LONDON SINFONIETTA ACADEMY DIARY – THE FINAL THREE DAYS

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.

EMMA HALNAN

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.

5The 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!

MATTHEW SCOTT

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!

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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!

A SYNAESTHETIC APPROACH: DEBORAH PRITCHARD

The final performance of this summer’s London Sinfonietta Academy takes place tomorrow (Saturday 11 July) at LSO St Luke’s. Tickets are free but advance booking is essential. The repertoire includes Mark Simpson, Mark-Anthony Turnage, Darius Milhaud, György Ligeti, Harrison Birtwistle and a brand new commission by Deborah Pritchard.

Ahead of its world premiere, we asked Deborah to share the ins and outs of her creative process for Waves and Waterfalls:

“I have a synaesthetic approach to composition with a direct link between colour and intervals, meaning much of my music is in response to visual artworks. Waves and Waterfalls for chamber ensemble is written in response to the painting Wave returning (oil on canvas, 2009) by contemporary artist and sculptor Maggi Hambling and follows on from my recent violin concerto Wall of Water that also responded to her work and was performed at the National Gallery. As part of my creative process I was able to spend some time working in front of the painting at Hambling’s London studio and I attempted to capture the powerful, elegiac movement of the wave, the huge range of textures, the juxtaposition of light and darkness and the deep, vivid colours of the sea. 

In describing her painting Hambling says: ‘From the left the wave rises, sweeping to the right where it dissolves on the shingle and returns into the sea. It is an attempt to see a moment when the sea challenges the land.’© Maggi Hambling My piece begins with a powerful musical statement that quickly dissipates and comes to rest like a wave that crashes onto the shingle. I respond synaesthetically to the deep blues, greens and black of the sea with the colder intervals of the perfect fourth, fifth and tritone, coloured with the minor and major second. An expressive trumpet solo then emerges from the darkness and the music rises up towards another crashing wave-like statement. This pattern repeats until the music dissipates no more and moves into a continuum of demisemiquavers in the upper strings that support a soprano saxophone solo, suggestive of the more delicate, cascading water found at the height of the wave, like a miniature waterfall, full of light and movement. The music rises up once more, repeats a transformed version of the opening statement and leads to the final section of the piece that introduces the major and minor third through a series of white-note modes. A waterfall-like percussive texture moves over an expressive line in the lower strings concluding with the solo trumpet melody of the opening, this time muted and transformed harmonically. Waves and Waterfalls is not only a response to Hambling’s painting, but is also a personal reflection on the movement, expression and power of the sea.

I have been very impressed by the focussed and expressive playing of the Academy musicians, their meticulous attention to illuminating the many different colours and textures in my piece and their ability to engage with the meaning behind the work. It has also been incredibly inspiring to work with such a wonderful conductor as Pierre-André Valade, who has interpreted the shape and pacing of my music perfectly, and I’m very much looking forward to the performance on Saturday.”

LONDON SINFONIETTA ACADEMY DIARY – DAY 4

This week we’re running our seventh London Sinfonietta Academy and participants Emma Halnan and Matthew Scott are sharing their diary day-by-day. Here is Matthew’s account of Day 4.

The course culminates on Saturday 11 July in a public Musicians of Tomorrow performance at LSO St Lukes. Tickets are free but advance booking is essential.

THURSDAY 9 JULY 2015

Its Day 4 already of the London Sinfonietta Academy and despite the tube strike, we pretty much started on schedule!

After another intense day yesterday, we had a bit more space with today’s rehearsals. We began with Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Snapshots, joined again by Joan Atherton (Principal Second Violin), John Constable (Principal Piano) and Mark van de Wiel (Principal Clarinet). Much of the focus here was on relative dynamics and ensuring absolute rhythmic stability. Pierre-André made more comments about ‘mezzo dynamics’; this time reminding us they are movable and context sensitive, i.e. an mp next to a f must actually be nearer p in dynamic to achieve the required contrast. Other comments that resonated included some work on tuning issues, where you must adjust to the fixed instruments of the ensemble (such as a piano, which has to be specially tuned) regardless of whether it is correct or not. Secondly, after some intense concentration from the strings on a rhythmic passage, Pierre-André chimed in to comment “too much effort in your counting actually hinders the rhythm, just relax”, and suddenly, with the tension released, it flowed better.

The second piece for the morning was Mark Simpson’s Straw Dogs. Not being involved in this work, I crept off to find a spare studio to practice; taking a quick snapshot (sorry – couldn’t resist!) from the observation window above the rehearsal room.

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Pierre-André decided to take an early break for lunch; so the Simpson must have gone well!2

Small revelations: I discovered the little deli we had been eating lunch at each day had a meal deal – the catch being very little choice. I was however amused to discover a rather unusual package promotion on my yogurt pot lid! Rather than the 3standard array of monetary prizes or useless junk offered to try and convince customers to buy said yogurt, this company were offering to pay some lucky stranger’s mortgage or rent for a year! Sorry to diverge from the agenda, but this struck me as one of the stranger promotions I have seen over the years!

The afternoon session promptly began with Milhaud’s Chamber Symphony No.5, joined again by Simon Haram (Principal Saxophone), Philippa Davies (flute), Lionel Handy (cello) and Helen Tunstall (Principal Harp). The main focus was on ensemble balance and the lengths of various articulations. Although a short piece, there are a lot of colours to explore, and Pierre-André knew exactly what he wanted from us.

The final work of the day, before the daunting travel home with no tube system, was Deborah Pritchard’s Waves and Waterfalls. Deborah joined us again for the rehearsal and has made a few adjustments to her score over the last couple of days – this is standard practise upon composers hearing their work performed for the first time, finding out which ideas work the best and how the overall balance sounds off the paper. Beyond that, Pierre-André sought to unify our phrase lengths in order to maintain a ‘water-like’ flow, and discuss where the tension points were.

It’s been an awesome week so far, and we are all very much looking forward to the performance on Saturday at LSO St. Lukes!

LONDON SINFONIETTA ACADEMY DIARY – DAY 3

This week we’re running our seventh London Sinfonietta Academy and participants Emma Halnan and Matthew Scott are recounting their experience day-by-day: here is Emma’s account of Day 3.

The course culminates on Saturday 11 July in a public Musicians of Tomorrow performance at LSO St Lukes. Tickets are free but advance booking is essential.

WEDNESDAY 8 JULY 2015

London Sinfonietta Academy Day 3! First thing this morning, the ensemble had their second rehearsal of Deborah Pritchard’s new piece Waves and Waterfalls. This is one of two works I am not playing in; it was therefore fascinating to watch Pierre-André and the players work together to get it performance-ready. The piece is really colourful, imaginative and atmospheric; I’m very excited about hearing the world premiere in the concert on Saturday!Day 3

We then began work on Harrison Birtwistle’s Carmen Arcadiae Mechanicae Perpetuum (The Perpetual Song of Mechanical Arcady), which was commissioned in 1977 to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the London Sinfonietta. Birtwistle took inspiration from artist Paul Klee, whose work is described as being expressionist, cubist and surrealist. Carmen Arcadiae Mechanicae Perpetuum is a very complicated work in many ways, requiring 500% concentration from everybody at all times! But with careful and thorough work, the piece became much more manageable throughout the course of the rehearsal. I’m really looking forward to having another go on Friday.

In the evening, we were treated to another masterclass with the entire London Sinfonietta. Like yesterday, student conductors were given the incredible opportunity to conduct the London Sinfonietta, and receive invaluable advice both from Pierre-André and the instrumentalists. Today, the repertoire was Carmen Arcadiae Mechanicae Perpetuum. As an Academy participant, it was fascinating to watch the tutors rehearse the same music that we had worked on in the afternoon. It was also very useful to follow our scores, getting to know the music more intimately in advance of Friday’s rehearsal.

I’m really looking forward to returning to Greenwich in the morning to continue our rehearsals. Saturday’s concert is shaping up to be a really exciting event; not to be missed!

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LONDON SINFONIETTA ACADEMY DIARY – DAY 2

This week we’re running our seventh London Sinfonietta Academy – a week of workshops, masterclasses and rehearsals with brilliant young musicians, coached by our London Sinfonietta Principal Players. Participants Emma Halnan and Matthew Scott are letting us in on their experience: here is Matthew’s account of Day 2.

The course culminates on Saturday 11 July in a public Musicians of Tomorrow performance at LSO St Lukes. Tickets are free but advance booking is essential.

TUESDAY 7 JULY 2015

So, today was Day 2 of the London Sinfonietta Academy! I’m one of two clarinettists on the course, and like Emma, I was only involved Milhaud’s Chamber Symphony No. 5 yesterday, so had the chance to observe the first rehearsal of Mark Simpson’s Straw Dogs. Today however was an intense reading of three further works in Saturday’s concert programme.

We started off with the major 20th century work Melodien by György Ligeti. After a first run through to get an overall feel for the piece, conductor Pierre-Andre continued to explore more in depth. The morning’s mentors were David Hockings (Principal Percussion), Enno Senft (Principal Double Bass), Lionel Handy (Cellist) and John Constable (Principal Pianist of the London Sinfonietta since its formation in 1968).

Pierre

It’s great to get an opportunity to learn this major work under such experienced guidance. One of Pierre-Andre’s first comments was about the idea of ‘inner virtuosity’– there are a LOT of notes in this piece for all parts, but most are marked very quietly. The idea is to merge our sounds into layers to create the general texture, which will then enable individual instruments to suddenly break out creating ‘spots of light and colour’. I look forward to continuing this work tomorrow.

Deborah

Pierre-Andre Valade and Deborah Pritchard discussing her new work

Next up in the morning session was Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Snapshots, for which I had to quickly switch instruments and set up my bass clarinet. After a quick seating arrangement shift we began playing. Although a less complicated piece than the Ligeti (at least for me!), it was quite a stylistic change. While there are lots of accents marked, Pierre-Andre encouraged us to find the ‘groovy side’ of the rhythms – especially the bass lines, which give the direction. I specifically remember him giving an impassioned speech on his views of ‘mezzo’ dynamics (i.e. mf). To him, he said “mf is boring, a mediocre dynamic, I much prefer poco f – loud but not TOO loud, as it gives life to the sound”.

After the lunch break we were joined by tutors Simon Haram (Principal Saxophone), Mark van de Wiel (Principal Clarinet) and Helen Tunstall (Principal Harp) to take a first look at Deborah Pritchard’s new commission for the concert, Waves and Waterfalls – literally for some of us, as the parts were still hot off the press! This atmospheric piece immediately grasped our imaginations, and we slowly begun to piece it together around the various technical challenges.

EnsembleThe evening held the first of two masterclasses for the conductors in the Academy. They had the great opportunity to conduct and work with the London Sinfonietta players on Mark Simpson’s Straw Dogs under Pierre-Andre’s guidance and we got to watch our tutors battle with this intense piece! It was amazing to see how quickly the ensemble picked up this challenging work, all the while giving helpful tips to the young conductors (what puts them at ease etc.).

Tomorrow’s masterclass features Harrison Birtwistle’s Carmen Arcadiae Mechanicae Perpetuum (a staple of the London Sinfonietta’s repertoire) and it will be fascinating to hear them perform it live after we rehearse it for the first time in the afternoon.

LONDON SINFONIETTA ACADEMY DIARY – DAY 1

Monday marked the start of this summer’s London Sinfonietta Academy – an intensive week of workshops, masterclasses and rehearsals with brilliant young players auditioned from music colleges around the world, coached by our London Sinfonietta Principal Players.

The course culminates on Saturday 11 July in a public Musicians of Tomorrow performance at LSO St Lukes. Tickets are free but advance booking is essential.

We asked participants Emma Halnan and Matthew Scott to divulge their experience of the Academy day-by-day, throughout this busy and exciting week. Here’s what Emma made of yesterday:

MONDAY 6 JULY 2015

This morning, the London Sinfonietta Academy met as an ensemble for the first time, at the Trinity Laban Studios in Greenwich. Being one of two flautists in the Academy, I am not playing in every piece (we share the parts out!). As such, I was able to watch the first rehearsal this morning. Our brilliant conductor, Pierre-André Valade, got to work straight away with Mark Simpson’s 2011 work Straw Dogs. He concentrated on integrating the group as an ensemble, and discussed how the relationship between conductor and ensemble changes depending on the number of players. After an initial run-through, Pierre-André broke Straw Dogs down into sections to work on the finer details. The ensemble sounded brilliant; I couldn’t wait to play with them later in the day!

Emma Day One

We are very fortunate to have numerous London Sinfonietta players present at our rehearsals; their advice, knowledge and experience is invaluable. Today the tutors were Principal Bassoonist John Orford, Principal Clarinetist Mark van de Wiel, Principal Percussionist David Hockings, Principal Bassist Enno Senft and violinist Miranda Fulleylove. After a short break, John led a sectional for the winds. The piece is really coming together; I can’t wait to hear the final performance at the concert on Saturday.

In the afternoon, the strings had sectionals while we began work on Milhaud’s Chamber Symphony No.5 for Ten Winds. Valade lead this rehearsal. We had time to really explore every corner of the piece, and develop a strong understanding of Milhaud’s style.

All in all, a successful first day! I am very much looking forward to starting work on Ligeti and Turnage tomorrow morning…

THIS IS MARK VAN DE WIEL AND FULVIO CAPRA

Pierre-André Valade leads the final performance of this year’s London Sinfonietta Academy on Saturday 11 July. Coached by our Principal Players over an intensive week of rehearsals, workshops and masterclasses, the best young musicians – auditioned from colleges across the world – form an ensemble for a concert at LSO St Luke’s.

We asked Principal Clarinettist Mark van de Wiel and Academy Clarinettist Fulvio Capra to answer some quickfire questions in the lead up to the performance. Take a read of their highs, their lows and their best musical joke – mentor to pupil.


THIS IS MARK VAN DE WIEL

What do you regard as your greatest artistic achievement?  I hope it’s gaining a better understanding of some of the greatest works in the clarinet repertoire, such as those by Mozart and Brahms, by playing their music over many years with great conductors and colleagues and absorbing their ideas.

What is your biggest fear? That one day I won’t be able to continue all the marvelous music making and travel that I’m doing now. Inevitable for us all of course but no less frightening for that. Luckily there isn’t much time to think about it.

What’s the most unusual performance you’ve been a part of? The most special and unusual would have to be the Messiaen Quartet for the End of Time with the London Sinfonietta in the Italian Chapel on Orkney. It was built by Italian prisoners of war, which brought a poignancy to this moving music that Messiaen wrote while a prisoner himself. We played two performances one after the other, each to an audience of around 100. When we emerged after midnight, it was still light outside – and the pubs were still open!

Which piece of music has had the biggest effect on you? It’s impossible to answer that – there are so many pieces which mean a lot, and can have a powerful and different effect in various performances and circumstances. It’s the variety and unpredictability that’s special – always trying to make the next performance better.

What’s currently on your coffee table at home? Fresh flowers and some candles.

What was the first recording you ever bought? I can’t remember that, but I can remember the first recordings my father played to me. They were LPs of Franz Schubert’s 9th Symphony, Dmitri Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony, and Gustav Mahler’s 1st Symphony. These pieces are still very special for me, even after playing them countless times.

If you could have any other profession, what would it be? I can’t imagine ever doing anything else, although I hope I would have brought the same commitment to whatever it was.

Who has been the biggest influence in your life? There’s no one answer to this. My parents of course, who gave me all the support I needed through my studies and beyond, and also many great conductors and colleagues, whose ideas are an inspirational and ever-changing influence.

Tell us your best musical joke. I’ve thought of a number of good ones – none of which are printable here, unfortunately! But here’s one terrible one anyway. Q: What is Beethoven’s favourite fruit? A: Ba-na-na-naaaaaa!


THIS IS FULVIO CAPRA

What do you regard as your greatest artistic achievement?  Performing Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto.

What is your biggest fear? The indifference.

What’s the most unusual performance you’ve been a part of? I once performed, as part of an ensemble, a series of famous operatic arias whilst a boy danced on stilts.

Which piece of music has had the biggest effect on you? Ein Deutsches Requiem by Johannes Brahms.

What’s currently on your coffee table at home? Gustav Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde on CD.

What was the first recording you ever bought? A CD with baroque concertos for oboe, performed by Heinz Holliger,

If you could have any other profession, what would it be? A pastry chef!

Who has been the biggest influence in your life? My Father.

Tell us your best musical joke. Not sure I can think of any worth printing!

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