Inside Southbank Sinfonia

An orchestra like no other, based in the heart of London

The hollow mountain of Notre-Dame

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Som HowieSom Howie | Southbank Sinfonia

As our Eurostar sped away from St Pancras station and plunged under the channel, the coach containing all of Southbank Sinfonia and our instruments was abuzz with excitement. Our mission? Two concerts in Notre-Dame cathedral, performing Mozart’s Requiem for the first time in one of the world’s truly iconic buildings. Our partners in crime would be the cathedral’s choir, La Maîtrise Notre-Dame de Paris.

Basset Horn | Southbank Sinfonia

My Basset Horn, AKA “The Beast”

Now, a confession. When I’ve played the Requiem before, it’s not been exactly as Mozart intended. I’ve used my regular B flat clarinet for previous performances, but in Paris we went fully authentic as me and my fellow clarinettist Dani performed on Basset Horns, or as we now call them: “The Beasts”. They are certainly not the most likable or enjoyable instrument to play, requiring exceptionally hard work to get them in tune and sounding half-decent. Having persevered though, it’s safe to say I do not regret playing this piece on its originally intended instrument one bit!

An absolute highlight of the trip was our first evening rehearsal in Notre-Dame, the night before our first concert. Words cannot do justice to the feeling of being inside the cathedral when it is completely empty of tourists. It was like being inside a hollow mountain. The walls seemed to climb without end and the lights created deep shadows that shaped every contour and finely carved detail of the interior. On top of all this, the sound from the choir and orchestra would dance around the cavernous space creating an acoustic echo that lasted no less than 9 seconds.

Notre-Dame Queue | Southbank Sinfonia

The snaking queue for our concert

The following day I stumbled across a sight that makes any performer smile. Popping outside of Notre-Dame just before the concert to buy a bottle of water, I was greeted by a line of concertgoers that stretched from the cathedral doors all the way across the square and down the street. I couldn’t believe that both performances were sell-outs, with 1,200 people each night coming to watch us!

To be part of these concerts was an incredible experience. I will never forget sitting in my chair performing beautiful music to such a great audience, in such a magnificent venue. It was one of those occasions where I genuinely wish I could have been in the audience too to see what it felt like from the other side.

Notre-Dame | Southbank Sinfonia

Inside the hollow mountain, with walls reaching to the heavens

We managed to squeeze in a little tourist time in the City of Light too, making the most of the incredible food and spending time with great friends from the orchestra. Back on the Eurostar just a few days later, it was sad to be leaving Paris so soon after we arrived – but our Parisian adventure doesn’t quite end there…

On Tuesday the show comes to London as we host La Maîtrise at St Martin-in-the-Fields. Just as we made our debut at Notre-Dame this week, this will be the choir’s first UK performance and I can’t wait to recreate that same emotion and energy that fuelled our first encounter. See you there!

Join Som, Southbank Sinfonia, La Maîtrise Notre-Dame and soloists from the Paris Opera on Tuesday 30 September at St Martin-in-the-Fields. Find out more about the concert here.

Find out more about Som Howie here.


Author: southbanksinfonia

Every year, Southbank Sinfonia brings together 33 young musicians for an experience that will change their lives. Find out about our upcoming concerts, including our Free Rush Hour Series, at

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