Sunday marked the end of our seventh London Sinfonietta Academy after a stunning performance by the players on Saturday 11 July, led by Pierre-André Valade. Below, flautist Emma Halnan and clarinettist Matthew Scott share their final diary entries from the week. We’d like to thank both of them for providing such a terrific insight and also send our congratulations to them and the rest of the ensemble on a beautiful final performance.
FRIDAY 10 – SUNDAY 12 JULY 2015
Time flew during the London Sinfonietta Academy! Before we knew it, it was Friday, day 5. This was a full day of rehearsals – final preparation for Saturday’s concert. It was very satisfying to return to works which we had already rehearsed; everything felt significantly more comfortable. We had time to go into lots of detail, and really learn to understand the music. We were extremely fortunate to still have many London Sinfonietta players sitting in on all of our rehearsals. By the end of the day, we definitely felt very well-prepared for the concert.
The concert itself was a fantastic experience. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to perform the works in full, after rehearsing them in such detail. LSO St. Luke’s was the ideal venue; the right size for the ensemble, and a good acoustic. We watched any pieces we were not playing in from the side of the stage. I really enjoyed listening to the Simpson and Pritchard; the Pritchard was particularly exciting, being a world premiere. I was very pleased with the result, especially considering that it was entirely new programme for all of us and we only met as an ensemble five days before!
The final day of the course on Sunday was mostly dedicated to the conducting students. It was quite unusual and very nice to rehearse a programme the day after performing it! Each conductor had one hour to rehearse the Ligeti and Birtwistle with us. Throughout the rehearsals, they received invaluable advice from both Pierre-André and the London Sinfonietta players. The conducting lessons were also fascinating for us instrumentalists, and enabled us to get to know the repertoire even better.
Participating in the London Sinfonietta Academy has been a wonderful and unique experience. It is rare to have so much time to rehearse new works, and really get to know them intimately. With the help of all of the tutors, I feel I am now in a much better position to approach a new work myself, without panicking, if it were to appear on an orchestral schedule. I have optimistically taken lots of notes on this week’s scores, in the hope that I will have the opportunity to perform them again in the near future!
FRIDAY 10 – SUNDAY 12 JULY 2015
So, the final few days of the London Sinfonietta Academy have been and gone. It’s been a fantastic week of high-level contemporary music-making and we have all thoroughly enjoyed working under the guidance of the London Sinfonietta players and conductor Pierre-André Valade – whose combined experience and knowledge of this repertoire have been invaluable.
I won’t go into too much detail, but suffice to say, Friday’s rehearsals went smoothly; starting in the morning touching up the Birtwistle with Joan Atherton (Principal Violin), Michael Thompson (Principal French Horn) and John Orford (Principal Bassoon). In the afternoon, we moved on to the Ligeti and Simpson, joined also by Lionel Handy (cello). As we had begun to settle into the pieces by this point, much of the work involved fine tuning details and ensemble balance.
On the morning of the concert we met for the first time at LSO St Luke’s; a marvellous space to perform in. The dress rehearsal was our first complete run of the programme (in concert order), but we also spent time checking various transition points between tempo/time signature changes and ensuring the seating shifts between pieces would run smoothly!
I feel the concert itself ran as well as we could have hoped; there are always little things that might have gone better a second time, but such is the nature of live performance and being a musician! To have put together such a challenging programme in the space of one week with an ensemble that have never performed as a unit before is a big achievement. We are extremely grateful to Pierre-André and all the London Sinfonietta team for their encouragement, inspiration and coaching over the week.
On the Sunday morning we returned to the Trinity Laban Studios for one final session; this time working with the conductors. Whereas the masterclasses earlier in the week had participants conducting London Sinfonietta players, this time they conducted us for the first time. We focused first on the Ligeti, then the Birtwistle again (which they conducted earlier in the week). It was great to see what they had learned over the week and for us to play these pieces under another’s baton – every conductor has a different style, so to try these pieces for the last time under three different conductors was a useful exercise for us as well as them. It was an interesting contrast; with the Ligeti perhaps the more demanding for us as players, but remaining entirely in 4/4, and the Birtwistle requiring extremely accurate conducting with its constantly shifting time signatures. Each piece needed a different skill set from the conductors, with Pierre-André encouraging a more drawn out style in the Ligeti, and focused precision in the Birtwistle. Although difficult to put into words, the entire body language of the conductor affects what we as musicians deliver; so if we get mixed messages from the conductor, it is more confusing than helpful and can hinder the flow of the music. Pierre-André had a lot of interesting points to make and really helped the conductors correctly convey what they wanted from us as the players, as well as giving us some insight into the thought and intentions behind the conducting.
The week was a fantastic experience and I hope those of you who came enjoyed the performance. I would encourage anyone looking for high-level contemporary music performance experience, or simply looking to gain a better understanding of contemporary music, to apply to the London Sinfonietta Academy in the future. Thanks again to Pierre-André Valade, all the London Sinfonietta team and tutors and to all their sponsors for making this week happen, and have a great summer!