On Sunday 15 January 2017 Britten Sinfonia Academy gave a family concert at Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum alongside several pop-up concerts around the gallery. Academy members not only performed in the orchestra but also in smaller chamber ensembles for several pop-up concerts around the gallery which they also presented themselves. We spoke to two Academy members to find out how they found the experience;
Lucy Bett, violin
“This project was one of my favourites; not only was the music fantastic and the coaching inspiring but it involved dressing up! Warm up scales were replaced with animal calls and crawling across the floor and we all got in touch with our inner child. With the laughter however, came extra challenges such as keeping an audience engaged and communicating with them in an excited manner whilst remaining focused enough on the music to avoid making mistakes or missing complex cues. Presenting also posed challenges as we had no chance to test the performances with children. The final product was an amazing concert to be part of and feedback is very immediate from children who I can only assume enjoyed themselves from the ferocious galloping going on beside me. After so much work, it is a relief it went well but also sad it is over. I hope to do more family themed projects in the future.”
Morgan Overton, composer member
“For the Fitzwilliam concerts, Britten Sinfonia Academy not only commissioned me to arrange several pieces of orchestral repertoire for the Family Concert in the afternoon (a task consisting of a mix of reorchestration and selective editing of the pieces in question), but also to write two new pieces of music. One was for the Family Concert, and was to be a ‘medley’ of the other tutti orchestral repertoire of the day (consisting of the Storm from Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, The Lark Ascending and The Wasps Overture by Vaughan Williams, the Galop from Kabalevsky’s Comedians, and The Royal March of the Lion from Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals). The second was a longer chamber work for the earlier pop-up concerts inspired by a large pottery punch bowl in the shape of an owl! This second work ended up taking the form of a setting of Edward Lear’s poem The Owl and the Pussycat, for narrator and small ensemble.
Writing for an audience that would consist primarily of younger children had its challenges. On the one hand, I didn’t want to write music that was patronising in any way – I didn’t want to write overly simplistic music that wouldn’t engage anyone in the audience, both young and older. On the other, I also knew that certain techniques which I may use in other pieces, including heavy distortion, shouting and other sudden loud sounds, would not be entirely suitable for a young audience. Therefore, I strove to write an engaging and entertaining piece that remained listenable and accessible for a young audience. The choice of the Edward Lear poem helped in certain respects – he is a poet whom I have loved since I was a very young child, and I thought that the narration would help carry the piece for the members of the audience who perhaps would be slightly lost listening to a purely programmatic, wordless piece. Similarly, the poetic introduction I wrote to be read out at the beginning of the piece, which introduces the main themes of the work, which instruments play them and what they represent is meant to help ease the audience into the work and engage them with both the story and the instruments. This is further aided by the masks that the instrumentalists wear – any instrumentalists playing an animal character had animal masks, the others wearing simpler masks to denote their roles as ‘background sounds’, such as the stars, the boat and the owl’s guitar.”
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