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.