused a riot in the theatre, and the Musical Times later wrote in their review that ‘practically, it has no relation to music at all as most of us understand the word.’

In the mid-1920s Stravinsky began to explore the music of the past in what became known as ‘neoclassicism’. Although the name is misleading, as this period encompassed much more than just the classical era, Mozart became a central figure in Stravinsky’s look back at western classical music history. For Stravinsky, this period was characterised by delicate, stripped-down forms and procedures, and he abandoned the large orchestras demanded by his previous ballets (such as Petrushka and The Rite of Spring). More importantly, he revisited classical and baroque techniques, pitting classical harmonic principles against the new sound worlds of the twentieth century.

It wasn’t just the music that he borrowed from Mozart either. The story of The Rake’s Progress is another incarnation of the Don Juan legend, which was made most famous in Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni. Stravinsky’s work is unmistakeably a homage to Mozart’s original: it is scored for the same forces as Don Giovanni and imitates many of the hallmarks of Mozart’s operatic style, including the traditional recitative and aria forms. Only the harmonic language gives away its modern birth date, and even this is sometimes distorted to affect a more convincing portrayal of the classical style.

So what of the suggestion that Stravinsky’s neoclassical works are just cheap rip-offs of Mozart’s best party pieces? Stravinsky had his own answer for that:

Stravinsky: ‘Lesser artists borrow, greater artists steal.’

(c) Jo Kirkbride

Britten Sinfonia perform Stravinsky & Neo-classicism with Barbara Hannigan on Tuesday 5 May at Birmingham Town Hall, Wednesday 6 May at the Barbican, Saturday 9 May at Saffron Hall and on Tuesday 12 May as part of the Brighton Festival. For full details and to book tickets click here.