2020-21 - Britten Sinfonia


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.

Working with music therapists and students from ARU, Britten Sinfonia were once again part of Together in Sound, Saffron Hall’s group for people living with dementia, and those caring for them. The group enjoyed listening to the music and finding out more about the instruments.

A film developed with illustrator James Mayhew was distributed to schools in Peterborough encouraging children to draw the music that they hear, introducing them to music by Britten and Grieg.

Britten Sinfonia continued its tradition of nurturing and developing the careers of composers, revamping its offering into two distinct schemes: Opus 1, for composers near the start of their composition journey and Magnum Opus, for composers who have achieved some success and are looking for more support to take the next step in their career. Over the summer of 2021, a cohort of eight composers: Hugo Bell, Elliott Park, Pia Rose Scattergood, Darius Paymai, Jamie Elless, Rachael Gibson, Peter Walton and John Rivera Pico, took part in workshops with Britten Sinfonia musicians and Programme Directors Dobrinka Tabakova and Joe Cutler to develop their composition skills in a supportive environment.

On the concert platform, Britten Sinfonia remained active in the commissioning and premiering of new music, including works by Jack Sheen (streamed for free from Wigmore Hall), Thomas Adès’ Shanty (UK premiere, Barbican Centre), and new pieces by Tansy Davies and John Woolrich at Snape Maltings.

Rounding off the season was a return to the BBC Proms with the National Youth Chamber Choir and conductor David Bates. Performances of music by Rameau and Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges were complimented by a dramatic performance of Mozart’s Requiem in the Royal Albert Hall.

Despite the pandemic, Britten Sinfonia has emerged thriving but this wouldn’t be possible without the financial backing of several trusts, foundations, public funders and of course the Friends, Benefactors, Chair Partners and members of the Sinfonia Circle who have continued to pledge their support for classical music even when we had to be silent.