Monday 29 February 2016

A party and a pledge - celebrating ten years of At Lunch

If you've ever sat in the audience of one (or more) of Britten Sinfonia's At Lunch concerts then you'll recognise the feeling of anticipation when a new piece of music is about to be premiered. Think about it: your ears are some of the first in the world to encounter what is going to be played, as a member of an attentive audience silently waiting to experience something new... And if you haven't had the pleasure yet, what are you waiting for?!

Britten Sinfonia is committed to commissioning music from some of the world's most established names and the best emerging talent. You'll find a huge variety of new music throughout each concert season, interwoven with the more familiar. So far in 2015-16 the orchestra has performed new music from the OPUS2015 winner Edward Nesbit, Anna Clyne and Daníel Bjarnason as part of its At Lunch series, which has been shedding light on new music for ten years, with five programmes to explore each season.

Britten Sinfonia musicians cutting the cake at the 10th anniversary party

In celebration of the tenth anniversary of the At Lunch series, on 20 January we hosted our own birthday party after the Wigmore Hall performance of Anna Clyne's This Lunar Beauty that included bubbly, balloons and of course, cake! We welcomed composers whose works had been premiered over the last ten years and displayed some of their scores as a mini exhibition. Since the first concert in October 2005 at Cambridge’s West Road Concert Hall (where every single At Lunch programme has been performed) there have been 43 new works premiered in 157 performances. Our Principal Cellist, Caroline Dearnley has performed in the most At Lunch programmes (33) and she joined us at the party alongside some of her fellow musicians and those who have helped make some of our music commissions possible: generous individuals who have donated to Britten Sinfonia’s Musically Gifted campaign.

A selection of scores from the past ten years
Since launching in 2013 Musically Gifted has raised nearly £50,000 from 135 individuals who have chosen to be part of new music from as little as £10. Ten of the lunchtime commissions have been supported through this scheme. At the party, we launched match-funding for the Musically Gifted campaign to the tune of £10,000 thanks to a generous, anonymous individual who wanted to boost our commissioning campaign for new music this year. If we are able to raise £10,000 before 31 March 2016 from people like you, we will be able to claim the generous pledge of the same amount. This means we need your help. From £10 to £1,000 every gift will help us get closer to our target. You can support Bryce Dessner, Elena Langer, Kenneth Hesketh, Sohrab Uduman (OPUS2016 winner), or Mark-Anthony Turnage, four of whom will feature in our up-coming At Lunch concerts.

So far we've raised £5,650 towards the £10,000 target (since 20 January) but your donation really will make all the difference and help us cross that finish line. We'd like to thank: Pauline Adams, Stephen & Stephanie Bourne, Robert Clark & Susan Costello, Eduardo G. Melguizo, Susan Maddock, Simon & Jenny Martin, Patrick Meehan, Trissa Orange, Sue Prickett, Judith Rattenbury, Roger Rowe, Paul Sackin, Barry & Ann Scrutton, John Stephens, Richard & Fiona Walford and three anonymous donors for helping us to get this far. 

A huge thank you to everyone who has supported Britten Sinfonia’s At Lunch series over the last ten years and all our composers and musicians who have performed so wonderfully. We’ve welcomed more than 25,000 of you to hear new music at lunchtime and hope to see many more of you in the coming seasons.

For more information about Musically Gifted and how you can be part of new music visit and don’t forget that if you donate before 31 March 2016, your gift will qualify for match-funding and will be worth twice as much to Britten Sinfonia’s new music campaign.

Thursday 18 February 2016

Rising Sun, Falling Rain: Our Concerts Director's introduction to Toru Takemitsu

 Ahead of our At Lunch Three tour, James our Concerts Director, shares an introduction into the work of Toru Takemitsu, whose music is featured in the programme...

The timing of our Britten Sinfonia At Lunch Three tour this week is particularly poignant, as our musicians Emer McDonough, Lucy Wakeford and Clare Finnimore perform Toru Takemitsu’s trio for flute, harp and viola Then I Knew t’was Wind, marking the 20th anniversary of the composer’s death, 20th February 1996. Takemitsu is a composer I admire greatly, his music much like that of Messiaen’s: inspired by nature, the environment, Japanese cultural aesthetics but also his bold confrontation of social and racial boundaries of his era (he was commissioned by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic back in the 60s, at the time hailed as one of the world’s leading composers).

His sizeable output is stylistically difficult to define, his concert scores layered with traditional Japanese, jazz, pastiche and eclectic musical idioms not to mention his 90 or so film scores, both mainstream and arthouse, including one to a film starring Sean Connery and Will Snipes. His first feature-length film score was for the controversially erotic 1956 Crazed Fruit, written for guitar, banjo, trumpet, piano, flute harmonica, tenor sax, vibraphone and an array of percussion, unusual to say the least for the time, littered with seductive portamento and detuned effects, Hawaiian-esque guitar slides and a sleazy jazz waltz.

Although he later confessed that as a young man he had little or no knowledge of traditional Japanese music, Takemitsu’s incorporation of traditional Japanese instruments (particularly the biwa and shakuhachi) and non-Western themes, notably in his earlier works Eclipse and November Steps, led where others feared to tread at a time when the Darmstadt School were by far the loudest voice in the classical music scene.
(c) Kazumi Kurigami
Takemitsu is in good company for our hour-long programme featuring some of the relatively limited catalogue of repertoire scored for this configuration of flute, harp and viola, particularly Debussy’s trio written for the same ensemble. Sixty years earlier, Debussy was experimenting with incorporating aspects of the unfamiliar into the familiar, a process of ‘borrowing’ from different musical styles and traditions, a process and a work with which Takemitsu was evidently familiar.

Personally, Takemitsu’s musical logic speaks to me, not purely through a string of evocative titles (it really is much more than that), but in how this music ‘breathes’ so-to-speak; the fact that he was largely self-taught and unafraid of pastiche, but also how this endearing somewhat patchwork approach to composing provides a glimpse into his philosophical, ethereal approach to The Cosmos.

For more on Takemitsu, I’d recommend his autobiographical treatise Confronting Silence, published a year before his death, and also Tom Service’s 2013 Guardian article, which is available here.

James, Concerts Director

At Lunch Three takes place in Norwich on Fri 19 Feb, Cambridge on Tue 23 Feb and London on Wed 24 Feb. More info here

An extended version of this programme will also be performed at Southampton's Turner Sims Concert Hall on Thu 25 Feb. More info here

Tuesday 16 February 2016

Ten years of At Lunch - from the stage

In celebration of the tenth anniversary of our At Lunch concert series, we asked some of our players to share their favourite memories from the last decade of lunchtime concerts...

Joy Farrall (Principal Clarinet):

"There is real excitement in opening a brand new piece of music once a year (if not twice on occasion), knowing it is a piece written especially for your orchestra and your colleagues by an amazing establishment figure or up-and-coming young genius, and for that privilege to have been on-going for ten years is a total delight."

Clare Finnimore (Principal Viola):

"In Norwich there's always a fabulous keen and supportive audience. We can really feel that they're with us every step of the way- they're especially open and receptive to the new music. 

With the BBC broadcasts often being taken from Cambridge's West Road Concert Hall there is always an 'edge' to these lunchtime performances in more ways that one. I'll always remember the bitter cold at the beginning of the rehearsal and the howling gale coming in through the back door with the BBC wires! It's always lovely chatting to audience members here afterwards, then going to Burwash Manor Barns for tea and cake.

Wigmore Hall is such a special place holding many memories for each one of us. With the pressure of the live broadcast behind us it's great to wallow in this perfect acoustic!" 

Huw Watkins (Principal Piano):

"It's been a huge privilege to launch so many new pieces in the last 10 years of At Lunch. I'm particularly proud to have written one of the very first of these commissions in 2006, Dream, for violin, clarinet and piano. Not only was this a remarkable experience musically (working with Joy Farrall and Alina Ibragimova, who joined us for this tour) - we also took the programme to Kraków, where the food was unforgettable!"

Alina Ibragimova, Joy Farrall, Michael Zev Gordon (whose music also featured in this programme),
and David Butcher (Chief Executive) on tour in Kraków.
Miranda Dale (Principal Second Violin):

"Perhaps most of our interesting experiences have been played out before Norwich concerts, including the time when we turned up in a taxi to play at the Assembly Rooms and Jackie realised that she had left her violin on the train! On hair-tailing back in said taxi and feverishly searching the train, which luckily had not started it's return journey, she even more luckily spotted a cleaner walking down the platform with her violin on the trolley! Not much rehearsal was had before that concert, just tea and scones required!

The other famed Norwich incident was when it started snowing just after our train started out from Liverpool Street station in London - it snowed so hard and fast that our train could not cope and we limped towards Norwich having to disembark at Ipswich in order to wait on the freezing platform for another train. Phone calls were feverishly made to and fro to our colleagues and concert manager who had driven there from nearer by and as the time ticked quickly by and the concert should have started we were still on the train! Joy and David valiantly saved the day (Norwich audience as ever game) by having a pre-concert talk (only during concert time!) whilst we scrambled to the Assembly House. I seem to remember Caroline running onto the stage from the taxi and joining Huw in her stocking feet to play a sonata with him followed by our commission before jumping back in a taxi to catch our return train!"

Thomas Gould (Associate Leader):

“At Britten Sinfonia we often say that a chamber music mentality is at the core of everything we do, and the At Lunch series provides us with the chance to put our money where our mouths are! As well as providing an opportunity to interpret chamber masterworks, each programme also features a world premiere composition. We've been privileged to work with composers such as Joey Roukens, Enrico Chapela, Dobrinka Tabakova, Charlie Piper, Nico Muhly and Jay Greenberg (to name but a few) over recent years, and it has been wonderful to see their careers flourish. A particular highlight for me was the At Lunch programme that featured Argentinian bandoneonist Marcelo Nisinman in music by his compatriot Astor Piazzolla. We had a lot of fun letting our hair down and undoing a few buttons for that one!"

Don't miss At Lunch Three, featuring music for the unusual combination of flute, viola and harp by Debussy, Takemitsu and a new work by Icelandic composer Daníel Bjarnason - Norwich Fri 19 Feb, Cambridge Tue 23 Feb & London Wed 24 Feb. More information and booking.

Find out more about Ten Years of At Lunch.

Friday 12 February 2016

Meet Emer McDonough

In another of regular Q&A blogs we asked Britten Sinfonia Principal Flute, Emer McDonough a few questions ahead of her performances of Debussy's Syrinx and his Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp this February in Norwich, Cambridge, London and Southampton.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Being on the same stage as Martha Argerich when she played Ravel Piano Concerto in G Major. I cannot begin to describe the colours she created. I'd never heard such exquisite, evocative and sultry sounds from a piano.

When are you happiest?
When we are all on holiday and all is harmonious between my three boys ...

What is your earliest musical memory?
Watching my big sister play the piano and feeling so desperate to learn too.

Which living person do you most admire, and why?
My mother. She is everything I admire in a person. Kind, gentle, thoughtful, tactful, unbelievably intelligent, the most attentive listener.... I really could go on and on.

What has been your most embarrassing moment?
Misunderstanding a conductor's beat in the second movement of Liszt's Piano Concerto No.2 and going off piste for what seemed like an age. It was just horrible. I still don't know what I played or if he was in 2 or 4. I still blush and feel queasy when I think of it.

What is your most treasured possession?
Apart from my wedding ring and poems, pictures and stories by my kids, my holy communion cross is my most treasured possession. I've had it since I was 6 years old and I wear with it in times of need. I'd be devastated if I lost it.

What would your super power be?

Obviously to be in two places, no make that 3 or 4 places at once!! What's the technical term for that?

If you were an animal what would you be?

I love dogs and horses but I wouldn't want to be one. I caught sight of a hawk the other day riding the wind over an under 10 rugby match I was watching and I remember thinking it would have been pretty spectacular to be soaring up there.

What is your most unappealing habit?
Being absolutely useless with any technology. Speed reading and thus gleaning all the wrong or no information. Forgetting people's names the instant I hear them. Being uncomfortable with silence......

What is your favourite book?
Anything by Colm Toibin or Sebastian Barry.  Irish literature is especially dear to me, both prose and poetry, but I still love the Shakespeare sonnets and plays I learned at school and I always return to Wuthering Heights by Emily Bron

What is your guiltiest pleasure?

I don't really know. I must find one quickly though. I was about to say finishing a cup of tea when it's still hot but I realise that's more of a basic human right than a guilty pleasure. Perhaps watching a panel show called "A league of their own " with my husband. It's just so silly and daft.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

Marcel Moyse, Roy Keane, Roger Federer, Ronaldo, Messi, Jessica Ennis, Judy Dench, Fireman Sam, Johnny Wilkinson, my husband, my closest friends and my three boys who all are football mad hence mainly sport themed dinner party.

If you could go back in time, where would you go?
To when my 2 year old slept.

How do you relax away from the concert platform?
I run, a lot.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Passing my driving test first time with a stupendous parallel parking manoeuvre & my children, oh and the principal flute stuff. I'm really very proud of that too.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
To be calm and take each moment as it comes. I forget to abide by this but the intention is often there.

In a nutshell, what is your philosophy?
 "Go to bed early" seems like a good one but not very eloquent. I say it a lot to the little people and to myself but rarely does anyone, including myself, listen! So I think to treat others as you would like them to treat you is my philosophy in a slightly cracked nutshell.

Emer performs Debussy's Syrinx, a new work by Daniel Bjarnason and Debussy's Sonata for flute, viola and harp with fellow principal players, Clare Finnimore (viola) and Lucy Wakeford (harp) in Britten Sinfonia's At Lunch Three tour. Performances take place in Norwich on Fri 19 Feb, Cambridge on Tue 23 Feb and London on Wed 24 Feb. More info here

An extended version of this programme will also be performed at Southampton's Turner Sims Concert Hall on Thu 25 Feb. More info here

You can read Emer's full biography here.

Thursday 11 February 2016

What is it like to be a member of Britten Sinfonia Academy?

Britten Sinfonia Academy (BSA) is now recruiting for young musicians to join them for a fifth year of exciting musical adventures. Whether you have heard the name before, know someone who has been or is a member of BSA or are completely new to us, you might be wondering about what being a member of BSA is like. To answer this, we hand over to current and past BSA members to tell you exactly why you should apply to be part of BSA 2016 – 17.

Remember the application deadline is fast approaching on Monday 29 February.


Instrument: Trombone
Katy, BSA Year 1, 2012
BSA history: Joined BSA in its first year, September 2012 and left in July 2015
Fondest memory: The residential week combining BSA and AYM in the summer; sitting on the beach absolutely knackered after a solid day of rehearsals. It sums up how we felt every Sunday night after BSA weekends, exhausted but very very happy. 

Katy, BSA Year 3, 2014

What Katy learnt through BSA:
Musically, BSA greatly improved my confidence and taught me a lot about playing as a group. But, for me it is the friends I made that have had the biggest effect; having left BSA last year I still see the friends I made in the orchestra and I think the connection that is formed between the players both musically and personally is really special. You don't have to want to do music as a career to enjoy it, work hard at it and be good at it. 
What Katy is up to now: I'm studying Biochemistry at Sheffield University and I love it! Music is still a massive part of my life, and I hope it always will be.

Alex, BSA Year 1, 2012

Alex, BSA Year 2, 2012


BSA history: Joined BSA in its first year, September 2012 and left in July 2015
How Alex would describe BSA: Being part of BSA is like being part of a family; everyone is valued and everyone is pushed beyond the boundaries to get the most out of the music. BSA is a place where you can thrive musically and feel like part of a community.
What Alex learnt through BSA: BSA taught me how to get the most out of every piece of music, and how important the most mundane of notes could be. I also learnt how to work as an ensemble much better than beforehand through the musical interaction between every instrument.
What Alex is up to now: I am studying Geography, English and Maths in sixth form and I have a place to study Geography at Oxford with a choral scholarship from this October. I hope to work in something to do with sustainability and conservation but still doing as much singing and playing as possible!


Instrument: Violin
BSA history: Joined BSA this year, 2015
BSA in three words: Fun, exciting, inspiring!
What being a member of BSA means to Siân: It means so much to me to be a member of BSA! It is so special to be able to play in such a great chamber orchestra and really enriching to play a range of different styles of music. I have gained a lot of confidence in my playing. In BSA you get to play alongside and learn from friendly and inspiring musicians from Britten Sinfonia and you get to play exciting and varied music to a high level with other keen young players!
What Siân has learnt at BSA: I have learnt so much from playing in various ensembles - usually without a conductor - and listening to the different parts. I am also more able to independently understand the music, whether fingerings and bowings or expression.

Lucy and Siân, BSA Year 4 – rehearsing Vivaldi with Nicola Benedetti


Instrument: Violin and viola
BSA history: Joined BSA in its third year, 2014 and is still a member
BSA in three words: Inspirational, challenging and engaging
What being a member of BSA means to Lucy: It means having a fantastic opportunity to learn music I never would elsewhere and play in venues with people I would never have the chance to elsewhere
What Lucy has learnt through BSA: I have learnt to appreciate many more styles of music and unusual techniques for creating music.
Lucy’s plans for the future: I hope to continue playing music as a hobby, hopefully joining an orchestra or playing for choirs


Instrument: Cello
BSA history: Joined BSA in 2014 and is currently a member
BSA described in three words: Inspiring, immersive, challenging
What Gabriel has learnt in BSA: I've learnt more about what it would be like to be a professional musician. I've also learnt to listen more carefully to myself and others when playing in ensemble.
How Gabriel would describe BSA to a new applicant: We have great fun, make good friends and in the process we cover a wide range of repertoire. We're treated like professional musicians, given real responsibility and expected to step up to the mark. Since being in BSA my musical skills and confidence have developed hugely.

Gabriel performing alongside Nicola Benedetti on the Barbican stage, BSA Year 4

Want to find out more? Visit our website or email us:

Apply here now!

Creative Learning Assistant

Thursday 4 February 2016

Hannah Kendall reflects on the OPUS2016 workshops

Across two days in January the Barbican hosted the OPUS2016 workshops in which ten composers from the scheme had an opportunity to work on their piece and receive valuable feedback from Britten Sinfonia musicians: Thomas Gould, Huw Watkins and Ben Chappell. The workshops were open to the public for the first time so that all composers, musicians and music enthusiasts were able to observe the exchange between Britten Sinfonia musicians and the shortlisted composers, and learn from this fascinating and challenging process. Hannah Kendall shares her experience:

I’ve been an admirer of Britten Sinfonia for a number of years, and so it was a privilege to work so closely with the superb musicians from the ensemble, its executive team, and the 10 shortlisted composers from the OPUS2016 initiative recently. Not only was it an enriching artistic experience through gaining a deeper knowledge of the music of my peers, I also had the opportunity to have an insight into the overall ethos of one of the UK’s leading ensembles.

Supporting contemporary music, and composers in general is integral to Britten Sinfonia’s attitudes. How incredible to have two whole days dedicated to new works by 10 different composers, and performed in such great detail. I really enjoyed the openness of the sessions. Thoughts were shared freely between the musicians, composers, and audience members, which allowed for fascinating discussions. A particular in-depth conversation focused on how each of the composers generate their musical material, and how this might translate to being performed by an acoustic instrument if achieved through a computer programme.

As well as ‘Composer’, I had also been given the title ‘Diversity Ambassador’. I like it! Redressing the imbalances in new and classical music in general is very important to me. Whilst conversations around this topic didn’t specifically come up over the two days, I was very much encouraged by the fact that Britten Sinfonia was demonstrating that it’s at the forefront of their activities.

I loved meeting and working with such talented composers. I particularly admired the confidence that they each displayed through in their writing skills, which were strikingly individual. They all very much deserved to be selected for OPUS2016, and I’m looking forward to hearing more.

Hannah Kendall

The winning composer will be invited to write the piece as a commission for the award winning At Lunch concert in December 2016. The prize will include a dedicated rehearsal for the commissioned piece 6-8 weeks in advance of the concert, three performances of the work (London, Cambridge and Norwich) and a commission fee.

Watch this space, OPUS2016 winner will be announced soon!

Wednesday 3 February 2016

What is Britten Sinfonia Academy?

When we asked current members "What is Britten Sinfonia Academy?" these are some of the responses we got:

Britten Sinfonia Academy (BSA) is an exciting and dynamic training opportunity for talented secondary school aged musicians from the east of England. Now in its fourth year, BSA is looking to recruit a new generation of musicians for the 2016-17 season. We are looking for young people who love music, are open to new ideas and have a healthy appetite for adventure.

As a violinist I often find myself surrounded by musicians at rehearsals and as conversations flow someone inevitably asks me what my job in the Creative Learning department at Britten Sinfonia involves. BSA is one of many projects the team works on and it is certainly one of my favourites. That doesn’t, however, make it easy to condense what BSA is into a short conversation! “BSA’s players get together to play chamber music alongside our Britten Sinfonia professionals who are really engaged in their development. They explore fantastic repertoire, perform in amazing places, challenge themselves musically with new skills in different musical settings, have a blast, make new friends and and and … the list continues!”   

BSA is captured best in moments. One of my favourites, for example, happened this year. I met an incredibly shy violinist, joining us for the first time at the beginning of the season. She barely said two words at the first rehearsal except to offer to help us set up. This last weekend (half-way through our current season) she sat down as one of two solo lines opening a performance of Steve Reich’s Eight Lines, she took a deep breath and her smile lit up the room along with the beauty of her playing. The rest of the ensemble followed her confident leadership and I could barely recognise the quiet player offering to help with music stands from just a few months ago

“I feel so lucky to play alongside professional musicians and individuals of such high standard who all share the same love for music.” – Current BSA member 2015

One of the nicest things about BSA in a way has nothing to do with playing music. It is the environment in which members can support each other and where new, life-long friendships are born. At our most recent course, I watched a group of 18 players squeezed into a small room, trying to work out where they should seat, what part to play, who was in charge. Following a hectic start, the group started to shape and they worked out exactly who to watch and at what point it was their turn to lead or to help the person next to them. It was fascinating to watch a group of very different individuals of different ages and backgrounds work together to become a single ensemble.

“The academy and orchestra members have shaped me as a musician and given me great memories – not to mention friends for life”BSA alumni violin 2013

BSA is a unique experience for these young people; an experience which compliments their musical activity with their teachers, schools and county youth orchestras. Over a season in a series of intensive courses run ordinarily over 2 weekends during term time, BSA offers skills and development which players then take back to their musical lives elsewhere. We hope, whether they go on to join the music profession or simply to continue to play for pleasure,  that they’ll take the pioneering spirit of adventure, the desire to push the boundaries and explore new possibilities which they learn at BSA, with them.

Applications are now open for chamber orchestral instrumentalists of Grade 8 standard. Applicants need to submit a competed application form together with a statement from their teacher. The successful applicants will be invited to a first round individual audition in April. A selection of players will then be invited for a second round, group audition day in July.

Apply here to join the BSA adventure: BSA 2016-17

Creative Learning Co-ordinator