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.


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).


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.


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.

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