Welcoming live audiences back after the pandemic was something the musicians and administration team were keen to do as soon as it was safe. The orchestra took part in Saffron Hall’s pilot concerts, which featured a new layout for the versatile performance space: cabaret tables. Performances at Saffron Hall in the second half of 2020 included a celebration of Arvo Pärt’s 85th birthday, a moving performance of Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder under the baton of Sir Mark Elder, and a relaxed, family-friendly concert.
Despite the pandemic, Britten Sinfonia’s commitment to its residency in Norwich led to incredibly special performances of Bach’s Magnificat with conductor Stephen Layton and soloists from Polyphony to a socially distanced audience just before Christmas; a welcome moment of serenity between the November and January restrictions.
Britten Sinfonia also took part in the Live from the Barbican series, a mixed offering of classical and contemporary concerts which gave audiences the choice between attending in person or watching from the comfort of their own homes. Britten Sinfonia opened the series with star bass-baritone Bryn Terfel, whose emotional performance of Ivor Novello’s Keep the home fires burning was praised by audiences and critics alike. Proving just how nimble the orchestra is, up next was a jazz-influenced concert with soloist Shabaka Hutchings, unfortunately without an audience due to coronavirus restrictions at the time.
When further lockdowns followed in the New Year, an Easter performance of Bach’s St John Passion conducted by Daniel Hyde was streamed from Saffron Hall in partnership with Classic FM and was seen by over 80,000 people.
In collaboration with Orchestras Live and Saffron Hall, members of the orchestra were part of Come Together, an initiative for members of the community in Saffron Walden. While unable to meet in person, the group took part in weekly Zoom sessions, during which they met the musicians and created visual art, songs, poetry, and prose together. The project culminated with an online sharing of their work with live performances by the musicians.
As spring began, restrictions lifted and Britten Sinfonia performed the first two of its pioneering Surround Sound concerts to audiences on socially distanced mats at Norwich and Ely Cathedrals. Surround Sound live music experiences feature playlists of shorter pieces of classical music suitable for the whole family, and South African vocalist/cellist Abel Selaocoe’s engaging performance style certainly proved popular. These unique live shows were made possible thanks to Arts Council England’s Culture Recovery Fund.