2019-20 - Britten Sinfonia


Britten Sinfonia’s 2019-20 season was a true representation of the adventurous spirit that the orchestra is known for. The season launched with two affecting London premieres: Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Refugee with tenor Allan Clayton, the London premiere of Sir James MacMillan’s fifth symphony Le grand inconnu, with regular collaborators, The Sixteen. In Norwich, the season opened with a virtuosic performance of ‘Eight Seasons’ (Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons interspersed with Piazzolla’s tango-flavoured response, The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires).

After rave reviews of the UK premiere of Steve Reich’s Pulse in 2016, Britten Sinfonia was delighted to be invited to work with the legendary minimalist composer again. Britten Sinfonia was a commissioning partner in, and gave the UK premiere tour of Reich’s multimedia collaboration with visual artist Gerhard Richter (Reich/Richter), with Steve Reich’s first visit to Saffron Hall to give an exclusive interview and audience Q&A.

Britten Sinfonia also announced the release of all 9 Beethoven symphonies with conductor Thomas Adès, recorded live during the orchestra’s critically acclaimed Beethoven Symphony Cycle. The first disc, featuring symphonies 1-3 was released on Signum Classics in April 2020, with further releases planned in the 2020-21 season.

In autumn 2019, Britten Sinfonia also toured the UK and Asia with pianist Benjamin Grosvenor performing Bach and Mozart, gave the world premiere performance of Sir Karl Jenkin’s Miserere, and took part in the Barbican’s celebration of computer pioneer Ada Lovelace, premiering technology-flavoured works by Emily Howard, Shiva Feshareki, Robert Laidlow, and Patricia Alessandrini. The orchestra also toured to New York with The Sixteen, for the US premiere of Sir James MacMillan’s glorious setting of the Stabat mater in Alice Tully Hall.

The At Lunch series featured world premieres by Laurence Osborn (for harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani) and a song cycle by Freya Waley-Cohen with mezzo-soprano Katie Bray, both of which toured to London, Cambridge and Norwich.

Britten Sinfonia’s collaboration with Orchestras Live and Lemos & Crane continued in HMP Whitemoor, where the members of the orchestra, residents and staff at the prison took part in musical workshops. The workshops culminated in a music festival for families of the prison’s residents, attended by over 200 people, and was praised by prison staff for its positive effect on the relationship between prison staff and residents. The project strengthened residents’ relationships with their families, who were able to see their loved ones doing something so positive with their time inside.

Britten Sinfonia also performed to over 1000 primary school children in Cambridgeshire, touring a musical adaptation of Nadia Shireen’s book Billy and the Beast. Percussionist and presenter Rosie Bergonzi took the children and a quintet of Britten Sinfonia musicians on a journey into the forest with Billy and her friend Fat Cat, to try and outwit the scary beast.

Early Ears, a musical play pilot project for 0-2 year olds funded by Ragdoll saw Britten Sinfonia work with Early Years specialist Sophie Fox for the first time. The project brought orchestral instruments and high-quality music-making to 15 families in Peterborough, with musicians from Britten Sinfonia attending the sessions. After a successful six-month pilot, a larger-scale project in the same area is being planned for next season.

Britten Sinfonia Academy’s first course focussed on minimalism, exploring works by Steve Reich, Terry Riley, David Lang, Ligeti and Arvo Pärt. They were coached by internationally renowned percussionist and conductor Colin Currie alongside brilliant regular tutors from Britten Sinfonia. Later on in the season, they worked on interpreting earlier repertoire such as CPE Bach and Mozart, and also spent time working on chamber music in their sections with soloists from Britten Sinfonia: Jacqueline Shave coached the strings and Thomas Hancox worked wind and brass. The strings also welcomed tabla player Kuljit Bhamra to work on Jackie’s piece Machair to Myrrh.

Britten Sinfonia Academy’s Composer Hub members had the opportunity to hear their wind quintets played by members of BSA, and were mentored by Samantha Fernando.

The end of the season ushered in major change for Britten Sinfonia as David Butcher stepped down following 28 years at the helm, and the orchestra welcomed his successor, Meurig Bowen to the team. After 18 years at Sturton Street, Cambridge the administration team moved its HQ within Cambridge to offices in Anglia Ruskin University’s Compass House.

No mention of 2020 would be complete without the coronavirus crisis. For the first time in its 28-year history, Britten Sinfonia had to cancel concerts. The orchestra mourned the loss of many events from March 2020 until the end of the season, including a revival of Curlew River with Ian Bostridge, a collaboration with Ireland-based company Teaċ Daṁsa at Sadler’s Wells and St Matthew Passion led by Jacqueline Shave. Britten Sinfonia Academy had lunchtime concerts cancelled, and a performance in partnership Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum was also postponed.

However, despite an incredibly challenging environment for the cultural sector, Britten Sinfonia remained determined to survive, and was awarded emergency funding from Arts Council England. Members of the orchestra filmed performances in their own homes, gave a recital to Friends and Benefactors on Zoom and took part in the BBC Proms in a performance with sitar player Anoushka Shankar and electronic artist Gold Panda.