Wednesday 22 June 2016

A year in the life of Britten Sinfonia Academy

On Sunday 6 September 2015 a group of 30 young musicians got together for their first day of Britten Sinfonia Academy (BSA) 2015-16. With three quarters of the musicians new to the ensemble we improvised, played games and rehearsed Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony. Over 10 months later the passionate and thriving ensemble, now all good friends, will be playing their last concert together of the year to include that same symphony. This group have worked hard all year, explored a variety of repertoire spanning a breadth of musical styles and grown and developed as an ensemble and as individual musicians. To celebrate an amazing year they will be performing their own At Lunch concert as part of Britten Sinfonia's 2015-16 series - At Lunch Five in Norwich, on Thursday 30 June, and Cambridge, on Friday 1 July.

“I cannot stress enough how lucky I feel to be able to play alongside professionals and individuals of such high standard, who all share the same love for music.”
Katie, violinist BSA 2015-16
Ahead of the upcoming concerts we want to take a little look back over the past year and celebrate the achievements of this delightful, talented and passionate group of young musicians by looking at some of our favourite moments.

“It is so difficult to pick a highlight from the BSA year! All the time I have spent with the group has been really fun and it has been exciting to watch the group grow. One of my favourite things this year would have to be the concert at the Barbican where we played Vivaldi and Stravinsky – it was an exciting performance and the enthusiasm and commitment from everyone was so thrilling!
And my second highlight is lunchtimes?! I really enjoy the breaks we have in rehearsal days where everyone relaxes together eating whatever food they've thrown into their bag from the fridge that morning, and then sharing cake (hooray!), football, and general nattering. It's such a lovely collection of people!!"
Ali Reid, Britten Sinfonia violin 

“My favourite moment was performing at the Barbican with Nicola Benedetti. It was one of the most amazing opportunities BSA has given me. She was really inspiring and gave fantastic advice alongside our regular professional coaches to make it a thoroughly enjoyable experience in a wonderful venue.”
Lucy, 2nd year in BSA on violin and viola 

“It is the young people we have the good fortune to get to know over a BSA season who make it all worthwhile. 
My favourite moment this season was about half-way through the year, there was a particularly shy lovely individual who played with a very beautiful, very musical and very small sound. Course 4 was three days of rehearsing Louis Andriessen’s Workers Union. This astonishing, relentlessly pulsing piece is 20 minutes of intense, gritty, ugly fortissimo requiring absolute and unfailing concentration. This is not pretty music, it is not dainty, softly spoken, polite Cambridge music. This is raw, rude and unapologetic. 
This piece was performed in the Barbican foyer the following weekend where it was met with enthusiastic applause from curious and intrigued passer-bys. Our vibrant young players looked happy but exhausted as they filed off the stage past me. At the back of the group, someone was looking far from rung out – she was bouncing and flushed. Brandishing her instrument at me she “That was f….” she stopped herself and amended “That was just AWESOME!”
Jen, Creative Learning Director 

"This year has been incredible fun, and the breadth of opportunities and repertoire has been extraordinary! In particular learning Louis Andriessen’s Workers Union for our performance in the Barbican was informative and incredibly enjoyable, and it introduced me to Andriessen’s work which I have since grown to love more and more."
Morgan, 2nd year in BSA, clarinet

"What’s really struck me throughout my year working with the fantastic young people of the Britten Sinfonia Academy, is the level of creativity, enthusiasm, and commitment within the group. A particular memory that comes to mind was a morning rehearsal session with composer Kenneth Hesketh, where the players were invited to share their own short compositions on a given theme/style. Not only was I hugely impressed by the sensitivity, imagination and musicality of the work being shared, but I was also struck by the supportive, appreciative and very respectful environment created by every member of the group. That was a very special moment for me and I feel very optimistic about the future of the arts knowing that such a positive, professional culture is being cultivated in these young players who are the upcoming generation."
Jamie, BSA Trainee Mentor, bassoon

“This was my second year and whilst it was really sad to see some of the older members move on to start University, or live overseas, it surprised me how quickly the new group gelled as an ensemble, which is great because we’ve done some amazing and challenging projects this year and I’ve really enjoyed every course. 
In particular I really enjoyed the focus on contemporary repertoire at the beginning of this year and I have found the rehearsals for the new commission by Kenneth Hesketh exciting, especially when he participated in one of our rehearsals as it was great to clearly see his intentions of how the movements are to be played in order to have the effect he wants us to create, I’m really looking forward to the concerts in a few weeks time!”
Aimée, 2nd year in BSA, viola 

The young musicians of Britten Sinfonia Academy for 2015-16 have worked so hard all year – always with eagerness, fearlessness, determination and passion. We look forward to finishing the year with two amazing concerts and hope to see you there!

Emily, Creative Learning Assistant

Tickets are still available for At Lunch Five, featuring music by Philip Glass and Beethoven, and world premieres from Kenneth Hesketh and BSA member Jasper Eaglesfield, performed by Britten Sinfonia Academy. Hear it in Norwich St Andrew's Hall on Thursday 30 June 1pm, and Cambridge West Road Concert Hall on Friday 1 July 1pm. Click here for more information and booking via our website.

Tuesday 7 June 2016

A Concerto Grosso named Salmigondis - Ken Hesketh

Later this month the young musicians of Britten Sinfonia Academy will give the first performance of Concerto Salmigondis as part of At Lunch Five. Ahead of the premiere, we asked composer Ken Hesketh to share his experience of writing this work, which was also inspired by Handel manuscripts from the Fitzwilliam Museum, for the young ensemble...

Writing for a young group, without conductor, using the music or some aspect of George Frideric
Handel (to be found in the marvellous Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge) is not the type of
commission that comes across my work desk every day, or even every year. Don't get me wrong - it intrigued me and the unforeseen is certainly a good thing, at least musically. Thus, I accepted the commission.

My work is (far more often than not) rhythmically agile and turbulent, usually rapid in harmonic
change and generally quite tricky to pull off. I like it that way. However, I also like working with
younger players, especially those who have technical facility and musically open minds. The brief
necessarily challenged my usual way of working and so this particular commission became an enjoyable conundrum that needed to be solved and one that in doing so sharpened my lateral thinking skills. There are various approaches I could have pursued - graphic score, some form of aleatoricism, some sort of post-minimal knitting music (rhythmically repetitive to get around the no-conductor stipulation). The list of options could go on as you might imagine. However, the Handelian requirement of the brief gave me a clue as to how to proceed.

During the workshops with Britten Sinfonia Academy, led by the wonderful Rachel Byrt and
Christopher Suckling, I was able to indulge my early joy of the music of Handel, specifically from my years as a chorister and as a young school boy. One of my first Dover edition scores was the Concerti Grossi, Op. 6, or Twelve Grand Concertos, HWV 319–330, by Handel. The other was the complete Brandenburg Concerti. Both are now discoloured with age and show signs of early dog-earing. Being able to peruse the delicacies and riches of the Fitz Handeliana collection (thanks to Rachel Sinfield and Dr Suzanne Reynolds at the Fitzwilliam Museum for such access) was a real joy, particularly in the company of Rachel and Christopher. Seeing the young performers from BSA enjoying their exploration of the collection was a delight. The introduction by Dr. Suckling to various aspects of Handel's music, life and times really enthralled the young players and in the process suggested a way for me to combine aspects of the collection in my own new piece. Amid the manuscripts on display during the workshop was a carillon part from the final chorus of Part 1 of L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato (an ode by Handel based on the poetry of John Milton) titled "Or let the merry bells ring round". In my correspondence with Dr. Suckling regarding the carillon part, he sent me the following rather splendid quotation from Charles Jennens to Lord Guernsey, 19 September 1738:

"Mr Handel’s head is more full of Maggots [an 18th century term for an earworm] than ever. I found yesterday in his room a very queer Instrument which He calls Carillon (Anglice a Bell,) and says some call it a Tubalcain, I suppose because it is both in the make and tone like a set of Hammers striking upon Anvils. ’Tis play’d upon with Keys like a Harpsichord, and with this Cyclopean Instrument he designs to make poor Saul stark mad."

Look up TubalCain in the bible (Genesis 4:22) by the way (and Jubalcain if you have a few minutes after that).

The carillon part itself seems to be transposed by a perfect fifth (it sounds in D, but is notated in G). I therefore chose to put a quotation from this part in G (though the surrounding texture of my work is anything but G, D or anything else). There is speculation, according to Dr. Suckling, that Handel's carillon "had thick bars to sound like [an] anvil with pitch higher than written notes (for metal bar free at both ends, thicker bar = higher pitch)".

The one extra-musical element present in my work comes from a painting, "The Charming Brute" - a caricature by the French engraver, painter and set designer Joseph Goupy of Handel (dated 1754) - which also resides at the Fitzwilliam museum and suggested the title for one of the movements of the Concerto. The story behind this painting is fascinating and there is a recounting of it in the Monthly Epitome and Catalogue of New Publications, Volume 2, Jan to Dec 1798 (reproduced below):

An interesting insight to Handel’s culinary generosity!

In order to bring these elements together I chose a musical form called the pasticcio (literally pasty in Italian); a musical work built from an adaptation of an existing work (or works). Handel worked with the pasticcio form throughout his life, for example in Muzio Scevola (1721) and Giove in Argo (1739). My work for BSA, Concerto Salmigondis, utilises this form. The word salmigondis is a synonym for pasticcio (salmigondis is a French word meaning a disparate assembly of things). Loosely based on the Concerto Grosso form, similar to those found in the Op. 6 concerti, it is in five sections - Intrada, Lento, Leggiero – The Charming Brute, Musette and Hop Jig. The antique titles and forms of the movements have been freely interpreted and, if one is frank, resulted in a neoclassicisation of my style for this particular work. The concept of the concertino and ripieno groups from the Concerto Grosso form is utilized (mostly formed of principle strings and harpsichord, but also, in the ‘Brute’ movement, of various groups of flutes, oboes and brass); the carillon part from the Fitz Handeliana collection also peeks through textures in various forms in the third movement. Four of the five movements are based on music written when I was about the age of the average BSA member (the 'Brute’ movement has no antecedent). The reworking of the originals includes extensions and recastings as well as the imposition of various episodes for the concertino groups on the extant materials’ formal arcs. This frequently meant taking the originals down very different compositional routes allowing me to have a great deal of fun in the process.

After hearing a rehearsal of the completed work for the first time with BSA I was convinced I had
fulfilled the brief. I had enjoyed doing so, and it was clear - wonderfully clear - that BSA really
enjoyed what I had written. When that happens it's a wonderful feeling as you might imagine. Being able to cut one’s musical cloth accordingly and to quickly commit to a project outside of the everyday was something Handel was pretty good at. I greatly enjoyed doing likewise, just for a moment, and in the process communicated, interacted and responded to the wider musical world in a way that usually evades me.

Ken Hesketh (composer)

Concerto Salmigondis will be performed by Britten Sinfonia Academy as part of At Lunch Five. Tickets are still available for both performances, in Norwich's St Andrew's Hall on Thursday 30 June, 1pm (tickets), and in Cambridge's West Road Concert Hall on Friday 1 July, 1pm (tickets). More information can also be found on our website.