Inside Southbank Sinfonia

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

It’s easy, but it’s not easy.

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Marc Labranche | Southbank SinfoniaMarc Labranche

Bonjour amis de Southbank Sinfonia!

For the first blog entry of Southbank Sinfonia 2015, I want to touch on how international this year’s orchestra is, and what that means for us as an ensemble. I’m assuming you’ve read our ‘Meet the Players’ profiles by now – and if you haven’t, I strongly suggest you do! I’ve learnt a lot about my colleagues by browsing through, especially as some of the subjects covered haven’t come out at the pub yet. Sophie’s Tonga story is just delectable… and who knew that Duncan was so smart (just kidding, we all knew), that Mark was so strong (although, actually, he didn’t specify the outcome of that arm wrestling match…), or that Harry can (maybe?) be seen in Harry Potter?! Go on, read them here.

Right. Now you’ve read all of our bios, stories and Q&As, and hopefully come to one of our concerts, you’ll probably have noticed that my colleagues are here not only for their musical talent but because they’re such an interesting bunch. What makes Southbank Sinfonia what it is has a lot to do with what the players have to say musically, but also as people. It’s been less than a month since we first met, yet already it feels like we’ve known each other for years and have become a big family. It’s been so easy to talk to people, to get to know them.

You’ll probably also have noticed we’re from all over the world. Canadians, Aussies, Kiwis, Americans, Colombians, Russians, Spanish, French, Japanese, Italians, Finns, English, Irish, Welsh… we’ve got them all! It’s a real cultural and linguistic exchange, which is wonderful. There’s Pedro who wants to know all the dirty English vocab, and forces me to speak Spanish after a few pints; Anaïs who really wants me to show her a video of my grandma (being from Quebec, my grandma, who speaks French, has a super strong accent, which Anaïs probably won’t understand at all); Tamara and I, who didn’t realise for a month that we can speak French to each other. There are so many hilarious lost in translation moments, or making fun of accents! Apparently I’m supposed to pronounce it “oringe”?

Anyway, I was going to write about how it is to play music as a group with people from all over the world. The answer is: It’s easy, but it’s not easy. I think that would be my response even if we were all from the same place, though. People need to get used to playing together, whatever their backgrounds and personalities are.

We’re still getting used to our own section members’ playing, and for me a challenge has been to blend with the lower strings. So many of us have studied at one of London’s music colleges that you could argue, musically at least, our international backgrounds aren’t a reason for differences in styles. The bottom line is simply that it takes time to get used to each other. In some cases it comes easily, but in others there is a lot of work and adjustment involved.

Some players are very different within sections, but I think that eventually (I could probably write ‘already’) people are going to learn to use it to their advantage. It’s good that we sound different. We can use that; make it work in our favour. We all want to create great music, and we are all aiming to complement our neighbour’s playing. It’s something that’s constantly going to evolve and improve as the year progresses.

In some ways it’s a dichotomy. Everyone in the ensemble is a highly intelligent musician and we all have something to say, but we’re also open to what our colleagues have to say. It creates an orchestra that is cohesive, yet that cohesion comes from difference.

I think being from different places and schools can be a challenge, but also makes us who we are. And it makes for great nights at the pub!

Allez, à bientôt!


Find out more about Marc Labranche 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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