Britten Sinfonia opened the 2018-19 season in November with a new arrangement of Nico Muhly’s The Last Letter, to mark the centenary of the Armistice, and saw out 2018 with performances of Handel’s Messiah, directed by Leader Jacqueline Shave. The orchestra’s Brahms Symphony Cycle conducted by Sir Mark Elder continued with his Second Symphony performed to critical acclaim at Saffron Hall, the Barbican and Norwich’s Theatre Royal. Spring 2019 saw the orchestra give premieres of works by Brad Mehldau and Joby Talbot at the Barbican, as well as a tour to Bilbao, where it performed in 3 concerts as part of the Musika-Música Festival. Britten Sinfonia continued its partnership with Nevill Holt Opera, giving 4 performances of Benjamin Britten’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the orchestra was honoured to perform at Sir Stephen Cleobury’s retirement concert, celebrating 37 years at the helm of King’s College, Cambridge’s illustrious choir.
In May 2019 Britten Sinfonia collaborated once again with Thomas Adès for the grand finale of the Beethoven Symphony Cycle. Majestic performances of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony were heard at Norwich’s St Andrew’s Hall and the Barbican, and the performance of Symphonies 7 and 8 (paired with the world premiere of Gerald Barry’s Viola Concerto written for and performed by Lawrence Power) were broadcast on BBC Radio 3.
Britten Sinfonia also launched Serenading Lincs, a 3-year project in conjunction with Mark Padmore, bringing world-class classical music to the heart of communities across Lincolnshire, performing in village halls, churches and small venues in Nettleton, Alford, Lincoln, Grimsby and Crowland. The performance at Crowland Abbey was recorded for broadcast on BBC Radio 3, the first thing to be recorded in the historic abbey by the BBC since 1925.
The At Lunch series featured Britten Sinfonia’s principal musicians alongside guest artists including Mark Padmore and Màiri Anna NicUalraig. Premieres included works by Luke Styles, Edmund Finnis, Robert Singer and Josephine Stephenson.
Jacqueline Shave was highly commended by the ABO/Salomon Prize judges, for her work leading the orchestra for over ten years.
Britten Sinfonia Academy focussed on music from other traditions, starting 2019 with a rehearsal with Sir Mark Elder. Their year culminated in a collaboration with folk duo Stick in the Wheel for the Academy’s debut at Daylight Music (London’s Union Chapel) and they also performed a folk-inspired work by Josephine Stephenson in concerts in Norwich and Cambridge. The Academy took a story-telling family trail to the University of Cambridge’s museums, and members of the Composer Hub took part in Young OPUS with mentor Sir James MacMillan.
Britten Sinfonia’s musicians took part in Together in Sound, a project embedded in the local community in Saffron Walden, which provided music therapy for adults living with dementia and their carers. They also participated in the music and theatre project, The Lost Letters (also at Saffron Hall), which helped local people create a unique and moving theatre piece based upon their personal experiences. Britten Sinfonia also toured a spaced-themed concert for Key Stage 1 pupils, Professor Astro Cat, giving 25 performances to schoolchildren in Cambridgeshire, Norwich and London, many of whom had been celebrating the 50th anniversary of the moon landings.
Britten Sinfonia’s OPUS2018 competition focussed on folk song and was mentored by Sir James MacMillan, and for the first time in the competition’s history featured a workshop which was open to the public. Robert Singer was announced the winner of OPUS2018 at the workshop at Saffron Hall, and his piece premiered during the At Lunch series.